What Christine Ferguson's resignation tells us about the council merger debacle: opinion

LIKE a windscreen demisting on a frosty morning, the clear face of the state government’s council merger calamity is slowly revealing itself.

GAME OVER: Christine Ferguson.

GAME OVER: Christine Ferguson.

The latest domino tumbled last week when Gundagai-Cootamundra Regional Council administrator Christine Ferguson called time on her tumultuous tenure.

The former National Party federal president had been dogged by controversy since her appointment, written off by critics as a Nationals apparatchik and a political appointment.

In her 11 months in the role, Mrs Ferguson stayed largely on message, prosecuting the government’s rationale for forced mergers admirably and overseeing the incredibly complex task of bringing two organisations together.

But she was swimming against an impossible tide.

While Mrs Ferguson kept a stoic front, a war was raging in her community and across the state, including legal challenges, the Orange by-election disaster and the resignation of a Premier.

The business and moral case for mergers was collapsing.

The day after Mike Baird announced his departure, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro hit the brakes on one of Mr Baird’s signature policies, vowing to “put an end to the local government mergers in the bush".

The timing was telling.

It was clear the government was keen to stem the blood loss.

A new tranche of proposed mergers was junked but the Cootamundra-Gundagai forced marriage remained.

This merely sharpened the attack of local critics and exposed the injustice and double standard apparent throughout the whole merger process.

The mergers, and indeed the abolished mergers, were driven by political expediency over natural justice, and Gundagai-Cootamundra was a case in point.

Part of a safe conservative seat, both councils were strong enough to stand alone.

Gundagai’s “council in exile” chairman Dr Paul Mara is bang-on when he says the merger anger runs deeper than just the loss of a local council.

The mergers are emblematic of the state government’s treatment of small bush communities for decades.

As for Mrs Ferguson, she was scant on detail as to why she was resigning. But if it was because she wanted to bail out before the ship sunk, who could blame her?

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