Fighting For Our Independence

Published on 29 September 2022

No 1 image De-amalgamation .jpg

A media release from the Independence Anniversary Celebration Committee

Last week, we printed the first in a series of articles from the organising committee planning the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the new Mansfield Shire Council.  In the lead up to the celebration event to be held 22 October at the Botanic Park, follow up articles will tell the story of how we regained local government dedicated to the Mansfield Shire.

Newer members of our community may be surprised to learn that the Shire had to be re-established only a short a time ago following the forced amalgamation with Benalla to form the Delatite Shire Council.

Don Cummins, one of the de-amalgamation drivers, has provided the following brief explanation of our Shire’s recent, turbulent history and the work undertaken by the community to regain our independence:

“In 1994 the Liberal Government of Jeff Kennett decided to join Victoria’s 210 councils to form just 78. This did not matter much to city councils where services were frequent and plentiful. For geographically larger country shires like Mansfield, which was forced to join up with Benalla, it proved disastrous.

Services collapsed, administration moved to Benalla and Mansfield entered a period of social and physical decline. It was brought home to locals that when Local Government is moved elsewhere, not only do the roads deteriorate, but other unrelated services such as the hospital and the schools suffer in a spiral of declining funding and numbers.

This persisted throughout Kennett’s time until in 1999 a change of government alerted locals to the opportunity to ‘do something’.

An audacious plan was hatched to regain the Shire of Mansfield from the larger Benalla based Delatite Shire and four councillors from Mansfield were elected to attempt the impossible task of separating the Shire.

This process met with resistance from both the new Labor Government that didn’t want to cause an avalanche of separating shires, and the heavier population centre of Benalla which didn’t feel Mansfield’s pain. Yet the local people felt this decline and 1400 of them formed the Mansfield District Residents and Ratepayers Association dedicated to ‘Make Mansfield Matter’.

Other fortuitous events fell our way with the election of a government member in Denise Allen, the first time Labor had beaten the National Party in the seat, largely due to the massive voter change in Mansfield.

As a result of the intense work of the four local councillors, the efforts of Ms Allen to bring her government and premier Bracks on board, and the amazing support of almost every ratepayer in Mansfield, the old shire boundaries were reinstated just two years later on 28 October 2002.

There are two reasons to celebrate and remember this unique de-amalgamation of the old Delatite Shire: firstly, because it showed what a truly united and well led community can achieve in the face of indifference and downright governance failure.

The second is that we celebrate so that newer and younger members of the community can know that our present success and lifestyle is the result of a concerted effort.  And, if future government or corporate attacks are made on us, we are ready and able to insist on what is best for us and not be bulldozed from powers far away.

So, in the leadup to the 20th anniversary of regaining our own Local Government, the committee would like everyone know about the amazing recent history of the Mansfield Shire.  The community is invited to Botanic Park on 22 October at 10am when we celebrate our independence noting that we don’t always have to accept what others impose on us.”

Next week’s article on the history of de-amalgamation will be from Will Twycross as he looks at the forces that pushed us into an amalgamation with Benalla.

Further details on the event are available here.

*Image L-R:  Delatite Shire Councillors: Jessica Graves, Steve Junghenn, Don Cummins and Will Twycross

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