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The 'visionary' council mergers leave many out in the cold

By Ben Rees - posted Wednesday, 1 August 2007

The much debated, defended and criticised council reform process has moved a step towards conclusion with the drawing of the new boundaries. The media are having a field day while the young Minister for Local Government, Planning and Sport, Andrew Fraser, and Premier Peter Beattie proclaim visionary foresight necessary to lead the state forward.

The grounds for this visionary thinking are very much reflective of the past. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Labor realised that to become elected in a prosperous post-war economy, they would need to transform from a party of the “battlers” to become a modern party appealing to middle income electors. This led to the recruitment of academics and professionals who became known as “the technocrats”.

Playford and Kirsner (1972), say the “technocrats” embraced large corporations as the badge of “modernity, efficiency and rationality”. Conversely, small scale was “anarchic and inefficient”. It is this philosophy that now seems to have come into play with the local government reforms in Queensland.


So what is the situation on the ground in a “reformed” new regional government area?

New local government districts differ in representation. All Indigenous communities are to have divided representation that ensures each community group has a representative councillor. Non Indigenous councils comprise undivided representation based upon numerical parameters and a mayor (explained below). Is this racism or discrimination?

Divided Indigenous councils comprise internal divisions or wards. They would be very similar to the existing local government system. Undivided non Indigenous councils, recommended for all non Indigenous councils, will have no internal divisions. This will be very different to the existing structure and lends itself to concentration of political and economic power through population distribution.

More importantly, the difference in representation is profound. In non Indigenous regional councils, population distribution will drive the decision making process. Political and economic power will reside in geographically dominant groups. Less densely populated areas with limited voting power will have to trade their support for concessions. Their success will depend upon the level of dominance bestowed by geographical distribution of the elected councillors and their followers.

The proposed Dalby Regional Council is a classic example for discussion. It will comprise the former shires of Dalby, Wambo, Chinchilla, Tara, Murilla and division two of Taroom. If we assume that population in the Taroom Shire divides equally between division one and division two, then population based upon 2006 data is a total of 30,283, made up as follows:

  • Dalby: 10,536;
  • Wambo: 5,446;
  • Chinchilla: 6,316;
  • Tara: 3,938;
  • Murilla : 2,783; and
  • Taroom (division two): 1,264.

Eight councillors and a mayor are recommended for the new Dalby Regional Council. Consequently, each councillor represents 3,785 residents.

The former shires of Dalby and Wambo were a doughnut configuration. Dalby was the town council while Wambo represented the surrounding rural population The population of Dalby and Wambo combined will be 15,982 residents: geographically these two are situated on the extreme eastern side of the new regional entity. The combined population of these former two shires will represent just less than 53 per cent of the new Dalby Regional Council’s total residents. The remaining percentage breakdown of total population will be:

  • Chinchilla - 20.8 per cent;
  • Tara - 13 per cent;
  • Murilla  - 9.2 per cent; and
  • Taroom - 4.2 per cent.
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About the Author

Ben Rees is both a farmer and a research economist. He has been a contributor to QUT research projects such as Rebuilding Rural Australia. Over the years he has been keynote and guest speaker at national and local rural meetings and conferences. Ben also participated in a 2004 Monash Farm Forum.

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