Advocating in unprecedented times

Published: 3rd April 2020

I come to you from the office this week after finally emerging from quarantine for my third week back at work.

Our quadrennial council elections have now been held but they are far from concluded as we await the final postal votes and keep an eye on several close contests playing out across the state.

It is surreal at LG House right now with two-thirds of our staff working from home as they continue to meet your needs amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Like a lot of you, I now spend half my day in Skype meetings or on teleconferences discussing Coronavirus and other issues like electoral matters stemming from Saturday’s council polls.

The COVID-19 virus continues to wreak havoc across the globe and our elections were not immune.

The vote was conducted in extraordinary circumstances with unprecedented measures taken to ensure democracy continued to play out as safely as it could.

There were at least three or four moments in the weeks leading up to polling day where it was touch-and-go as to whether the vote would go ahead.

I would like to extend my thanks to the state’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young and the Premier for working hard to ensure the elections were safe and able to proceed.

The 75 per cent voter turnout achieved by the close of polls was remarkable in the circumstances.

However, very few counts have been finalised as yet.

Indeed, postal votes will continue to be accepted up to and including, Tuesday, April 7.

Here is what we know based on the latest count.

Fourteen mayors were returned unopposed and our 10 retiring mayors are in the process of being replaced including outgoing Goondiwindi Mayor Graeme Scheu whose replacement Lawrence Springborg was elected unopposed.

Presently 18 mayors appear to have been defeated including 10 from our Indigenous councils.

There are six mayoral contests that are still too close to call.

We expect to welcome somewhere in the vicinity of 30 new mayors when the results are finalised in coming weeks.

Because of the slow state of the count we are unable to give any reasonable information on the number of changes in the councillor ranks as yet.

The mayoral result across the state is very close to the level of change forecast in the December Colmar Brunton community attitudes survey.

At 16 per cent, it is the smallest turnover of non-Indigenous mayors in decades.

This is in stark contrast to what some would have you believe about the state of our sector with their unfounded accusations of widespread corruption and unrest.

Yes, there were problems, limited ones, and councils took their medicine. Both the sector and the voters have moved on from that time.

From this day forth it is about the Class of 2020 who we congratulate and salute and look forward to serving.

Once elections are concluded the LGAQ will be sending the Class of 2020 their LGAQ induction and on-boarding packs. We will also start to virtually deliver our free and celebrated Elected Member training courses.

There has been much criticism of the Electoral Commission of Queensland over the conduct of the elections.

While we understand your frustrations, the LGAQ has been circumspect to date in its views as we wait for the whole process to be wrapped up before or after Easter.

The Premier has flagged an inquiry and we will make a considered submission when that inquiry begins.

Turning back to COVID-19 again, this week saw the State and Federal governments ramp up their medical and economic responses to unprecedented levels.

To her great credit, the Premier continues to engage mayors and the LGAQ in the Queensland Government's response.

The Premier has committed to a weekly teleconference with the Mayors going forward, albeit it will be the current LDMG chairs.  New mayors will not be asked to participate until they are lawfully sworn in and appointed as LDMG chairs.

Be very sure the LGAQ is advocating for council workers to be eligible for job seeker payments.

We are as committed as councils are to keeping the entire local government workforce gainfully employed throughout the pandemic and economic crises.

This week we have spoken to the Premier, Treasurer, our Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe, the LGMA and principal unions on a way forward.

Much work will be done in coming weeks to protect council jobs.

On a personal note it was great to see our President Mayor Mark Jamieson’s resounding victory on the Sunshine Coast. Well done boss.

Enough from me. It must be time for another virtual meeting.