COMMUNITY FEEDBACK ON DIVISIONS OMITTED FROM REPRESENTATIONS TO MINISTER

 

Last year Council conducted another ‘Customer Satisfaction Survey’ to gauge the perception of its performance in the eyes of the community. At a cost of $15,235 the survey included a question to determine the community’s opinion on whether they wished to continue with electoral Divisions or change to an Undivided system. The results are shown in the following table:

Curiously, and I have to admit to my utter amazement, this feedback appears to have been ignored when the following motion was later carried at a Council meeting held on 16th December 2014:

“That Council make application to the Minister for Local Government, Community Recovery and Resilience to request a voluntary change to its electoral arrangements by abolishing the election of Councillors by Division in favour of election across the whole Council area for the 2016 Local Government elections.” 

     FOR                                                        AGAINST
Cr M Forman                                             Cr WA Honor
Cr DJ Batt                                                  Cr GR Barnes
Cr AG Bush                                                Cr DE Rowleson
Cr AL Ricciardi
Cr VJ Habermann
Cr CR Sommerfeld
Cr JA Peters
Cr. LG Forgan

On 19th February 2015 Council actioned this resolution when it wrote to the State Government seeking to scrap Divisional representation and providing a list of reasons for the request.

Unfortunately, the letter omitted to provide the Minister’s office with a balanced argument by advising that a community survey had recently been held and that the results had actually favoured the retention of Divisions (by up to 78% in coastal regions).

When I questioned this omission it was admitted that the community feedback had been deliberately left out to avoid “diluting” the argument in support of the Councillor’s motion. To say that I’m disappointed at this level of manipulation of the facts in such an important official document would be a gross understatement.

What’s also interesting to note is that every one of the local candidates in the recent State Government elections, irrespective of their political persuasions, strongly supported the retention of Divisional representation for the Bundaberg Regional Council.

Indeed, the new government’s State Policy Platform states:

“7.129  Labor will ensure Local Government electoral laws are fair and equitable, that electoral boundaries are appropriate to the communities they serve, and that these boundaries are based on a ‘shared community of interest’. Labor has a commitment to a ward (division) system with single-member representation and full preferential voting where possible, and a preference for proportional representation where multi-member divisions are necessary”

My concern however does not stop there….

Last year’s survey identified that the main areas of resident’s dissatisfaction with Council included these damning results (which actually prompted me to establish my weekly Community Consultation Desks):

Interestingly, Market Facts had also been contracted to conduct two previous surveys of this kind in 2009 & 2010 and it was disappointing to see that the three above areas of community dissatisfaction in 2014 were also listed amongst the highest identified back in those earlier surveys which indicates to me that little has changed in that space from a community perspective’s point of view.

I guess that what also concerns me is the fact that  these findings are typified by the decisions involving the Nielson Park Markets proposal and the proposal to establish an Off-Leash Dog Area at Mary Kinross Park. Both of these had again been the subject of significant community consultation, on-site meetings and surveys at ratepayer’s expense. Despite attracting strong support through those processes they were also both rejected and voted down by a majority vote of the Council.

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