Uproar over rural councils merger plan

17th April 2007Rural shire councils are seething that the Queensland Government has ditched a consultation process and will pursue forced shire amalgamations instead.

Premier Peter Beattie today stunned local councillors across the state by announcing a new Qld Local Government Reform Commission.

It will spend three months considering new boundaries for the long-term sustainability of local government across the state.

“Queensland is the last state in Australia to take on the job of reforming councils,” Mr Beattie said.

“Of the 157 councils, 88 service populations of 5,000 people or less and in the grand scheme, that’s unsustainable.”

Australian Local Government Association president, Paul Bell, says the news is devastating for democracy at a local level, given that any amalgamations proposed by the the current review, underway by local government, were to have gone to a referendum at next year’s local government elections.

Federal Member for Maranoa, Bruce Scott, has today condemned the announcement.

Mr Scott said Mr Beattie’s plan would see the destruction of rural communities throughout rural Queensland.

“After reading the suggested proposal of which councils should be amalgamated, I believe we will see the now thriving communities become nothing more than ghost towns,” Mr Scott said.

The Queensland proposal is similar to the recent extensive shire council amalgamations in NSW, so strongly criticised by the NSW Farmers Association.

“The reality is that local councils in Queensland are the lifeblood of the towns and surrounding areas,” Mr Scott said.

“They provide employment opportunities, promote business and tourism opportunities, and largely contribute to the economic wellbeing of the local community.

“Small businesses will struggle to survive.

“There will be a reduction in jobs and tourism and regional and rural development will cease.

“If these super shires were to go ahead, it would mean people living in these areas would be inadequately represented at the local council level.”

SOURCE: Extract from a special report Queensland Country Life, April 19, and FarmOnline