Polls on shire mergers outlawed

10th August 2007Shire councillors will be instantly sacked, under a law passed on Friday morning, if they organise referendums asking rate payers to vote on the forced Queensland regional shire mergers.

A late amendment to enforce the sacking was added to the Qld Government compulsory local government merger law before it was passed late last night in Qld Parliament.

The Act will enforce Premier Beattie’s strong stand against referedums for regional rate payers.

A marathom debate last night preceded the controversial Qld Local Government Reform Implementation Bill 2007, including the amendment, before the Bill was passed.

Premier Peter Beattie says the amalgamations will pave the way for the most significant reform to Queensland councils in more than 100 years.

As debate on the legislation kicked off in Parliament, Mr Beattie said the reforms would provide the platform for an economic and development boom across regional Queensland.

His positive appraisal comes after two weeks of vigorous protests across Queensland, against the forced merger of hundreds of regional shires.

“This Bill is a blueprint for the future,” Mr Beattie said.

The Bill will:

• Reduce existing councils from 156 to 72.

• Cut the number of existing politicians by 724.

• Create a new class of super regional councils.

Mr Beattie said, “Stronger sustainable councils will mean more jobs, more opportunities and a brighter future for communities, currently serviced by small and financially weak councils.”

Mr Beattie said the Queensland Parliament was the proper forum for debate over the reforms.

“This is a State issue – not a national one,” he said.

“It is clear John Howard is desperate if he has to try to buy-in into our reform issue by making taxpayers around the country foot the bill for costly referenda.

“All Queenslanders were given the opportunity to have their say by providing a submission to the Local Government Reform Commission.

“Therefore, thanks to the silly stunt by John Howard we amended the Bill today to provide for the immediate dismissal of any council which goes ahead with plans for a poll or referendum or plebiscite.

“I will not allow councils to waste taxpayers money – even if John Howard does think it is a good idea.

“Running referendums in affected councils could cost more than $10 million.

“That is an extraordinary waste for something that will have absolutely no impact.”

Minister for Local Government, Andrew Fraser, said councils would not be able to take any action to request, arrange or cause a poll to be conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission or any other entity.

“Staging a referendum will be an explicit trigger for immediate dismissal of individual councils,” Mr Fraser said.

“If a council has already started a poll they must take all necessary steps to ensure that the poll does not go ahead and they must inform ratepayers that it will not go ahead.

“If a council declines to desist and goes ahead with plans for referendums, they will be dismissed without notice.

“Administrators will be appointed to any councils that are dismissed.”

“The vast majority of councils have already indicated they were not going to proceed with any referenda but Mr Howard’s silly stunt may have given some false hope.

“The boundaries have been determined by an independent commission.

“We will not let Queenslanders be used as pawns in a political game played by an increasingly desperate Prime Minister.”

SOURCE: Breaking news from Queensland County Life weekly newspaper, updated daily on FarmOnline.