The organisation is named: “Queensland Local Government Reform Alliance Inc.” (hereinafter abbreviated to QLGRA).
The QLGRA is a non-party political association of groups and individuals from throughout Queensland focused on the reform of local government.
The QLGRA’s mission is to be a vigorous peak body promoting the views of local communities regarding improved representation and governance standards in all areas of local government.
- Purpose, objectives and strategic goals
(NOTE: For the founding goals and a detailed explanation of these see Appendix 1)
(A) Its main purpose is to negotiate with the Local Government Minister and the Department on behalf of QLGRA Members and to lobby strongly the state government and all politicians to re-empower communities to be in control of their own councils.
(B) Its main objectives are to lobby the state government strongly
a) to promote community acceptable natural boundaries that reflect locally held beliefs about community and identity;
b) to recognise local councils are based on community of interest that reflects commonly held beliefs about community and identity, local amenity and service which require representative and efficient council structures;
c) to ensure that local councils are accountable and open to the communities they serve;
d) to require integrity in council elections, governance and operations;
e) to expect efficient councils providing quality local services at reasonable charges;
f) to urge recognition in the state constitution of ‘Local Council’ as a legal entity with a clearly articulated role in governing, such that it can only be changed after a majority vote in a properly constituted referendum;
g) to support retention and maintenance of reasonable levels of state and federal grants and subsidies to support the necessary and important role of local councils in providing and supporting rural, regional and urban infrastructure that serves not only local communities but also the state and the nation; and
h) to ensure the principles and machinery of government support good governance in the Queensland Local Government Act and there is compliance with those principles.
(C) Its strategic goals are
a) to share the commonality of our cause with all local communities;
b) to promote the sharing of strategies and resources to overcome barriers to representative and efficient local government, whether this be through improved governance of existing councils, boundary realignments or demergers of specific communities. The QLGRA believes that if we achieve our main objectives governments will no longer be able to do what they will with local councils – such as dismiss, replace, amalgamate or eliminate – generally against the communities’ wishes;
c) to communicate the benefits of efficient community based local councils to the general public; and
d) to promote the benefits of effective, community based ‘local’ councils throughout the general public and as an area of learning and study in tertiary institutions.
e) Achieving all these goals will be a challenging task for QLGRA, so it is most important that the communities and their own organizations join QLGRA to present a united front, and remain non-partisan and non-political. This can be achieved only if we are UNITED in our goals and remain FOCUSED on these goals.
Unity will be our strength. We believe in the slogan ‘United We Stand’;
Putting Local Communities First
- Short history
(NOTE: For a detailed history see Appendix 2)
On 15th March 2008 controversial forced amalgamations reduced the number of councils in Queensland from 156 to 73. 5 years later, 4 councils successfully de-amalgamated, but applications from many other areas to do so were rejected by the state government.
On the 13th July 2013 delegates from a range of Queensland ratepayer and concerned citizen organisations met to establish and formalise an umbrella group – the Queensland Local Government Reform Alliance, Inc. (QLGRA).
Earlier that year citizens from across the state attended a forum titled ‘Local Government: Re-empowering Communities,’ convened by the Southern Downs’ (Stanthorpe based) Save Our Shire group. It aimed to review loss of representation, increased bureaucracy and the reduced power of communities in Queensland’s amalgamated councils. It was addressed by keynote academics, politicians and mayors – all experts in local government.
At the forum’s close, attendees dissatisfied with performance of amalgamated councils set up the ‘Save Our Shires Steering Committee’, tasked with examining the formation of and the structure for an ‘umbrella’ organisation to provide research, negotiating strength and lobbying support for all the various affected Queensland organisations. It had the role of naming, drafting a legal framework, association structure, key objectives and goals, and rules of operation (communications, membership, fees, funding) by July 2013.
At the July 13th 2013 meeting the recommendations of the steering committee were approved and adopted and these are still the accepted format.
The rules of the association were formalised on incorporation with the object below:
The objects of the association are to promote the adoption by the Queensland Government of community acceptable local government boundaries that reflect local community and identity, and defend the democratic right of Queensland citizens to have a say in the establishment of such boundaries.
Statewide membership has followed and the QLGRA continues to grow. The organization also has become aware of many serious issues affecting good governance since council amalgamations took place.
