Beattie Govt feels the heat of council merger protests

23rd May 2007

THE IRONY of regional council staff chanting “the workers united will never be defeated” at a series of rallies may be starting to unnerve the Queensland Government’s hard-line approach to forced council amalgamations.
Qld Local Government Minister, Andrew Fraser, last week maintained his take-no-prisoners stance on his plan for council amalgamations but first signs of a more conciliatory approach surfaced earlier this week when the Premier, Peter Beattie, moved to assure council staff around the sunshine State there will be no forced redundancies as a result of the Local Government Reform process.

The Premier said next month’s State Budget would allocate $12m towards a Staff Support package, thereby guaranteeing employment for two years as of March, 2008.

But federal Nationals’ leader in the Senate, Senator Boswell, has already slammed the proposal, pointing out the move effectively admitted that council jobs were “on the cutting board”.

“What happens after two years to those workers – and will they have to move to keep their jobs?” Senator Boswell said.

With the Premier attempting to defuse the debacle, Mr Fraser last week was continuing to remind delegates at an Urban Local Government Association of Queensland conference in Toowoomba of “the absolute need for change”, a phrase that he repeated all through his speech.

“There’s nothing in the Reform Commission’s references that says we must have X number of Local Governments in Queensland.

“And there’s no set quota for the number of people in shires, no set quota about the minimum number of square kilometres,” he added.

The Minister said the amalgamation issue remained the “only option” for the Queensland Government.

“More to the point, we are standing by this decision,” he said bluntly.