Office of Local Government revisits Dungog merger with Maitland

SHIFTING SANDS: The December-proposal to merge certain council is under review.
SHIFTING SANDS: The December-proposal to merge certain council is under review.

PORT Stephens Council might have missed its shot at a merger with Dungog instead of Newcastle.

The Dungog option was floated in Port Stephens Council’s submission to the merger inquiry should the state government deem Port shouldn’t stand alone.

But the state government has put the Maitland-Dungog option back on the table and Port Stephens councillor Geoff Dingle is furious steps weren’t taken sooner.

He pointed to the state government directive for councils to discuss merger options in November. Port Stephens Council resolved not to, as it was deemed fit for the future.

“It confirms my opinion that Port Stephens Council failed the negotiation test last year by not undertaking any sort of high level discussion between adjoining councils and the state government,” Cr Dingle said.

“We have been set us up for amalgamation with the Minister Paul Toole’s Newcastle-choice.”

Cr Dingle said the proposed Port Stephens-Newcastle merger was purely political.

“Mr Toole is going to clean up the politics in Port Stephens Council by merging us with big brother Newcastle and at the same time his plan, I would suggest, is to get rid of the Labor block in Newcastle council.”

Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie wasn’t so quick to despair.

“I don’t think it’s a failure on our part – the only failure is Cr Dingle who has failed to achieve anything on council other than knock us at every chance,” he said.

“I’m hoping this review means the Lake Macquarie-Newcastle option might be back on the table, all things being equal, and that we might be left alone.

“It wasn’t until Maitland and Lake Macquarie went to the Minister that they were left alone.”

Maitland councillors were told that the Dungog plan was again open for consideration on Wednesday.

The Mayor of Maitland, Cr Peter Blackmore, said there were still several possibilities the government needed to consider before it made its final recommendation.

They included the possibility of a merger between Gloucester and Dungog, the potential that Port Stephens could absorb the Clarence Town area.

"There is still a very long road ahead," Cr Blackmore said.

A spokesperson for Local Government Minister Paul Toole told Fairfax that the proposal for a Dungog-Maitland merger had been sent to the Office of Local Government for examination as a result of the new proposal to merge Gloucester with Great Lakes and Taree.

She said public meetings would be scheduled to discuss the proposals and they would also go on public exhibition.

But the plan for Gloucester and Dungog to merge has not yet been dismissed.