Bush councils team up to get a fairer go from the government
DETERMINED to ensure that people in the bush get a fairer go from the Queensland Government, the state’s smaller councils including Livingstone Shire and Central Highlands, are joining forces in a Bush Councils Compact Agreement.
Small populations, funding and policy uncertainty, the tyranny of distance and a high dependence on cyclical industries can severely inhibit the ability of bush councils to deliver the essential infrastructure and services their communities need and deserve.
Proposed by the Local Government Association of Queensland, the Compact was a historic agreement designed to establish a new level of collaboration between the State and bush councils guaranteeing minimum standards of service delivery and infrastructure for regional, rural and remote communities.
The Compact impacts 45 councils across the state with a bush council defined as having a population of less than 50,000 people and/or a population density of fewer than 10 people per km2.
In Central Queensland, Livingstone Shire Council and Central Highlands Regional Council fall under this definition.
The LGAQ has called on all political parties to commit to the Compact ahead of the October 31 State Election and to implement it within the first 100 days of the new Parliamentary term.
The Bush Councils Compact would require the next Queensland Government to:
- Ensure special consideration is given to how every piece of legislation and every Cabinet decision will impact Queensland’s rural and remote communities.
- Publish an annual report on the State of our Bush Communities, which includes an independent assessment of government programs and service delivery to rural and remote communities.
- Introduce a ‘Bush Champions’ scheme for Directors-General including Key Performance Indicators to ensure government program provision and service delivery to rural and remote communities are top of mind.
LGAQ president Mark Jamieson said the Compact was designed to ensure the State Government never failed to consider how every Cabinet submission, every piece of legislation and every policy decision, might affect bush communities.
“Small populations, funding and policy uncertainty, the tyranny of distance and a high dependence on industries impacted by global fluctuations are combining to hurt our bush communities,” Mr Jamieson said.
“One-size-fits-all government policies only add to this frustration by ignoring any unique circumstances existing in rural and remote economies.
“We want a far greater understanding throughout government departments of the realities facing bush councils and their communities so they can make better decisions, provide greater revenue certainty and, of course, improve the quality of life of residents in rural and remote communities.”
Mr Jamieson said it wasn’t a funding wish list but rather a high-level agreement providing greater policy and regulatory transparency for bush councils and a better understanding of their local circumstances.
Keppel candidates respond to Bush Compact challenge
Candidates contesting the seat of Livingstone have responded to LGAQ’s challenge to commit and implement the Bush Councils Compact agreement.
Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the Queensland Labor Government was working for every Queenslander regardless of which part of the state they called home.
“We are more than happy to consider any ideas that would help us do this better,” Mr Hinchliffe said.
One Nation’s Keppel candidate Wade Rothery said his party had always provided a strong voice for regional communities across Queensland.
“I’ll be maintaining that same ‘locals first’ attitude here in Keppel if I’m elected on October 31,” Mr Rothery said.
“Sadly regional Queenslanders are disproportionately represented because the majority of state politicians are located in the south-east corner.
“A large proportion of Queensland’s 77 local governments have had weak political party hacks who don’t speak up for their electorates. That attitude has to change.”
Mr Rothery said the LGAQ was also very south-east Queensland focused, noting its support of the uncosted Brisbane Olympics bid which had cost the past two host nations over $20 billion each.
“I’ve also seen LGAQ members disproportionately call for state funding like the $28.8 billion fast rail project for the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast that drains funding for other projects throughout the regions,” Mr Rothery said.
“I’m not interested in the LGAQ. My approach will be to deal directly with both the Livingstone and Rockhampton councils who are in my immediate electorate.”
LNP Leader Deb Frecklington said only the LNP backed the bush.
“I grew up in the bush and a raised a family in regional Queensland,” Ms Frecklington said.
“I am a fierce advocate for regional Queensland and if I’m elected Premier next month, the LNP we will deliver a strong economic plan to create local jobs and stimulate the economy.
“The LNP will consider the Bush Councils Compact and work closely with LGAQ during a thorough consultation process.”
She said the LNP’s commitment to the regions was evidenced by their plans to deliver the New Bradfield Scheme, build new dams, fix regional roads, restore regional maternity services, drop regional regional electricity prices by around $300 a year, slash water prices by 20 per cent for SunWater irrigators and back our farmers with new landscape management laws.
Peak body support for Bush Councils Compact
The Compact has earned the support of fellow peak bodies, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation, the Queensland Country Women’s Association and AgForce.
Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) CEO Georgina Davis welcomed the proposed Compact as a means to ensure essential services support and meet the needs of rural and remote communities; and encouraged the state’s major political parties to lend their support.
“Queensland is the most decentralised of Australia’s mainland states, with the agriculture sector of critical importance to these communities whereby they contribute to the state’s food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity,” Dr Davis said.
“Despite their contribution, Queenslanders in rural and remote areas do not receive the same standard of infrastructure and essential services as those living in metropolitan areas.
“To bridge the divide between the city and the country, while improving the quality of life of rural and remote residents, in the next parliament, the government must guarantee minimum standards of service delivery and infrastructure for rural and remote communities.”
AgForce General President Georgie Somerset said improving support for rural and remote Queensland was critical to the economic future of the state.
“Queensland’s rural communities – and the vital industries like agriculture they support – are the powerhouse underpinning our State’s economic strength,” Ms Somerset said.
“We must make sure these communities have access to the same level and quality of services available to people living in our cities.
“The vision driving AgForce’s Stand With Regional Queensland campaign is the same as that behind LGAQ’s Bush Councils Compact.
“AgForce is proud to endorse and support the Bush Councils Compact and hope that, working together, we can ensure rural councils receive the support they need to deliver vital services to their communities.”