Min­is­ter out­lines de-amal­ga­ma­tion hur­dles

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FEEDBACK -

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.

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