By Paul Hemsley
Queensland ratepayers who eagerly sent forced council mergers packing by voting for de-amalgamation from neighbouring councils will go to the polls on 9 November to elect their new representatives.
The state government’s announcement has confirmed that people living in Noosa, Livingstone, Mareeba and Douglas will get new local leaders from 1 January 2014, leaving the pre-Christmas period to usher in potential changes.
The elections follow a long and controversial process of communities fighting the deeply unpopular amalgamations across the state that local governments and the Newman government claim were foisted on them without proper consultation and against the wishes of the community.
The forced mergers were instigated 2008 in the Shires of Noosa, Livingstone, Mareeba and Douglas by the Labor government and quickly triggered a public backlash as services declined while costs and rates ballooned.
The Queensland experience has been an albatross ever since for state governments across Australia who want to rationalise council numbers in the name of efficiency.
The promise to unwind mergers was a key promise of now Premier Campbell Newman’s election campaign.
The public voted overwhelmingly in favour of de-amalgamations in a March 2013 referendum, which resulted in the Shire of Noosa’s split from the Sunshine Coast Region; the Shire of Livingstone from the Rockhampton Region; the Shire of Mareeba from the Tablelands Region and the Shire of Douglas from the Cairns Region.
The move by the conservative Queensland government was echoed by the New South Wales Coalition election campaign promise in 2011 that when in government it similarly would not force amalgamations upon any council.
However NSW councils have been worried that the promise of no-forced mergers will be broken after the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s pushed the Premier Barry O’Farrell to entertain “voluntary amalgamations.”
Queensland’s government is not looking back. The state’s Minister for Local Government, David Crisafulli, said the process of splitting councils was going well and that it was vital newly elected representatives were ready to serve their community from day one.
“People in each of the four areas sent a clear message that they wanted their local council back and it’s their responsibility to choose who will best lead their communities into the future,” Mr Crisafulli said.
He said the 9th November date “strikes the right balance” between having the mechanics of de-amalgamation in place and having enough lead time for the new council to “hit the ground running”.
“As a former councillor, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see local people from all walks of life standing up to make a difference for their communities,” he said.
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