DIVIDED ATTENTION: Gympie's councillors in their natural regional habitats, which were created in 2011 in a controversial decision which ended when the state government stepped in..
DIVIDED ATTENTION: Gympie's councillors in their natural regional habitats, which were created in 2011 in a controversial decision which ended when the state government stepped in.. The Gympie Times

Are Gympie council's divisions working for ratepayers?

PIECES of eight might be pirate treasure, but is it also the gold choice for Gympie ratepayers?

While it's been seven years since the widely controversial decision to introduce electoral divisions, opinion is still split over whether it has given the region what it wants.

Speak to the councillors, and many feel it gives voters a local connection to the council.

The public, on the other hand, may well be suffering a political version of buyers remorse.

So how did we get here?

While some of the region's shire councils had divisions, the 2008 amalgamations forced a much larger land mass on the council.

And an interesting decision.

 

Jan Watt.
Jan Watt. Renee Albrecht

Ex-councillor Jan Watt, who ended up in the centre of the divisional storm in 2011, said the council chose to move forward undivided, a decision born of extreme time restrictions and leading to an epic ballot with more than 45 names up for election.

Part of the plan, Ms Watt said, was to review this before the next election.

Of course, that was when everything went sideways.

The council wanted to keep it undivided; the community (led by Reg Lawler) ultimately supported carving up the region.

Ms Watt stressed she was not in favour of either system.

 

Reg Lawler.
Reg Lawler. Craig Warhurst

She was, though, in favour of listening to the public.

And was left "disgusted" by how it all unfolded.

"If the council had done it properly at the time, I'm guessing there would have been another outcome," she said.

An undivided region was what the council of the time wanted, but in 2018 the field looks quite different.

Cr Dan Stewart said "on balance" he preferred the divide.

"With divisions councillors can get to know particular areas and can give priority to attending local groups and events," he said.

 

Gympie councillor Dan Stewart.
Gympie councillor Dan Stewart. Renee Albrecht

He said it also made campaigning easier with smaller voting groups, but said councillors still had to remember they were governing for the region.

Without divisions, he said it increased the chances of "teams" being formed.

Cr Hilary Smerdon said the divisional system "works well", and kept representatives familiar with their areas.

"I can't see any problems divisions have created and they rightly do draw focus to specific areas in that division for that councillor," he said.

Cr Glen Hartwig agreed divisions brought wider regional attention.

 

Cr Glen Hartwig.
Cr Glen Hartwig. Tom Daunt

"With broader regional representation there is a greater diversity among councillors; how would the rural areas fare if councillors just came from Gympie City?" Cr Hartwig said.

Cr Bob Fredman said he would work under either system, but had "seen no evidence that either... leads to wiser councillors or mayors being elected, who make better decisions".

Deputy Mayor Bob Leitch said it was incumbent on councillors to make the best decisions regardless of boundaries.

"Divisions allow residents to feel confidence in having a point of contact should they require it," Cr Leitch said.

Cr Daryl Dodt, however, said dividing the region "only leads to drawing councillors from an ever decreasing pool of talent" and constrained the council's ability to observe the wider regional picture.

 

Gympie councillor Daryl Dodt.
Gympie councillor Daryl Dodt. Renee Albrecht

Elections were also an issue.

"Divisions lead to the last year of the councillor's term being spent in ensuring divisional re-election, with little care for the overall benefit to the region and without care for the future," Cr Dodt said.

Mayor Mick Curran said, at the end of the day, the only difference between the two systems were their election-time mechanics.

"Councillors' role (regardless of division) is to make decisions on behalf of the whole GRC," Cr Curran said.

Of the 77 Queensland councils 24 have divisions.

Removing boundaries is not as simple as grabbing an eraser, though.

 

Gympie Council 2018 Hilary Smerdon, Dan Stewart, Glen Hartwig, Bob Leitch, Mick Curran, Bob Fredman, Mal Gear, Daryl Dodt and Mark McDonald.
Gympie Council 2018 Hilary Smerdon, Dan Stewart, Glen Hartwig, Bob Leitch, Mick Curran, Bob Fredman, Mal Gear, Daryl Dodt and Mark McDonald. Renee Albrecht

"In order for a divided council to abolish its divisions, the council would need to apply to the Minister," a Local Government Department spokesman said.

"If agreed, the Minister will then refer to the Change Commissioner to assess.

"The reasons behind implementing or abolishing divisions are a matter for the council."

What readers have to say

Colleen Miller: Scrap divisions - being in council has nothing to do with where you live. You are representing the whole of Gympie, not just the area where you live.

George Wakelin: I am convinced many of us who voted for divisions would vote against them next time. Have everyone vote for the deemed best eight.

Cherry Ryan: We fought for divisions voted then got a "furpy" (sic) and wasn't my vote. Since then all he cares about is what is in the "city precinct". The rural part is out of sight, out of mind.

Chris Bond: I think you should be able to see whoever you think would be most likely to listen to you and take action if needed.

Graeme Ellingsen: Scrap them.

Gympie Times


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