Media Release – MAYOR URGES RESIDENTS TO HAVE THEIR SAY ON PROPOSED ELECTION CHANGES

The Mayor has recently issued a media release in relation to the issue of Local Government Divisional Representation which is included below.

I’m unashamedly in favour of local divisional representation and could rant and rave over the pros and cons for ages especially when it comes to efficiencies and accountabilities however here’s a simple test for anyone considering the subject……

The Local Government Act requires that all Councillors (irrespective of whether they serve in a Divisional or Non-Divisional Council) must represent the interests of all residents across the entire Local Government area – S.12(6) When performing a responsibility, a councillor must serve the overall public interest of the whole local government area.”

Consider these two questions….

Q1.  Without researching it, can you name the eleven Councillors who are currently elected to serve you on the Bundaberg Regional Council?

If not, how could you possibly be expected to assess their individual performance let alone cast an informed vote at the next election?

Q2.  Do you know who your current Divisional Councillor is and are you able to form an opinion on his/her performance?

It’s perhaps timely to recall some previous thoughts and history surrounding the manner in which this point has been reached and I’ll do so by re-posting two previous articles on this site.

On 24th February I posted the following in relation to the debate and the manner in which the results of a Community Survey were omitted from representations to the Minister…..

COMMUNITY FEEDBACK ON DIVISIONS OMITTED FROM REPRESENTATIONS TO MINISTER

(Posted 24th February 2015)

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.

 This was followed on 12th March with the following article…….

UNANIMOUS SUPPORT FOR SELECTING 500 RESIDENTS FOR SURVEY ON DIVISIONS

(Posted 12th March 2015)

I remain perplexed over comments made regarding the 500 resident Community Satisfaction Survey undertaken last year which included a question about the retention or abolition of divisional representation. The responses to the question were quite clear to the extent that 78% of coastal responses were in favour of retaining the divisional system with 22% opposing it.

On 16th December last year and notwithstanding the results of the survey, Council voted (8 : 3) to ask the Minister to abolish divisions.

A previous article on this issue including a full breakdown of the responses can be viewed here.

The comments that are causing me some confusion relate to the assertion that 500 residents does not represent a suitable percentile to get an accurate degree of feedback. In this regard the following facts should be noted:

  • The survey was conducted by Market Facts Pty Ltd, an independent and highly respected company which conducts similar surveys for numerous government entities across Australia.
  • Market Facts conducted similar surveys for the Bundaberg Regional Council in 2009, 2010 and again in 2014, all utilising a 500 resident sample divided into a fair and equitable target number from various communities throughout the region. This ensures that no single area with a higher density of population can dominate and skew the results.
  • The 500 resident survey was agreed to by all 11 Councillors on each occasion prior to the surveys being conducted.
  • Councillors provided input into the wording of the question itself to ensure that it wasn’t misleading or ambiguous in any way. The final wording on each occasion was also agreed to unanimously.

What confuses me is the fact that the questions regarding the 500 sample are now being raised after it was signed off by all Councillors and after the results of the survey were received.

My view on this is pretty well straight forward…..

The rules surrounding this survey were set and agreed to (unanimously) and in accordance with professional independent advice obtained at ratepayer’s expense.

It would therefore seem appropriate to abide by the Ref’s decision and in this instance I believe that the Ref is the community itself.

The Mayor has today issued the following media release……

MAYOR URGES RESIDENTS TO HAVE THEIR SAY ON PROPOSED ELECTION CHANGES

ISSUED 4th MAY 2015

Voters across the Bundaberg region are being called upon to contribute to discussions that may affect Council representation in future Bundaberg Regional Councils.

The Local Government Change Commissioner has been directed by Local Government and Planning Minister, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad to report on a Council submission for divisions to be abolished for the next Local Government elections scheduled for March 19, 2016.

Mayor Mal Forman has appealed to electors to share their views on whether the 10 divisions that currently comprise the Bundaberg Regional Council should be retained or abolished. Cr Forman is calling on residents to make their voices heard by either attending community meetings organised by the Electoral Commission of Queensland or making written submissions regarding a proposal to remove all local divisions.

“I believe it is imperative that locals voice their views regarding this proposal which would seek to remove an elected representative for each division voted on by electors in that division and instead elect a Council voted in by every elector.”

Cr Forman said public meetings will be held on Tuesday May 12 at 2pm and 6pm in Room 2R in the School of Arts building in Bourbong Street adjacent to the Council Administration building.

“Minister Trad also referred to Council’s correspondence to the State Government seeking to incorporate an unallocated area of the Coral Sea adjacent to Council’s coastline into its Local Government area.

“The Minister has further advised that if a decision is made by the Change Commissioner that Council remain divided the Commissioner will consider changes to boundaries in Divisions 4 and 5 to ensure quota tolerances are appropriate for all divisions.”

Cr Forman said other issues raised by Council including appointing the Electoral Commissioner as Returning Officer and conducting the quadrennial election by full postal ballot will be addressed at some future stage by the Minister.

“I do wish to stress the importance of this proposal to remove Council divisions is something on which all voters should have an opinion. That opinion needs to be heard,” Cr Forman said.

Written submissions close with the Queensland Electoral Commission on Friday, May 22. Further information is available by contacting 1300 881 665.

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