GLADSTONE REGIONAL COUNCIL: Cr Glenn Churchill, Cr PJ Sobhanian, Cr Desley O'Grady, Mayor Matt Burnett, Cr Rick Hansen, Deputy Mayor Chris Trevor, Cr Kahn Goodluck, Cr Cindi Bush and Cr Peter Masters.
GLADSTONE REGIONAL COUNCIL: Cr Glenn Churchill, Cr PJ Sobhanian, Cr Desley O'Grady, Mayor Matt Burnett, Cr Rick Hansen, Deputy Mayor Chris Trevor, Cr Kahn Goodluck, Cr Cindi Bush and Cr Peter Masters. Paul Braven GLA050416COUNCIL

10 Years Gone: Most councillors were against amalgamation

THE current crop of Gladstone Regional Councillors have reflected on their memories when forced amalgamations whipped up a frenzy across all corners of Queensland.

Today marks 10 years since Gladstone City Council, Miriam Vale Shire and Calliope Shire merged to form the Gladstone Region Council.

Gladstone Region deputy mayor Chris Trevor clearly remembers the saga as it was during the time he was ALP candidate for Flynn.

"When Premier Peter Beattie announced without warning forced amalgamations I was at the epicentre of the civil unrest which was to follow," Cr Trevor said.

"Flynn was the most affected seat ... After meeting with many mayors and councillors from Gladstone to Winton I informed the national media that I opposed forced amalgamations.

"Kevin Rudd flew to Gladstone and did a doorstop on Auckland Hill supporting my position.

 

Opposition leader Kevin Rudd (centre left) and local member Chris Trevor talk to the media during a quick visit to Gladstone, Thursday, May 17, 2007. Rudd repeated his calls for Peter Beattie to reconsider forced council amalgamations.
TESTING TIMES: Opposition leader Kevin Rudd and ALP candidate for Flynn Chris Trevor talk to the media during a quick visit to Gladstone, Thursday, May 17, 2007. Rudd repeated his calls for Peter Beattie to reconsider forced council amalgamations. MATT CARTY

"Subsequent rage continued, with many marches held in various towns and full page ads being taken out in newspapers.

"At Barcaldine, home of the Australian Labor Party and the Tree of Knowledge, eggs were thrown at a public protest, just missing Beattie and I.

"We both learned to duck that day. Beattie always said they were aimed at me but I beg to differ!

"Was it all worth it? I think it probably was in hindsight. These days I have witnessed many positives in bigger councils so much so that I believe we should have more mergers and abolish state governments."

Mayor Matt Burnett, who has been in council since 2000, was another who wasn't in favour of amalgamation.

 

Gladstone mayor Matt Burnett. An Alliance Airlines Fokker 70 touches down for the first time at Gladstone Airport after the departure of Virgin Australia's service to Brisbane.
Gladstone mayor Matt Burnett. Paul Braven GLA170717ALLIANCE

"I was against it ... All three councils were already working together really well," Cr Burnett said.

"That wasn't necessary the case for other councils and I get that, there were plenty of councils across Queensland who weren't sustainable.

"I can see why the state government felt the need to encourage amalgamations, but the idea of forcing amalgamations on communities was not the way to go.

"Who knows, maybe working together with our neighbours over a number of years we may have come up with the same ideal ourselves - we were already sharing services.

"But it's done now... We put that behind us and we've been the Gladstone Region for 10 years."

Cr Rick Hansen had been a Gladstone City councillor two years prior to amalgamation and supported the idea.

 

Rick Hansen
Cr Rick Hansen

"I could see the benefits that a larger regional council would bring," Cr Hansen said.

"Centralising governance activities and consolidation of council's fleet, reducing costs for the new entity, allowing more access for community representation with councillors, increasing government funding opportunities."

Cr Hansen said the amalgamation wasn't without its challenges, such as bedding down the organisation and the governance issues arising from joining three organisations.

He also highlighted the patriotism by the new Gladstone Regional Councillors who had "understandably supported their previous council's actions and views."

Cr PJ Sobhanian became a councillor in 2015, replacing Leo Neill-Ballantine.

 

Cr PJ Sobhanian.Photo Paul Braven / The Observer
Cr PJ Sobhanian Paul Braven GLA050416COUNCIL

"Much of my knowledge of it arises from anecdotal evidence given to me verbally," Cr Sobhanian said.

"From a logistics point of view, managing the legacies of previous rules and regulations under one new banner can create a challenging environment, but the knowledge gained from the coming together of different communities and listening to their needs and taking on board our community's advice is very important."

Cr Kahn Goodluck was 19 at the time of the amalgamation and was elected to council in 2016.

 

Gladstone region councillor Kahn Goodluck, mayor Matt Burnett and councillor PJ Sobhanian at the Local Government Association Queensland Conference.
Gladstone Region councillor Kahn Goodluck, mayor Matt Burnett and councillor PJ Sobhanian at the Local Government Association Queensland Conference. Gladstone Regional Council

"I believe there may well have been some efficiencies gained through combining various levels of bureaucracy and streamlining processes, but I am aware that even to this day, there are many communities that feel like they lost part of their identity through the process," he said.

Former Mayor of Banana Shire, Cr Glenn Churchill, said his opposition to forced amalgamations had been well documented.