News

Does council need divisions to improve representation?

 

What's all this about divisions? The potential process explained

Council is GCC in disguise: Councillor Leo Neill-Ballantine

Council is serving admirably: Mayor Gail Sellers

A GLADSTONE councillor has suggested that more than half the current council would support official discussion on divisions if it were to come to a vote.

The case for selecting councilors from particular areas, rather than selecting councillors to represent the whole region, has been an idea which has been brought up at various times since amalgamation in 2007.

However, it is believed the concept has never been formally debated in this term of council.

The Observer understands a majority of councillors would like to see a debate on divisions, but Mayor Gail Sellers says the debate has blindsided her.

"It hasn't been raised at all in council chambers…so there hasn't been a lot of thought put into it and nobody knows exactly how it would work," Cr Sellers said.

However, she said she would support a discussion on divisions, if not the concept itself.

"If the matter was raised on the table, I would support discussion on it," Cr Sellers said.

She said there would need to be a lot of investigation into what form divisions would take before a proper discussion could be held.

It's something that really needs to be talked about though.

 

The case for divisions has been pushed by rural councilor Leo Neill-Ballantine, who says the council has systematically and unintentionally been ignoring the region outside of the old Gladstone City Council area.

"It's not possible for councilors to get out to everybody and figure out what the hell is going on," Cr Neill Ballantine said.

"I can't believe that councilors would get out to places like Baffle Creek often enough to appreciate the challenges they have, so why not have a councillor out there?"

Figures show skew in spending

The debate comes as analysis by The Observer shows 80% of the funding allocated is going to an area which houses 55% of the people in the Gladstone region.

However, there are several limitations on the numbers.

As the council does not keep a centralised register of individual funding decisions made during the year, the statistics were compiled by investigating minutes of each council meeting throughout 2013 and analysing funding decisions made.

The funding decisions included do not include those which could potentially be a "whole of region" decision such as council fleet purchases, resurfacing of various sites, disaster relief, or the hiring of extra council staff.

The difficulty in any comparative analysis is that population data is three years out of date.

Since 2011, the number of people in areas in the former Gladstone City Council region has exploded because of work associated with the LNG projects on Curtis Island.

"Yeah, I do see that line of thinking," Cr Neill-Ballantine said. "It's something that really needs to be talked about though."

>> See the full list of funding decisions approved from Gladstone Regional Council here.

What's all this about divisions? The potential process explained

A COUNCIL division would essentially create elected councilors for particular areas of the region, much in the same way federal and state parliaments work by having representatives from particular seats.

However, getting divisions happening for Gladstone would not be an easy task.

According to the state government, the council must first agree to pursue a call for divisions and back this up with a "coherent argument".

The council must then write to the Local Government Minister requesting divisions.

The Minister can then, based on the strength of Council's argument, refer the request on to the Local Government Change Commission.

The Change Commission then goes through a consultation process with the Council and the local community.

Once completed, the Change Commission reports back to the Minister with its recommendation.

The Minister can then refer the recommendation to the Governor-in-Council.

While it sounds exhaustive, sources said the whole thing could be wrapped up within three months if need be.

Leo Neill-Ballantine.
Leo Neill-Ballantine. Contributed

Council is GCC in disguise: Councillor Leo Neill-Ballantine

COUNCILLOR Leo Neill-Ballantine says whether consciously or unconsciously, it seems that the council was the Gladstone City Council in disguise.

"I'm the only one who lives outside of that area, so I don't know how others can say they represent the whole of the region," Cr Neill-Ballantine said.

"You just pick up a lot by living in an area rather than just making the odd day-trip around the place."

He said the existing system of representation was not working, and people were letting him know about it.

"Honestly, if people actually felt they were being represented, why are people coming up to me?"

"I really don't think people feel like the council gives a damn about what happens out at Baffle Creek and so on."

Cr Neill-Ballantine denied he was simply stirring the pot, and said the discussion needed to be had in the interest of democracy.

Being the only person on the council from the bush, I've seen how agriculture has been mistreated by this council.

However, Neill-Ballantine's beef runs deeper.

"Being the only person on the council from the bush, I've seen how agriculture has been mistreated by this council," Cr Neill-Ballantine said.

"Yes we've got all this industry, but what about agriculture?

"You go to places like Rockhampton, and they've got a bigger focus on agriculture."

Mayor Gail Sellers.
Mayor Gail Sellers. Contributed

Council is serving admirably: Mayor Gail Sellers

MAYOR Gail Sellers says the current system of representation is working just fine, and it would take an overwhelming body of evidence to convince her otherwise.

"I believe we do it extremely well, and all areas are well-represented," Cr Sellers said.

"We travel to those regions. All the councilors make every effort to get there when we can.

"On Australia Day we got to all the events, on a monthly basis we hold meetings in outlying areas of the regions. At no time up until now has anybody written to us to say that 'you are not representing us'."

While she said currently the whole region had nine councilors representing them, but if divisions were brought in, people in outlying areas would end up only having one representative.

However, she said any proposal for divisions had to be well thought-out.

"I think the community needs to be well-informed on the way that representation would be decided before we move ahead with anything," Cr Sellers said.

"I'm not certain how it would work. It's usually done on numbers of people living here and the majority of people live in the city area."

However, she said she would welcome any discussion brought up in council chambers if it was fully thought-out.

Topics:  council divisions, gladstone regional council



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