Ray of sunshine for merged council

By Angela Dorizas

The governing body of one of Queensland’s most diverse local government areas has been applauded by the State Government for it’s post amalgamation achievements.

Local Government Minister Desley Boyle lauded Sunshine Coast Council for its performance following the merger of Caloundra, Maroochy and Noosa Shire councils.

Ms Boyle recently visited the Sunshine Coast Council after reading survey results in a Sunshine Coast newspaper, which found 65 per cent of residents were satisfied with the performance of the amalgamated council.

“There would be no doubt that this was as difficult an amalgamation as any could be – three very different councils with different cultures and different histories,” Ms Boyle said in Parliament on Tuesday.

“Obviously there was concern from a proportion of Sunshine Coast residents, but the council, the mayor and the councillors have stepped up to the mark.”

Sunshine Coast Mayor Bob Abbot said the key to a successful amalgamation process was to treat it as an opportunity for future planning.

“I think what’s important is to really focus on the job at hand and that is to try and provide an excellent level of governance for the community,” Cr Abbot told GovernmentNews.

“I said to this council the first day we met, within the first sentence that I spoke, that nobody in the future of the Sunshine Coast will ever get this chance again.

“It’s a great opportunity for doing things differently to provide a better future for the people we represent.”

Rather than focussing on the structure of the new organisation, Sunshine Coast Council spent a great deal of time working out what the future of the community would look like.

Council then developed a strategy to achieve its vision before building the structure of the organisation.

“I’m a firm believer in strategy before structure,” Cr Abbot said

“You can’t build something until you actually know what it is you want to build.”

Council also ensured that the community was involved in shaping the Sunshine Coast’s future, inviting them to participate in the development of a 20-year plan.

A number of planning documents have been released to the community, including discussion papers on open space, affordable living, cultural heritage and sustainable transport; a draft biodiversity strategy; a draft climate change strategy; and a flooding and stormwater management discussion paper.

Cr Abbot said protection of the Sunshine Coast’s natural environment and cultural identity formed was central to his mayoral campaign.

“I only put out six policy statements over the period of the campaign and they were all around sustainability and our capacity to survive in the future,” Cr Abbot said.

“I won 76 booths out of 76 booths, so there was a fair amount of direction coming from the community.

“The majority of councillors were elected on similar values.”

Sunshine Coast Council also ensured that each local community held on to their own values, cultural identity and lifestyle.

“We are a community of communities, rather than a homogenised community,” he said.

“We celebrated the diversity.”

Despite being strong critics of forced amalgamations, Queensland councils are now generally positive about the potential of the reforms.

A recent survey conducted by Market Facts on behalf of the Local Government Association of Queensland found that 78.6 per cent of mayors and chief executives believed there was potential to achieve stronger and more efficient, effective local government within five years.

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