The 2014 and 2015 Annual General Meetings endorsed some modifications to membership structure.
It is recognized that it may be necessary from time to time for modernization of this document. Hence it is agreed that any changes need to be ratified and formalized at Annual General Meetings.
I. Eligibility: All groups should agree in principle and in writing with the Objectives and Goals.
II. Membership: There will be a three-tier membership structure.
- Ordinary Group Members – Organisations that agree to all the goals and are actively involved in the promotion of the goals. Organisations should each elect two delegates (ideally office bearers) to represent that group at State level. It is recommended that until the Ordinary Membership reaches 20 groups, each member organization will have two votes exercised by the delegate and deputy delegate. That will then be open for review.
They should ensure all QLGRA communications are disseminated to their members.
Yearly Affiliation Fee: $50
- Associate Group Members – Organisations that are in agreement with most goals but do not necessarily have the goals as their organisation’s primary focus. These groups will have single voting rights but can apply to join as Ordinary Group Members with full voting rights (see above).
They are encouraged to ensure all QLGRA communications are disseminated to their members.
Yearly Affiliation Fee: $50
- Associate Individual Members – Individuals that are in agreement with the goals. They will not have an individual vote. They may be members of Ordinary Group Member organisations or Associate Group Member organisations and if not, they should be encouraged and supported to join a group or form their own group.
Yearly Affiliation Fee: $10
The Total Membership represented by QLGRA (The Peak Body) shall be the total of all members of the Member Organisations, and Associate Individuals who so agree to be included in the membership.
It is recommended that each member of the Member Groups pay an annual affiliation membership fee of $5 to QLGRA. This entitles all their members to our Group correspondence and Newsletters.
There shall be a tiered structure of operation:
I. A Management Committee: Elected by vote of the Delegates of the Ordinary Members.
It shall consist of a Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Officer, Publicist, IT controller and up to 4 other Committee members to be known as Zone Representatives. It is anticipated that we will eventually have 6 or more zones, e.g., South West, South East, Central West, Central Coast, North West, Coastal North Zones and that all Zones will be represented. (Communications technology with its limits has to be used for formal meetings and persons filling formal roles may act as delegates for an identified zonal area.)
The Management Committee will have responsibility for: formulating and formalizing intended actions, ensuring these are enacted, delegating and co-opting personnel to negotiating teams, publicity and newsletters, financial management, and conducting the ordinary management business.
II. A sub-committee of Delegates to be set up in each Zone: Committee members who are Zone Representatives will be responsible for ensuring an effective information conduit between the State Management committee and the representatives in their Zones. These delegates will be voting on motions recommended by the State Committee and wherever possible, organizing and delivering agreed motions from their Zones.
III. Associate Individual Member involvement: It is envisaged that individuals can be linked directly to Zone Representatives or the Secretary for feedback and input.
The group will operate under the Queensland Office of Fair Trading ‘Model Constitution’ adjusted for QLGRA Objectives and defined Membership structure.
The organisation has the following statement of purpose to use on letterheads, etc.:
“Queensland Local Government Reform Alliance, an alliance of organisations and individuals aiming to re-empower local communities by lobbying government.”
QLGRA aims to share the commonality of our cause with all local communities and promote the sharing of strategy and resources to overcome barriers to representative and efficient local government, whether this be through improved governance of existing councils, boundary realignments or demergers of specific communities.
APPENDIX 1. DETAILED EXPLANATION OF THE FOUNDING QLGRA GOALS
(NOTE: The founding QLGRA goals were set out as follows:)
i. to promote community acceptable natural Local Government boundaries that reflect locally held beliefs about community and identity, and provide local amenity and service
ii. recognition in the State Constitution of Local Government as a legal entity with a clearly articulated role in governing, such that it can only be changed after a majority vote in a properly constituted referendum;
iii. retention and maintenance of reasonable levels of State and Federal Grants and Subsidies to support the necessary and important role of Local Government in providing and supporting rural and regional infrastructure serving not only local communities but also the state and the nation
iv. to promote the benefits of effective, community based ‘local’ government throughout the general public and as an area of learning and study in tertiary institutions;
v. to share the commonality of our cause with all amalgamated shires and promote the sharing of strategy and resources to overcome barriers to de-amalgamation and boundary changes.
