BORDER MERGER: Councils never tried to get on together

ELEVEN years after former federal MP Ian Sinclair was asked to look at the possibility of bringing Albury and Wodonga together his report has finally seen the light of day. And it shows that the leaders of our two cities had little appetite for the idea, making every effort to undermine the move.

A DAMNING indictment of a long-running poor relationship, suspicions and one-upmanship between Albury and Wodonga councils in 2002 is given in Ian Sinclair’s report — kept secret for 11 years.

The former cabinet minister cited “tribal-like prejudices, old grievances and petty jealousies”.

Mr Sinclair blamed the bad vibes for preventing Albury-Wodonga from having a single strategic plan (there still isn’t one this year).

The poor relationship, he said, prejudiced opportunities for doing things together in community services, economic development and combining services such as water and sewerage.

In 2002, one of the few joint enterprises, Investment Albury-Wodonga, was about to collapse after, Mr Sinclair said, “being undermined at every turn” while being jointly funded by the councils.

He hints at a kind of blackmail during his consultation period.

“As part of an orchestrated campaign by Wodonga Council during the consultation period, IAW was issued a direction to cease offering opinions favouring a council merger or funding of $400,000 might be withdrawn,” Mr Sinclair said.

The elected councils hardly ever met except when absolutely necessary, although at an officer level there was co-operation.

Each wouldn’t give ground to the other for fear of being disadvantaged.

“The tribal-like prejudices, old grievances and petty jealousies on both sides have been fed and nurtured at times of convenience by community leaders who might have been expected to take a more mature leadership approach,” he said.

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Elsewhere in his report, Mr Sinclair accused Albury Council of airing its dirty linen almost constantly in public, while “Wodonga was seen as too slick and secretive with the real decision-making taking place behind closed doors.”

On wider issues, Mr Sinclair listed many cross-border anomalies that were not local government matters.

These ranged from having a single plan for an earthquake or Hume Dam failure (instead of two state plans) to licensing in areas including traffic, boating and fishing, trade qualifications and education. 

Mr Sinclair went to great pains to determine to what extent Albury-Wodonga was a single community and concluded most outsiders saw it as one, while many locals had a sense of pride in the term “Albury-Wod­onga”.

He found most sport was played cross-border and 45 businesses, organisations and agencies with the prefix Albury-Wodonga.


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Road map to join two cities was ready

Mr Sinclair said welcome signs to “Albury-Wodonga” were placed on the borders of each city.

Only one such roadside sign now remains, but it is mainly obscured by bushes.

Mr Sinclair noted there were moves in 2001-02 to combine most health services, a step finally taken in July 2009.

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