ELECTION FEARS: Gladstone Regional Council is concerned over proposed changes to how local government elections are conducted.
ELECTION FEARS: Gladstone Regional Council is concerned over proposed changes to how local government elections are conducted. Mike Richards GLA190815COUN

'Divisions cause division': Mayor unimpressed by changes

MAYOR Matt Burnett has pulled no punches when outlining Gladstone Regional Council's position on proposed changes to running local government elections.


It comes after a 24-page information paper was released last week by the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs outlining key amendments under consideration for council elections.

Some of the changes include compulsory preferential voting, proportional representation in undivided councils and campaign spending caps.

The changes are a result of the 2017 Belcarra Report into the 2016 local government elections and are expected to come before Parliament next month.

Cr Burnett said he believed the council's 'first past the post' voting method worked and that he had written to Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe this week to outline concerns.


Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe to refer proposed Livingstone Shire Council boundary changes to the Local Government Change Commission.
Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe. Allan Reinikka ROK310119alivings

"Council's position is very clear - we do not support the introduction of divisions. We support the status quo," Cr Burnett said.

"If the State Government is going to make the decision to introduce compulsory preferential voting for divisions and proportional representation for councils without divisions, then we would prefer to have divisions over proportional representation.

"Proportional representation is a senate-style ballot paper. It works in two ways - you vote above the line or below the line.

"For the 2020 election it probably won't mean a lot because everyone will run as independents as they currently do."

Example divisions could include Boyne/Tannum, Calliope, Gladstone, Agnes Water/1770 and the southern end of the Gladstone Regional Council boundary.

Voters attended polling booths around Gladstone as the Regional Council by election took place on November 17, 2018.
Voters attended polling booths around Gladstone as the Regional Council by-election took place on November 17, 2018. Matt Taylor GLA171118VOTE

Cr Burnett said he didn't expect the changes to dramatically alter the landscape of next year's council election but believed they would in 2024.

"What will happen by 2024 and beyond, people will start to form teams and tickets and party politics will make its way into council," he said.

Cr Burnett rubbished suggestions party politics had already crept into his council.

"From my point of view I don't care what party you're talking to, I will treat everyone the same whether you're Labor, Liberal, Greens, One Nation, Katter, Palmer or independent," he said.

"We've proven that - we've got a team of independently thinking councillors who make their own decisions based what they think is best for the community at the time when they vote.

"The last thing I think local government needs is for party politics to be introduced and that's what you'll get when you have proportional representation."

Cr Burnett said he believed that path would open the door for preference deals between candidates.

"If you've got an option to vote one above the line or fill in every box below the line, people will tend to vote above the line," he said.

"Just look at Senate ballot papers - and I've scrutineered many federal elections - I would say 95 per cent of people vote above the line.

"That forms groups that form tickets and that causes deals to be done with people before elections."


The Senate Ballot paper for the 2013 election.

Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
A lengthy senate-style ballot paper could become the norm. Cathy Adams

Cr Burnett said the Local Government Association of Queensland was holding a special meeting on April 2 to discuss the changes.

"I know the local government minister is listening to council feedback and some of the suggestions they're making I have no problem with - if it improves transparency I'm all for it," he said.

"But you're talking about a complete overhaul of the system with only a few weeks notice and I don't think that's the right thing to do."

Association president mayor Mark Jamieson said councils deserved to be thoroughly consulted about major changes.

"Local councils are keen to work with the government on reform but we will not put up with major changes like this being forced on the sector when there is no robust evidence base to support the changes," Mr Jamieson said.