The committee believes without achieving the Primary GOALS everything else will be futile, and governments will continue to do what they will with Local Government such as dismiss, replace, amalgamate or eliminate, generally against the communities’ wishes.
Obviously achieving these goals will be a huge task for QLGRA, so it is most important that the communities and their own organizations joining QLGRA agree to present a United Front, and remain non-partisan and non-political. We can achieve this only if we are UNITED in our goals and remain FOCUSED on these goals. Unity will be our strength. Therefore our motto should be:
UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL.
Concluding comments and explanation of the recommended goals by JOSEPH MONSOUR to the QLGRA INAUGURAL MEETING 13 July 2013 Toowoomba
“How do we re-establish local government without a restrictive approach and a one size fits all? When we set out the goals we have tried to reflect this. In contrast the State government set out very restrictive criteria with the aim of allowing only Noosa and Douglas to reform. It is true that the Minister allowed two others to go to referendum. I believe he did this with the expectation that the cost argument which he created would defeat the case. He was wrong and it showed that he does not understand the depth of feeling in the local communities and our need to have efficiently run and responsive local councils.
We face the (same) challenge and should not be daunted.
So we set out our own goals. The steering committee has made recommendations for three primary goals and two strategic goals.
The first primary goal: To promote community acceptable natural Local Government boundaries that reflect locally held beliefs about community and identity, and provide local amenity and service;
A local community generally has a good idea of what is local. What defines a community is a sense of identity and local awareness – What is the business centre frequented, the sports team area, school district and hospital centre and land catchments and locations around a business centre and its geography.
We formulated the goal with the aim to allow community to have a proposal for reform to submit to a referendum based on natural boundaries and service delivery. It is not a simple task but if properly considered by a boundaries commissioner after extensive consultation it should result in better local government. To do otherwise by applying regionalism to seek economies of scale, as the amalgamation process of 2008 did, just shifted costs back onto the community for little or no gain. In fact tyranny of distance on the ground and in community awareness and increased bureaucracy has resulted in diseconomies of scale. Everywhere the debt burden is rising due to increased and ineffective administration.
As I said our goal is to achieve a community based response to local government reform. For example Toowoomba and surrounds may result in a Toowoomba City Council and a Darling Downs Rural Council. What area would make up a new Isis council? How the councils within North Burnett would be reconstituted. Would the best arrangement be the former Councils stand alone as in Redcliffe and Caboolture or would some former shires choose to be merged into local areas? Should we just go back to the former shire areas with shared services reducing cost overlaps? Should we apply differentials to different needs within a council area and have community sub councils. The answers are not simple and the government when given an opportunity shirked a responsibility. My personal view is that we should in most cases return back to the previous shires and begin again to look at reforms, a process that was discontinued when amalgamation was forced.
Our purpose in this primary goal was to broaden a response in overcoming the problems of the forced amalgamations of 2008. Central to the goal was for the change to be a community one, not one imposed by force or by burdensome restrictions. It recognizes that ‘one size does not fit all’ and that regionalism does not produce better local government – particularly in non-metropolitan areas.
Underlying the goal and the recommendation of the steering committee to the QLGRA is the principle that change must be democratic and based on the will of the people by referendum.
The change must be democratic and based on the will of the people by referendum.
The second goal: Recognition in the State Constitution of Local Government as a legal entity with a clearly articulated role in governing, such that it can only be changed after a majority vote in a properly constituted referendum;
The second goal reinforces the democratic principle by giving Councils genuine state constitutional recognition and reducing the power of State government to repeat the changes it forced in 2008 without going to the people affected.
The third goal: Retention and maintenance of reasonable levels of State and Federal Grants and Subsidies to support the necessary and important role of Local Government in providing and supporting rural and regional infrastructure serving not only local communities but also the state and the nation
This goal recognises the importance of funding from state and federal government to local government.
First it accepts that the infrastructure and service provided by local government are a state and national concern as well as a local responsibility but primarily it recognises that revenue raising by state and federal government through taxation leaves little room for Council rates, fees and charges to satisfy the infrastructure spending needs of the local community. For reasons of equity our political institutions favour government taxation to be raised across the country as a whole. This limits local governments.
