Queensland councils set to de-amalgamate

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On Saturday, while most attention was focused on Western Australia, voters in four regional Queensland areas voted to overturn controversial council amalgamations forced through by the Beattie Labor government in 2007.

The amalgamations caused an uproar in large parts of regional Queensland, and the Liberal National Party promised to move towards reversing some of the amalgamations.

The City of Brisbane covers most of the Brisbane urban area, and has done so since the 1930s. Because of this previous merger, the amalgamations focused on regional areas.

The former local government areas of Mareeba, Livingstone, Douglas and Noosa were merged respectively into the super-councils of Tablelands, Rockhampton, Cairns and Sunshine Coast.

All four votes passed. In three of the areas, the plebiscite passed with 56-58% voting ‘yes’. The vote in Noosa was overwhelming, with over 81% voting ‘yes’.

The restored councils will be required to pay for the estimated cost of restoring an extra local council – with the cost estimated by the Queensland Treasury Corporation to be as high as $13.65 million in the case of Noosa.

The state government refused a request from the former Isis Shire Council to break away from Bundaberg Regional Council on the grounds that the restored council would not be able to bear the costs of separation.

It’s unclear how long it will be before new councils are elected in the de-amalgamated areas, and whether the remainder of the super-councils which will be broken up will also have to face new elections. It’s also unclear if any more former councils will be offered the opportunity to de-amalgamate.

These decisions buck what has been an inexorable trend for the last eighty years. Most local councils were created across Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and by the 1930s and 1940s, efforts began to be made to reduce the number of councils.

In that time, councils have been amalgamated all over Australia, with very few examples of councils being broken up into smaller units.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I have mixed feelings about the de-amalgamations.

    Noosa has a good case for separating, but I disagree with the others.

    Noosa has a distinctly different culture from the rest of the Sunshine Coast, but furthermore has a distinctly different ideology about how to manage their affairs and an economy large enough and broad enough to sustainably survive on their own. At the end of the day, they were too different from Maroochy and Caloundra and they didn’t need to merge.

    The others however, while they may have had their own cultures, don’t have those things that Noosa has. The council which will most likely be worst off is Mareeba. Separate from Tablelands, it will be small, weak, broke and impotent.

    I hope there aren’t any more de-amalgamation votes, particularly in Redcliffe which seems to be fighting hardest of those former LGAs which were denied a vote.

    The other thing is that I hope this doesn’t discourage other states from pushing through local government amalgamations. While politically unpopular, they are ultimately for the best, long term. Look at it this way. I highly doubt there is anyone other than peripheral loony who would argue to reverse the Brisbane City Council amalgamation of 1925.

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