Financial probe launched after Wide Bay Water mayhem

Water splash

By Paul Hemsley

The Queensland government will instigate a ministerial probe into the financial operations of the Fraser Coast Regional Council and the Wide Bay Water Corporation (WBWC) recent stoushes between the two organisations prompted Minister for Local Government David Crisafulli to approve an extraordinary appointment of a councillor to the WBWC board.

The ongoing problems between the local government and its water and waste water service have been highly publicised in the local media after a spate of board sackings, resignations and a $73.5 million debt created between the council and the WBWC.

Appointing councillors to council-owned corporations is normally a legal problem in the Sunshine State, however Fraser Coast Regional Council has remained determined to get its own elected members onto the board as it tries to swallow the WBWC to make its operation more efficient.

The mounting difficulties led to the council to requesting the state government pass an amendment to the Local Government Act 2009 to allow for council representatives to be appointed to the Board of a Local Government Owned Corporation (LGOC), which is usually disallowed by state law to prevent councils running their own boards and creating conflicts of interest.

However despite Fraser Coast Regional Council’s persistent push for the state government to make the amendment happen, Mr Crisafulli has instead made an exemption for Fraser Coast Regional Council to appoint a councillor to the board – but this will not be a managerial position.

Mr Crisafulli said while most Queensland councils are moving towards stand-alone business units, he was still willing to work with them to bring stability.

“But let me be clear: we’ve got to draw a line in the sand and end the uncertainty around this for the good of the community,” Mr Crisafulli said.

However the exemption for a councillor to be appointed to the board has come with a corresponding move to investigate the finances of the council and the WBWC by commissioning a credit review of their operations through the Queensland Treasury Corporation (QTC).

The QTC will conduct this credit review following the council’s persistence to absorb the WBWC into the council to make its operation more efficient, but Mr Crisafulli described the “claim that rolling the WBWC into council will provide efficiencies” as a “red herring”.

In an effort to let ratepayers know if their council is being “run as efficiently as possible”, Mr Crisafulli announced that the QTC will begin two separate reviews in September 2013 to provide a clearer picture of the council’s finances.

Mr Crisafulli said the locals have “every right to be frustrated” with the way the situation has been handled and “someone has got to give the community peace of mind”.

“The recent and well-publicised turmoil between the council and WBWC needs to come to an end for the sake of staff and the wider community,” Mr Crisafulli said.

He said the audit will show what works and what needs improving and “will put an end to the uncertainty that the employees and the community have been put through”.

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