Minister outlines de-amalgamation hurdles
QUEENSLAND’S mayors and councillors have a hard-won reputation for bravery in the face of tough times, but April 17, 2007, broke their hearts.
It was on this day former Premier Peter Beattie and Local Government Minister Andrew Fraser tore communities apart across the State, taking the axe to 83 councils through forced amalgamations.
It was brutal. By March the following year, those councils ceased to exist, their demise sweeping away the identities and sense of worth communities had toiled for generations to create.
I’ll be the first to admit some councils were struggling financially and needed to merge to survive, but not 83.
They didn’t deserve to be ruthlessly dictated to by a government hell-bent on stripping power from communities, concentrating it all in George Street.
New councils emerged from the ashes, determined to get on with life and do the best for their communities.
In some cases, however, the wounds from amalgamations continue to run deep. Friends of Douglas is one group that has long wanted to see Port Douglas de-amalgamate from Cairns Regional Council. They have already been in touch with the Boundaries Commission and will forward a submission.
Knowing that communities such as Port Douglas wanted to have a say, the LNP went to the 2012 State election promising to consider applications from former shires to resurrect themselves according to their former boundaries.
This was never going to be another round of amalgamations by a suit in Brisbane. It was an opportunity to right a wrong and go back to what it was before.
True to our word, we have since appointed former Mackay Mayor Col Meng as Boundaries Commissioner to help communities put forward a de-amalgamation case.
We would prefer councils try and make amalgamations work because despite the pain and suffering many communities went through, the social and financial costs to de-amalgamate could be even worse.
Make no mistake, de-amalgamation needs to be built on more than just nostalgia. There also needs to be an evidence-based, community-backed submission based on the 2007 preamalgamation local government boundaries and a detailed estimate of the potential financial costs.
A starting point to that submission will be a petition signed by at least 20 percent of the voting population. The petition will need to clearly display an understanding of all of the costs involved.
Part of those costs will include an undertaking that the former shire wishing to de-amalgamate will meet all costs: their own and those of the council they wish to leave.
We have been accused of setting the de-amalgamation bar too high. But this is a serious business. It would be irresponsible to allow communities to de-amalgamate on a whim, only to have people revolt months later at the prospect of higher rates to pay for it.
Communities need to know all of the costs and challenges so that they can make an informed decision. But if it stacks up financially, it will go to a vote.
To prove our commitment, only the group wishing to breakaway will have a say.
And if 50.1 per cent of the population in that former shire say yes, they will return to their previous boundaries. But there are a lot of hard yards to be done before it gets to this stage, including a calculation of those important financial considerations.