It is an abuse of local government to expect that they can through rate revenue alone provide the necessary infrastructure to develop the local areas evenly after the other areas of government have taken the bulk of the taxation pie.
The remaining goals are defined as strategic.
The fourth goal: To promote the benefits of effective, community based ‘local’ government throughout the general public and as an area of learning and study in tertiary institutions;
This goal is fairly self-explanatory and is about community education and seeks to influence the education institutions provided by federal and state government to recognise and enhance the specialist skills needed by the employees of councils and to also enhance community awareness of local government.
The fifth goal: To share the commonality of our cause with all amalgamated shires and promote the sharing of strategy and resources to overcome barriers to de-amalgamation and boundary changes.
The final goal is also self-evident. Its purpose is to advance a unifying framework to pressure state government policy to involve communities in genuine consultation and then referenda to re-establish efficient and effective local government. At the very least this requires referenda in the forced amalgamation areas and the best informed and community based approach to reform in local government area.
As I said earlier in reference to the cricket team if we stand together confident of community support we will overcome the obstacles to change ahead of us.
APPENDIX 2. HISTORY OF FORMATION OF QLGRA
In 2005/2006 the then Queensland government of former premier Peter Beattie determined that many Queensland councils were both non viable and unsustainable. The government set councils a Triple S process (Size, Shape and Sustainability) by which adjoining councils or multiples thereof must start discussions aimed at sharing resources to improve viability, or to consider combining to form larger viable councils, ie, amalgamations. They were to present options to government for due consideration and it was anticipated that the ratepayers and residents would be fully involved in the process.
By April 2007 Mr Beattie felt that the process was not moving fast enough for him and that approximately 57 councils were now non-viable. Fully independent analyses showed that there were only 13 economically weak councils, not 43% of councils going broke, ie, 13 councils were low viability (primarily indigenous or remote councils) and a further small number were at moderate risk. Premier Beattie decreed that a newly formed Local Government Reform Commission would take over the task and determine what council amalgamations should occur to form viable and sustainable regional councils. The final decisions of the Commission were made public in July 2007 and were generally unacceptable to the communities served by the councils. Concerned councillors and citizens requested that any boundary realignments should go to a referendum, but the government at the direction of Local Government Minister Andrew Fraser denied the people that opportunity.
As a result many anti-amalgamation groups formed around Queensland often with the support of the local shire councillors and many under the banner of ‘Save Our Shires’ (SOS). Many thousands of objections to the proposed amalgamations were received by the Commission but the vast majority were ignored or rejected because they were “standard/proforma letters”. A very small number were supportive. (See file disc as evidence of these facts).
Consequently Ratepayer and Residents from all over Queensland converged on Brisbane by bus, car and train and on the 17th August 2007, a mass rally of an estimated 7000 people marched from the Entertainment Centre in South Brisbane to Parliament House and a petition to halt the process was handed to the Government, but this was also ignored by the Premier and got very insignificant press coverage from the Brisbane press. The groups then lobbied the Federal Government to intervene by allowing a plebiscite on the forced amalgamations worded “DO YOU AGREE WITH THE AMALGAMATION OF YOUR SHIRE WITH ANY OTHER SHIRE?” preferably to be run at the Federal Election in October. The Australian Government decided that plebiscites to test whether the amalgamations were acceptable would be run for the various affected Qld councils between October and December 2007.
The overall result of these plebiscites, which were welcomed and used by a majority of enrolled voters, was a resounding “NO”. In most affected regions the vote was well over 60 % NO but in some it exceeded 90%!
The Beattie and subsequent Bligh governments chose to ignore the message “as it was a non compulsory/non binding plebiscite” and the amalgamations went ahead. On 15th March 2008 controversial forced amalgamations reduced the number of councils in Queensland from 156 to 73.
Most of the SOS groups went into recess/abeyance, but some remained on alert to assess their new regional council performance in its first term.
