Editorial: Merriwa-Willow Tree – Update

Filed in Just In by July 28, 2023

THE Council has confirmed they have not signed a contract with the preferred tenderer for the Merriwa-Willow Tree Road, however going to tender early may result in an additional $3.6million. However by going to tender early it may result in additional millions on the project costs agreed. In construction, time is money.

Mr Dan Repacholi, Federal Member for Hunter, has confirmed Council may be subject to rise and fall costs commencing at the end of this month, in the order of $150,000 to $200,000 each month for the term of the project. Over the course of an estimated 18-month project, those costs may be in the order of an extra $2.7million to $3.6million.

The Council believe the federal government should expedite their due diligence of Council’s repair plans and hand over the funds immediately. It’s another way of saying they would like someone else to solve their problems and be responsible for them. Federal Hunter MP Dan Repacholi believes the Council took a punt in going to tender early and due diligence must be done. I know who I believe. But beggars, it seems, can be choosers at the Upper Hunter Shire Council.

Council has taken years to get to the point of feeling ready to repair the road, incurring rising construction costs, but now cry foul that government need a matter of months to review their plans. It is an astounding double standard.

When solving a complicated problem, first you must decide whose problem it is. The responsibility for roads, and this one in particular is most definitely in the lap of the Upper Hunter Shire Council.

Either way, Council will likely incur millions in additional costs before they are even able to turn a sod on the repairs. That’s before considering the millions of lost hours in additional travel time.

OLG Report – Not Done

The Office of Local Government (OLG) has confirmed they have not finished their report into Council’s role in the failed project.

While the geotechnical report demonstrates negligence in how the road was built, the OLG’s report was to identify any organisational failures underpinning the negligence, including individuals responsible.

When issues of this magnitude occur, the board or in this case the Councillors, are ultimately responsible for organisational failure. Mayor Collison, Deputy Mayor James Burns, Cr Ron Campbell and Cr Lee Watts were all Councillors at the time of the failure and are still current Councillors responsible for the repair work.

Without knowing how the organization failed on this project, how can measures be put in place to ensure these same office holders can prevent failure a second time? Promptly dealing with this inquiry would allow Ratepayers to exercise their judgement at the ballot box.

Other OLG activities:

While the OLG hasn’t had time to finish the report, they have found time to investigate the Council’s claims regarding former Councillor Sue Abbott and I. Clarifying censure: When the Council refers a person to the OLG it is a censure. It does not mean that the person being referred has been determined to have acted improperly, just that they have been referred to the OLG for their determination in the matter. Former Cr Sue Abbott and I were never able to “censure” other Councillors, because that requires a majority vote of the Councillors, and clearly that would never happen.

I am still waiting on the OLG’s determination for my matters. I’ve had one response from Brett Whitworth, Deputy Secretary of the OLG stating he was “deeply concerned about reports” made by Council but he made no finding for or against me. I wanted him to make a finding so that I could address Council’s allegations in the New South Wales Administrative Tribunal. However, Mr Whitworth failed to make any determination.

From what I have observed to date from the OLG, I am not surprised the report into MR358 is “continuing” after three years and I’d be keen to eventually read the report to see what evidence they gathered, the rigor of their investigation rigor and if any findings are actually found.

I’m sure the OLG has to juggle many priorities but failing to provide a report into a multimillion-dollar case of Council negligence, with approximately another $50million to be given to the Council for the repair works, does not instill confidence of the OLG’s ability to provide accountability and restore public confidence.

Responsibility of current Councillors

Current Councillors have a duty to ensure they are fully informed so as to manage organisational performance. Without that report how can current Councillors claim to know the root cause of any organisational failures, ensure there are appropriate safeguards to prevent those failures again and exercise their due diligence? The fact that my fellow Councillors are comfortable moving forward with this project and feeling they can ensure errors will not occur – without this report – is paradoxical.

This repair project has not even commenced yet, and already the blame game for costs has begun and the report on who is to blame for any organisational failure is “continuing”. Perhaps a trip to the shops to purchase a mirror would be in order.


The best and only remedy I see at this point is for the immediate appointment of an administrator, whose first priority is to rebuild the Merriwa-Willow Tree Road.

Related editorials: Editorial: Red flag on Merriwa-Willow Tree Road and Editorial: MR358 – missing investigation and punt lost.

Kind Regards,

Cr Elizabeth Flaherty

All of the above are my perspectives, opinions and beliefs as a Councillor on the Upper Hunter Shire Council, are my own, which may not (in fact probably don’t) reflect Council’s position, but which as an elected representative I am supported in law to freely express.

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