Push for referendum on super council

A REFERENDUM on whether Hunter councils should be merged could be on Newcastle ballot papers in September, after a push led by councillors Aaron Buman and Mike King.

Under the proposal lodged earlier this week, voters would be asked if they supported Newcastle City Council approaching the state government to seek amalgamation with neighbours.

If accepted, the referendum question would put the issue at the front and centre of the council election campaign.

Cr Buman, a candidate for lord mayor and a long-standing supporter of council mergers, said yesterday he would campaign strongly on establishing a "super council" like those in southern Queensland.

He said he was "happy to put myself out of a job" in pursuit of an amalgamation.

"I want to be clear that this is not about me," Cr Buman said. "But across the region, mayors and councillors won't even have a discussion about amalgamation because it's all about them.

"Continuing to provide identical services side by side rather than joining forces is just plain stupid."

The motion to put the question on the ballot paper will be debated by councillors on May 15.

Cr Buman said a referendum-style question would take the matter away from vested interests to seek ratepayers' opinions.

"A 'no' response would be a clear indication to council that the people do not want this to progress further, and would take the item off the agenda and allow focus on maximising efficiency in the present structure," the lodged motion said.

The NSW government has said it would support mergers but would not force them upon councils.

A "yes" vote would not be binding but it would give the council and the state a mandate to push the cause in Newcastle.

Todd Williams, the chief executive of Regional Development Australia in the Hunter, wrote in the Newcastle Herald last week that an integrated metropolitan strategy was needed for the Lower Hunter.

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