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Change is not reform

Friday 22 March 2019

No other government sector in this State or indeed, across the nation, has absorbed as much policy and administrative reform over the past decade as local government in Queensland.  We have experienced large-scale amalgamations of councils, only to have the de-amalgamation of some afterwards. The state legislation which governs who we are and what we do has undergone a series of major reviews. The water operations of large councils in southeast Queensland have been transformed. The process through which councils prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters is light years from what it was 10 years ago, and for the better. Local councils have embraced the bulk of these reforms and, on issues where they have differed (like amalgamations) taken them on the chin and gotten on with the job of representing their communities as best they can.

Over the past 12 months, councils have again been proactive in embracing the need for change as the revelations and recommendations of the Crime and Corruption Commission’s Belcarra investigation became clear.  In fact, the Local Government Association of Queensland was prepared to go further than the CCC or the Palaszczuk Government in efforts to restore confidence in councils.  We have never shied away from the job of reform.

But where councils draw the line is when proposals dressed up as reform of the sector turn out to be nothing of the sort. Local government should always cry foul if changes are proposed which have the effect of inconveniencing their local communities for no good reason. Such is the case with the Government’s bid to force compulsory preferential voting across local government and introduce proportional representation into undivided councils. These plans are all about furthering political interests, not community interests, which is why the LGAQ and its member councils are vigorously resisting them.

Cynically, the Government has chosen to lump these unwelcome changes in with the second tranche of its Belcarra reforms, most of which councils support. That gives it the excuse to call the voting changes “reform”, even though 70 percent of Queenslanders are happy with the way they vote in council elections. They will have the effect of disenfranchising voters by removing their right to decide whether to not to allocate preferences. It’s a case of the Labor Party knowing better than the rest of us.

The LGAQ has invested in a strong protest campaign aimed at ensuring these changes get proper public scrutiny. This campaign has involved both mainstream media and social media so that as many Queenslanders as possible are aware of what the Government is proposing to do and why. In that sense we have done what the Government should be doing _ talking to the community about the impact of these changes on how they go about exercising the most fundamental of their democratic rights.

I urge our member councils to make sure they and their communities know the detail of these proposed changes. They are likely to cause one of the most significant upheavals the sector has experienced. And given the past decade we have just endured, that is no small thing. 

Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006

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