Press release on Council amalgamations

This article was released to inform candidates in the January 2015 State election of successive State governments refusal to listen to the people regarding the need to address the damage caused by the 2008 forced council amalgamations.

In the leadup to the State election SOS and all members of QLGRA believe all Candidates need to clearly state their position on the forced amalgamations of councils and the subsequent problems that have arisen. The letter below has been sent to all candidates to give them an opportunity to do this and with your assistance to advise the public of the results.

In the 2007 plebiscite, a majority of enrolled voters in most of the ‘to be’ amalgamated councils in Queensland including both Warwick and Stanthorpe Shires voted overwhelmingly against the forced amalgamations of their councils. They knew that facts showed council amalgamations in Australia and elsewhere did not achieve sustainability, and resulted in diseconomies, higher costs and debt. Prior to April/May 2007, Queensland law required that voters should have a referendum on council amalgamations. Had the Beattie government not removed this provision from the act, we would have had a compulsory vote. The Government would have been compelled to obey the wishes of the majority! Morally whether it was a plebiscite or a referendum, the Queensland Government owed it to all those people in all those shires to obey their will. The Labor Government did not think so, and in 2008 amalgamated 156 local government councils into 73, more than halving community representation. This was the greatest onslaught on democracy and regional representation in the history of Australia and a travesty of democracy.

So then the LNP, God bless them, offered to let us de-amalgamate if they came to power , an opportunity to regain Local democracy. BUT what did they do in 2012? A new inexperienced minister devised a process that many believe was designed to fail; most submissions put to him in August 2012, all very professional, were marked ‘FAILED’. As a consequence in February 2013, SOS held in Stanthorpe a L G Reform Forum: ‘Re-empowering Communities’. People from across Qld heard from top Australian and International Local Government experts that in general such amalgamations do not work. Out of this, the State wide lobby group, the QLGRA, was formed.

QLGRA has since spent considerable time and energy trying to convince the Minister and the Premier that there is a democratic case for citizens to say how their Local government should be constituted, or to at least have an independent inquiry or review into the forced amalgamations. The Minister continues to espouse that “there will be no more de-amalgamations” in the hope that we will go away. We cannot go away as no one has yet explained to us why there can be no more. The Premier continues to voice his opinion that ‘he would prefer councils to remain constituted as they are because he does not want to put the people through more pain’. Ratepayers in Queensland are going through more pain now because of amalgamations. We know that the true costs of demerger will not be high – nowhere near the inflated Treasury and DLG estimates. We know that the extra costs incurred by amalgamations are costing ratepayers and are ongoing and increasing, and that Local government indebtedness has doubled since 2007 and will increase 10 fold by 2020. Communities are hurting financially and socially beyond their ability to cope while Councillor and senior staff costs seem excessive. Governments have cut back grants and subsidies traditionally available for roads, bridges, sewerage and water. This places an enormous burden on councils to service community on the State’s behalf. Hence community suffers by above cpi increases in Rates and Charges to deliver those services. The remainder of costs is paid for by increasing debt on which interest servicing becomes an extra cost.

The State government controls council boundary changes, amalgamations, de-amalgamations and referenda. Hence it is important that everybody knows where each candidate [and their parties] stand on these issues.

Save Our Shires, the Voice of Ratepayers and Residents Stanthorpe

(January 2015)

More forced amalgamations planned for NSW!

Extract from an article by Jonathon Howard in Free Times Thursday 30 May 2013
Southern Downs Regional Council mayor Peter Blundell has urged the NSW State Government to approach forced amalgamations with “extreme caution”, as Tenterfield Shire Council and Glen Innes Severn Council face merger plans similar to those used in Queensland during 2007.
Mayor Blundell said the benefits of forced amalgamations, which were introduced in Queensland to deal with mounting debts and shared administration duties, were “debatable at best”.
“I would urge extreme caution from the NSW State Government process of any forced amalgamations and to implement those only as an extreme necessity,” Mayor Blundell said.
His comments came as Tenterfield Shire Council has been called upon to justify why the council, which is grappling with mounting debt, should not merge with Glen Innes Severn Council.

Differential Rates update – Landlords continue to pay

A couple of weeks ago in our article  “Differential Rates – Landlords may not have to pay” we advised that for some years a number of Councils throughout Queensland, including the Scenic Rim Regional Council, had applied an additional rates charge on Investment properties.  This practice had been challenged in the Supreme Court by a group of Mackay property investors and found to be an illegal practice (30th April 2014).  

Since then, as reported in The Courier Mail of 5 June 2014, the state government has rushed through laws allowing Queensland councils to charge investors more than owner-occupiers.  The legislation is retrospective.

Effectively, this means the state government with its retrospective intervention in the matter, has reversed the Supreme Courts ruling in favour of the Mackay property investment group. The new law has rendered the Mackay Council’s legal appeal redundant and allows Queensland Councils to rate rental properties higher than owner occupied properties. It remains to be seen whether or not the state governments reversal of a Supreme Courts ruling will be challenged! 

Astrid Kennedy