Beattie admits stuff up over Qld council mergers

20th August 2007Queensland Premier Peter Beattie admits he “stuffed up” by legislating to ban polls on forced local government mergers and says he won’t sack councils that hold referendums on the issue.

Citing new government-commissioned research that found 52pc of Queenslanders believed referenda should be held on the controversial mergers, Mr Beattie said his government had been too heavy-handed on the issue.

Prime Minister John Howard last week introduced legislation in federal parliament to override the Queensland laws, but the bill will not be passed by the Senate until next month, meaning councils that held votes in the meantime would risk being sacked.

But Local Government Minister Andrew Fraser on Saturday declined to take action against a Central Queensland shire that went ahead with a ballot on the issue, and Mr Beattie now says others are free to hold referenda using federal money.

“If they want to have a protest vote they’re entitled to do it,” Mr Beattie said.

“If they want to take advantage of John Howard’s money they can.”

However, Mr Beattie said the government-commissioned AC Neilsen poll showed most Queenslanders were in favour of local government reform, while half supported the boundary changes passed through State Parliament this month.

The poll found 73pc of the 1000 people surveyed State-wide believed stronger council boundaries were needed to deal with population growth.

Respondents were split almost equally, however, on the boundary changes as recommended by an independent commission, with 50pc in support and 48pc opposing the new boundaries.

Mr Beattie said the poll results showed the community believed the government had “got it right” by intervening to force the mergers.

“We are sticking to the boundaries as law, the amalgamations will go ahead, they will not change,” he said

“We are certain now that Queenslanders support it.”