Christmas festoons bedazzle our shops, homes, and streets in anticipation of those sleigh bells ringing in less than a month from now. But before we get there, a once-in-a-generation COVID-19 era State Budget beckons.
That Budget will be handed down on Tuesday and debated in State Parliament next week, alongside amendments to the Local Government Act to fix what has become known as the “pineapple” dilemma – the automatic appointment of the runner up to fill mayoral and councillor vacancies should one occur within the first 12 months of the term. Queensland councils secured some significant commitments from Labor during the State Election, as outlined by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at last month’s LGAQ Annual Conference, as well as in writing, in a letter to the Association.
The goal now is to ensure the re-elected Palaszczuk Government delivers on those promises when the Budget books are officially unwrapped and made public on Tuesday afternoon. While we welcome the commitments made, we will continue to push for recognition other essential initiatives like the Rural Water and Wastewater Guarantee to help ensure rural communities have access to a safe and reliable water supply.
We will also continue to push the State to address initiatives of critical importance to Queensland’s 17 First Nations councils, like the need for a 10 percent increase to State Government Financial Aid (SGFA) to ensure this program keeps pace with increasing labour costs so First Nations councils can not only retain workers but further boost employment and training opportunities in their communities. This would only cost the State an extra $3.5 million per year but its impact on these communities would be immense. It would be life-changing.
The Government has committed to a review of SGFA, along with a review of two other grant and funding programs. We urge them to ensure this review results in a positive outcome for these communities with greater funding allocated.
To that end, we have written to all the relevant ministers and had our first discussions with our new Minister, Deputy Premier the Honourable Steven Miles, and his assistant Minister for Local Government Ms. Nikki Boyd. I would like to thank the Deputy Premier for his swift action in addressing the Local Government Act changes to ensure a more democratic approach to the filling of mayoral and councillor vacancies, and for the consultative approach he has taken to working with our sector.
The changes will ensure Mayoral vacancies that occur within the first 12 months will be filled by a by-election. In the case of councillor vacancies, councils will be able to choose whether the vacancy will be filled by by-election or by the appointment of the runner-up. It is hoped the amendments – which will be retrospective - will be in place within weeks.
Now back to the Christmas Advent Calendar.