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Courier Mail breaks 'news' to Qld taxpayers, ratepayers: amalgamations will cost you

In "Council amalgamation costs blow out another $100 million" in the Courier Mail of 29 Jan 09 Hannah Davies, reported:

"THE cost of Queensland's controversial local council amalgamations is spiralling, with ratepayers set to fork out a further $100 million to foot the bill.

"Despite State Government claims that merging councils would save money, many are struggling to offset the costs of amalgamation and are asking for extra funding.

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"Council lobby group the Local Government Association of Queensland said amalgamation costs had been severely underestimated.

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"(Acting director Greg Hoffman said,) "We are estimating the government will need to spend $100 million over the next 10 years to enable councils to implement the changes.

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"As reported in The Courier-Mail this week, Moreton Bay Regional Council - formed from merging Redcliffe, Caboolture and Pine Rivers - will have to spend almost $1 million on new uniforms for staff."

This is on top of $3.5 million to equalise staff wages and $1.9 million to align computer systems.

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On 30 Jan 09, Johanne Wright responded in a letter entitled "Merger cost predictable":

"As president of a residents' association which supported genuine local government reform, but was appalled at the seriously flawed and undemocratic, forced amalgamations, it comes as no surprise that the costs of this process were seriously underestimated by the Sate Government.

"It should come clean and spell out what savings will accrue and when we will see these. Our research shows that there will be negligible to no savings. Any that might occur will take five to 10 years to accumulate."

In the meantime, both Queensland taxpayers and local ratepayers will continue to pay for the anti-democratic amalgamations of 2007 rammed through by then Labor Premier Peter Beattie and then Local Government Minister Andrew Fraser (now Qld state Treasurer) made at the behest of the Property Council of Australia. This is on top of the ever-escalating increases in charges of water, electricity, transport, housing, etc. caused by the Queensland Government's policies of privatisation and enforced popoulation growth.

The Property Council demanded amalgamations because it regarded smaller councils, such as the now abolished Noosa and Douglas Shire Councils, which were more responsive to the wishes of local residents, as impediments to their plans to impose urban development and population growth.

However, the forced amalgamations were opposed by a massive grassroots opposition in all of the local government areas to be abolished. In every local government area in which residents were consulted, amalgamation was rejected overwhelmingly.

Of course, the Courier Mail is now silent on its own support for amalgamation which flew in the face of Queensland public opinion and the hard evidence. At one point, during the heigh ot the controversy, pro-John Howard Courier Mail even seemed to cynically welcome the prospect that then Federal Opposition leader Kevin Rudd would pay a political price at the 2007 elections for the conduct of his Queensland state Labor counterparts. This was in spite of the fact that Rudd, unlike the Courier Mail, had at least gone on the public record as being opposed to the council amalgamations.

If ever Queenslanders are ever able to fix up the shambles created by the Beattie and Bligh governments, it won't be any thanks to the Courier Mail.

Comments

The Property Council of Australia has repeatedly boasted about its political power to change policy and that it has 'saved' its members over 2 billion dollars (in one year, I think) by getting taxes cut. If it is true that the PCA influenced the undemocratic, forced council amalgamations which have cost the public so much in democracy and in monetary expenses, then these sums should be recouped from the PCA through charges for services emanating from these new and expensive changes to local government.

There should also be an enquiry into the ways in which the PCA and its members have impacted on public policy and practice, e.g. law-making, taxes, and what this has changed about our democracy.

candobetter.org/node/628
Sheila Newman, population sociologist
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I received the following comment from a Maleny resident:

I know only Caloundra/Sunshine Coast area and Crow's Nest/Toowoomba area. In both these instances the new big councils are far far better than what was there before.

They are more professional, their reps are better quality in general

They represent a direction towards regional government with States probably disappearing...

I haven't heard an argument I support against this ...

bye and thanks for your research

www.pecheysandals.com

My comment:

It's possible for decent candidates to win elections in larger amalgamated councils, but generally, the larger size will make it harder for people who are respected by the community, but who oppose developers and other powerful vested interests to win. That would seem to be why the Property Council of Australia asked former Queensland Premier Beattie to enact amalgamations

In the Sunshine Coast Regional Council a pro-democracy candidate, Bob Abbott, former Mayor of the Noosa Shire council, who, in fact, opposed the amalgamation of the Noosa Shire into the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, was able to defeat a developer-backed candidate, who was the Mayor of the Maroochy Shire. The previous Caloundra Shire, of which Maleny was part, also had a pro-developer mayor. The defeat of pro-developer candidates also occurred in the Cairns City Council into which the Douglas Shire was amalgamated and Redlands Shire. This verdict of many Queensland voters angered Rupert Murdoch's pro-developer national newspaper the Australian, which had been counting on the forced amalgamations to solve the developers' problems. I wrote of this in the article "The Australian laments outcome of Queensland local government elections" of 30 March 2008.

Nevertheless, I still think that the people of Maleny would be served better still by a council still smaller than the old abolished encompassing Caloundra City Council. That council could have simply been for Maleny and the surrounding areas, or, perhaps a larger Blackall Ranges Shire encompassing Maleney, Montville and Mapleton.

Possibly the Sunshine Coast Regional Council would work well as a regional government and the Queensland Government could be abolished. - JS

The loss of the Noosa Planning Scheme was a catastrophe.

I have it on direct inside authority that the practical demands of managing the political and technical complexities of the now expanded municipality are overwhelming.

Admittedly both Caloundra and Maroochy Councils were substandard on many levels. However it was up to the constituents to fix that not hope an expansion of the system and an appropriation (and tragic dilution) of some of Noosa's essence might somehow magically do it for them.

The task of democratic and administrative repair is now inordinately more difficult for all of the areas involved. Thinking otherwise depends upon not taking any clear measurements.