By 2011 many new regional councils were having management problems and were in financial difficulties ie showing that “bigger is not necessarily better”, so when a new Queensland government was elected in March 2012 and offered the possibility of some de-amalgamations, some Ratepayer and SOS groups worked to submit proposals. Many of these failed to jump the ‘impossible hurdles’ set by the Local Government Department via the new Minister Crisafulli. Of the 19 proposals only four (4) succeeded and the resulting anger initiated a move by some groups to run a forum to enlighten all who wanted to attend about ‘Big is NOT always Better’ in relation to council amalgamations and to hear the alternatives.
As a consequence the Stanthorpe SOS with the help of others organised the “Local government Forum: Re-empowering Communities” with keynote speakers on local government including leading academics and some councillors and mayors. This resulted in attendance at the forum on the 23rd February 2013 by community organizations, councillors and citizens to review the Queensland Council Amalgamations. At the Forum’s close, the evident dissatisfaction with performance of amalgamated councils’ expressed at the Forum resulted in the setting up of a steering committee, the Save Our Shires Steering Committee. Its task was to examine the forming of an ‘umbrella’ organization to provide research, negotiating strength and lobbying support for all the various organizations involved. The Committee had the role of naming, drafting a legal framework, association structure, key objectives and goals, and rules of operation (Communications, Membership, Fees, Funding) by July.
On the 13th July 2013, a meeting of delegates from Community, Ratepayer, Demerger and Concerned Citizen organizations across Queensland formed to establish the Queensland Local Government Reform Alliance (QLGRA). At the meeting the preliminary recommendations by the Save Our Shires Steering Committee were approved and adopted as an acceptable format. Statewide Membership has followed and QLGRA is continuing to grow.
The following extract explains the result of that decision.
Excerpts from the address by Joseph Monsour to the QLGRA INAUGURAL MEETING 13 July 2013 Toowoomba)
The drive to form the Queensland Local Government Reform Alliance came from the experience of local groups working for change within or de-amalgamation of regional councils. There was an expectation of change on the election of a new government in 2012 but the scope of that change was found to be very limited. The implementation process further restricted any corrections of the failed amalgamations of 2008.
Some of the groups, particularly the Stanthorpe and Monto groups, looked at the process and realised that each group working alone was not going to correct government policy. Perhaps this came from intimate experience of how government policy was formulated and then how the policy was applied.
New governments seem to quickly take on the role of manipulating opinion rather than addressing real concerns. In this case this was amplified by the major media which quickly lost touch with the broad community. Their view contrasted sharply to the views represented at the 23rd February 2013 forum held at Stanthorpe titled ‘Local Government: Re-empowering Communities’.
What was realised was that in the face of government intransigence only a unified response would allow for a correction of the failed 2008 amalgamations.
There are numerous examples of the impact of “bigger is better” centralism that was forced on communities, for example things like: In Boonah if a dog is taken to the pound it must be picked up from Beaudesert – a 1 hour round trip. Not quite as bad as friend of mine in Weipa who had experience of bank centralism. He was issued with a replacement credit card and told he would have to pick it up from Cairns – a $1000 round trip by flight!
As I said I am not going into detail on the failure and costs to a community of a regional approach versus a local approach. What is clear is that savings are few and far between. For example one of the areas for regionalism was to overcome the difficulty remote councils had of getting experienced or skilled staff. However the remote and regional council still face the same problems. A former colleague of mine is now flying in and out to Central Highlands Regional Council.
How do we re-establish local government without a restrictive approach and a one size fits all? When we (the Steering Committee) set out the goals we have tried to reflect this. In contrast the State government set out very restrictive criteria with the aim of allowing only Noosa and Douglas to reform. It is true that the Minister allowed two others to go to referendum (but) I believe he did this with the expectation that the cost argument which he created would defeat the case. He was wrong, and it showed that he did not understand the depth of feeling in the local communities and our need to have efficiently run and responsive local councils.
On Thursday night 21st July 2013 when we in the SOS Steering Committee were preparing the final touches for organising this meeting – we met at 7pm using Skype over the internet – Australia was playing England for the Ashes. Towards the end of the meeting Jack Muller from Monto revealed that Australia was 8 for 115. At the end of the meeting we were 9 for 117. You could forgive someone for writing Australia off at that time.
It was not to be – they did not count on the cricketers toughing it out. In the end they staged a massive fight back and overcame the odds. We face the same challenge and should not be daunted.