Rewind to 2007 and local communities were up in arms. With very little notice the decision was made by the Queensland State Government that local councils were to amalgamate. The reasoning behind the decision? Economies of scale, to benefit smaller councils, cost savings, to gain other efficiencies and possibly to make things easier to control for the State Government.
Locally this meant Caboolture Shire would merge with Redcliffe and Pine Rivers to make a super council to be known as Moreton Bay Regional Council.
Just up the highway The Sunshine Coast would also become a super-council merging the councils of Caloundra, Maroochydore and Noosa.
After 5 years Noosa had had enough of being part of the Sunshine Coast, they had a highly publicised referendum on the issue and de-amalgamated. While well publicised locally at the time, Noosa was not the only Council that went down this path, they were joined by The Shire of Douglas (Cairns Region), The Shire of Mareeba (Tablelands Region) and The Shire of Livingstone (Rockhampton Region).
Now fast forward to 2021. Nearly 12 months ago we have a newly elected Mayor in Peter Flannery and it is probably fair to say that considering everything that is going on around the world that our region has a positive outlook. However, it is also fair to say that the first 12 years of Moreton Bay Regional Council has had its fair share of controversy. Investigations, suspensions, questionable approvals, unusual contract processes and conflicts of interest.
It doesn’t make great reading when you put it all together. It actually makes you wonder if we are better off without the Moreton Bay Regional Council or even local council at all.
As a community are, we better off going in a different direction? What are the options?
This is what I came up with as possible options, but everyone has an opinion right?
Nothing. The easy option. We have a new Mayor in Peter Flannery that has a better understanding of the Caboolture Shire. Time to be patient and see what happens. Sit back and wait until the next election.
De-amalgamate. Just like Noosa and the other shires. Back to Caboolture Shire Council. Back to how it was pre-2008. A lot of money, time and effort required for this one. Who is going to back it?
De-amalgamate and amalgamate with Sunshine Coast Council or possibly split the old Caboolture Shire with divisions 1 and 12 going to the Sunshine Coast.
De-amalgamate Bribie Island only and amalgamate with other Islands such as Moreton, Stradbroke and Russell. Give this some thought before you say no.
Get rid of the bridge and Bribie to go it alone. Do it our way – kind of like Norfolk Island. Too late for that and not enough rate payers to make it work I’m told.
Do we really need 3 levels of Government that includes opposition at a State and Federal level? Could we live without Local or State Government? How much money would this save, and would it make a difference to our lives? I think we could hear more about this in the future.
It is at this point I sat down with the last Mayor of Caboolture, Joy Leishman to get some perspective and to dig a little deeper. Joy served as the Mayor between 2000 and 2008. Here are the key points of what Joy had to say. To listen to the full interview, visit www.islandandsurrounds.com/podcast-listen or listen on your favourite podcast platform.
At the time of Amalgamation Caboolture Shire Council was in a strong financial position.
The three councils had to organise the amalgamation between themselves, including the name.
At the last day of Caboolture Shire Council there were 983 staff and there was confusion about their future role and location.
At the time of amalgamation Caboolture Shire Council was the 7th largest council in Queensland with a population of around 160,000.
Joy was previously a Local Councillor between 1985 and 1991.
Our current Councillor, Brooke Savige is the best Local Councillor she has ever seen.
The Noosa de-amalgamation was funded by wealthy backers.
Joy took a positive outlook into the 2008 election and was favourite to win with the merged Council, but the eventual winner was the Redcliffe Mayor, Allan Sutherland.
At the time of amalgamation, they should have also reviewed the legislation around Local Government.
There should have been more community consultation around the boundaries and the new role of Local Council.
If it was up to Joy, she said “she would have split the three councils into two.”
Amalgamation should have been more about assisting smaller councils by merging with larger councils, as opposed to building super councils.
So the chat with the former Mayor, Joy Leishman was enlightening and gave plenty of perspective on the amalgamation. Thank you Joy.
So how has the new ‘super’ council performed between 2008 and 2020? Sure, like most large organisation they will be able to quote facts and figures about what a great job they do: thinks like population growth, revenue, employment and so forth, but how do you feel about the local community and the role of council?
This is how I feel. After 12 years our catchment has very little to show from the relationship with Moreton Bay Regional Council. There is limited infrastructure in key areas, limited local events published other than online, no tourism strategy that I have seen, limited small business assistance, no new local road networks, poor public transport, and the list goes on. Development and infrastructure have not kept up with growth. For instance, what tourist attractions do we have that have been provided by Council? I can think of the newly renovated Library and the Museum at Bongaree. What has been done for the youth of the area? What has been done to the roads? What is the strategic plan? Is there a plan? Plenty of Questions…..
We have the beach; we have the privately owned Sandstone Point Hotel and the volunteer operated Butterfly House. A Tourist Information Centre in a car park, I thank the LOCALS, our volunteers who keep it going. It certainly needs a face lift and more signage though. Consider tourism to the local area as a multi-million-dollar business, we need a much better structure urgently so we can build our economy. Now is the time, No excuses on this one!
How different things would have been if we stayed as Caboolture Shire or amalgamated with Sunshine Coast?
Is it too late to change our mind? Is it too hard to change? What must happen?
Firstly, the community must want to change. With 13 years water under the bridge (literally) maybe 50% of the community has no connection to the Caboolture Shire Council and only know life with Moreton Bay Regional Council. So unlikely. It probably had to happen at the same time as Noosa and the other Councils in 2013.
Secondly, it needs funding for research, promotion and lobbying. Noosa is a unique location with a unique population and a strong environmental history, not to mention plenty of dollars in the community. So another unlikely here.
Finally, the Queensland State Government are the decision makers. Another unlikely scenario in these COVID times that State Government would prioritise a de-amalgamation or want to unscramble the eggs as Joy Leishman puts it.
So that is that. Too late to turn back time. No fairy tale ending. We just need to make it work. Fingers crossed.