QUEENSLAND: by Ron MunnNews Weekly
Protests against forced council amalgamations
, August 18, 2007
Widespread protests have followed the Beattie Government's announcement of forced council amalgamations to create larger regional councils - allegedly to make local government more effective.
Super regional councils do not and will not fit the Queensland Government's Shape, Size and Sustainability (SSS) process for bringing about amalgamations.
Many regional councils under the new boundaries will be less economically feasible than at present.
Beaudesert Shire Council is a glaring example of the Government's hypocrisy. A shire with 62,000 people and growing, with a mix of growing urban and stable rural and semi-rural communities, its future population growth over the next 20 years, at the State Government's predicted growth rate, is from its present 62,000 to as many as 160,000 by 2026, making it already a sustainable shire now, and even more so in the future.
Labor has demolished that dream and brought about a so-called regional council with no prospect of growth under Labor's planning laws.
The new regional council's population for 2007 is 35,000 and expected to grow to 39,069 by 2026 - a far cry from the anticipated 160,000 under the present boundaries, and that is without Boonah Shire's projected growth.
The justification by the commission for annexing the northern end of the Beaudesert Shire to Logan City is because the area is an urban community, more in tune with Logan than rural Beaudesert.
This is laughable. The area from the existing Logan City boundary to the new boundary is all two-, five- and 10-acre blocks, with the exception being the town centre in Jimboomba and Logan Village.
Ninety per cent of people who moved to the Beaudesert Shire over the past 40 years did so for a rural setting, a rural lifestyle on acreage where the children could enjoy leisure time on horses and bikes, have their dogs, sheep, goats and horses, mixed with a family life away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and the crime that goes with it.Council's value
These people recognised the value of a council that would fight to preserve this lifestyle by protecting it through the planning codes and by-laws.
The Government has thrown this out by moving the Logan City boundary to take in all the five and 10-acre blocks and semi-rural areas and all of the major urban development satellites, Yarrabillba and Flagstone (50,000 each by 2026).
Logan City is fast developing the five-acre and 10-acre blocks bordering the present Beaudesert Shire Council boundaries, and the only development areas available for Logan City, under the South-East Queensland Regional Plan, are those annexed by the commission.
The extent of the annexation is hard to understand from a "shape, size and sustainability" objective. By taking half of what has been annexed and using the natural boundary of the Logan River, one of the satellite urban developments would have gone to each of the councils, both giving Beaudesert Regional Council a rate base to make it "sustainable", and at the same time covering the "shape and size" criteria.
This was never to be: rational democratic thinking was taken over by political expediency and trickery. Beaudesert and Boonah are some of the National Party's heartland, and a large percentage of people relocating to the shire vote National in state elections and Liberal in federal elections.
Labor could not change this. No matter how hard they tried, the conservative vote continued to increase. This boundary change will leave this National Party heartland (the rural towns and districts) exclusively to the Nationals, and put the so-called new urban areas annexed to Logan City into Labor heartland in the future.
Beaudesert Shire was not the only shire council conned by the State Government's "size, shape and sustainability" process. Many councils were, and they spent many valuable hours of council officers' time working through the criteria set out by the State Government.Complied
In order to fit the criteria, many councils studied the logical sustainable possibilities, even to the point of agreeing to amalgamation. Most councils had complied with the process, even to the extent of having council resolutions passed on amalgamation, sustainability and the like. Others were in need of assistance, due to distance and geography, etc.
Earlier this year, some councils wanted more time and assistance to see their way forward. Others refused to go any further. However, in the main, 90 per cent of the work required was completed.
Given this, the Government took over the process, called for all information to be submitted and defended its action as a legitimate response to the non-compliance by councils, and the fact that 47 per cent of shire councils were supposedly financially at risk and that the present boundaries were over 100 years old.
The large percentage of financially-at-risk shires was proven to be a hoax. Many of the councils named had millions of dollars invested for future work programs, and only 13 per cent were at risk financially.
The trickery and skulduggery of the Labor Government are more evident when one realises the real reasons for amalgamations.
Labor's amalgamation plan is politically motivated. What were needed were the right political circumstances, and these needed to be manufactured through the "SSS" process.The true reasons for the amalgamation by Labor were:
1) To break up the National Party's candidate nursery base, whereby councillors are groomed for future state and federal politics.
2) To act when the Coalition was at its weakest throughout the state.
3) To break up the power of the Local Government Association and the power of the many regional organisations of council (ROCs) mayors. These helped make the Local Government Associations in Queensland a force in state politics - a source of much frustration to the present Labor Government, i.e., over issues such as ambulance levies, water and health.
4) To act when a so-called bipartisan commission could be put forward with representation from all parties, but in the case of the Coalition, representatives (Di McCauley and Bob Quinn) with little to no loyalty to the present Opposition leadership.
5) To act when a political hatchet man, Terry Mackenroth, the ex-Labor Party minister, was available to ensure the success of the process to endorse what we can only believe was a predetermined set of lines drawn on a map.
6) To head the commission with a man known and trusted by both sides of politics.
7) Last, but not least, to ensure that regional council electorates have little to no representation from the rural area, this enabling Labor Party members a greater chance of being elected to regional councils and for Labor to build a platform for their organisation in the future in rural and regional Queensland.
The present protest marches may fall on deaf ears, but the voters are not going to forget at the forthcoming federal election when Kevin Rudd will need every vote he can get in Queensland.
The voters will ask: if this can happen under a state Labor Government, what risks are we taking by putting Labor into power federally, when all Labor governments will do what they please, not what the people want?Opposition's role
The role of the Opposition is to stop playing to Labor's tune and show solidarity and work throughout Queensland to strengthen their branches in all regional urban and rural districts.
The Liberals need to stop the infighting and get behind their leaders. Branch-stacking needs to stop, and new members welcomed in for the purpose of supporting a united party and coalition. If the Liberals cannot do that, then why have branches?
This will also mean that the various factions must stop fighting and unite for the sake of the party.
The Nationals will need to take a long, hard look at their older politicians and draw up a plan to bring new young blood into their ranks - seeking those with an ethic to take their party forward in this millennium and to uphold the values of past National-led coalition governments.- Ron Munn is Queensland state president of the National Civic Council.