Wednesday 18 November 2009

Cairns Regional Council wants to retain divisional boundaries

Cairns Regional Council voted today to retain the divisional structure, in opposition to the Queensland State Government and Council officers' view.

"Quite simply, you are a representative of the people, and they expect you to be there for them. The geographic or community tie is important," Councillor Paul Gregory told CairnsBlog, who represents the Southern gateway to Cairns, including Gordonvale and Miriwinni.

"The view that you can't represent a particular area and also have a holistic view of the region, is something I don't agree with. They are not mutually exclusive," Paul Gregory says.

Councillor Julia Leu, who represents the largest geographic division under the current structure, also strongly supports retention of divisional representation.

"I support this, not just for my division, or the issues regarding amalgamation, but would do so for any council," Leu says, who has 15 years experience working in local government

"I suspect they [State Government] have already made up their mind."

"I don't think undivided councils are any more strategic. It's up to the calibre of the representatives to make the best decisions and to advocate for local issues for their local community, to stand up for a positive outcome," she says. "In our particular region, there are many distinct community interests. We have a complex area from north to south, we're not a homogenised region."

Leu says that un-divided structures may work well and suit smaller councils, but in our case we're better off this way.

"Divisional structures also have more accountability. Removing boundaries takes out the local out of local government," Leu says.

"The other thing that is important to note, is that undivided Councils can create party politics," she says. "People want independent, clear thinking individuals to represent them."

Julia Leu believes that when the State Government legislated for de-amalgamation, including her area of the former Douglas Shire that attracted widespread local opposition, they allowed Cairns to retain boundaries as a token, and to soften the blow.

"I get insulted when they suggest it's about corruption or performance, as this [local representation] removes even more from the community. Certainly people enjoy their local democracy. It also provides a logical division of work flow, and a level of detail that can be managing by local representatives." Leu says.

Desley Boyle, Minister for Local Government and Planning and MP for Cairns says that consultation would take place next year before the Bill to recommend that Councils disband divisional boundaries. A majority of the 73 Queensland regional councils govern without divisions.

Mayor Val Schier says that because of recent amalgamation, residents in the far northern and southern areas of the area want guaranteed representation.

"This would not necessarily be the case if Cairns Regional Council did away with divisions,” Val Schier says. “Both our linear geography and the differences in needs and issues of people in various areas of the region gives us reason to retain divisions.”

Council will now make a submission to the government.

"I went into the discussions with a view that divisions were the best option but now think that this structure is very competitive," Councillor Di Forsyth says. "It's often councillor against councillor, fighting for each area."

"I think we need to act like a board of directors, we need be there for the whole region. This doesn't mean we will not have areas we support. I understand that Port Douglas and that area will want local representation, and not by someone like me or Margaret Cochrane or Alan Blake to represent them," Forsyth says. "In a way I feel sympathetic for divisions in that way, but in the long run, one body, one council is better."

Forsyth is also advocating portfolios, key areas of responsibility for each representative. "For instance one Councillor might be the contact for youth or animal issues," Diane Forsyth says. "However, people will still contact a councillor if the live in the same area."

Forsyth also says that Councillors go to Council staff just for their division, and this can causes all kind of demands or pressures.

"I don't underestimate people electing decent, honest, hardworking people to represent them. They have the intelligence to pick a team of people for all Cairns."

Only Councillors Diane Forsyth and Kirsten Lesina voted for undivided representation. Councillor Pyne was absent from today's meeting, but said he supports retaining divisions.


Clifton Ratbag said...

The use of divisions doesn't go far enough.

Councillors need to be REQUIRED to live in their division, BEFORE the election. This is a core element of representative democracy, and the primary reason that jerks like Sno Bonneau flit from division to division all while living well outside his electorate.

Northern Beaches Warrior said...

Having had a non representing Divisional Councillor, and knowing that he is probably doing as much damage to his new community as he did for ours, I would have to say, that I would like to try an amalgamated Council, whereby all councillors were responsible for what goes on all over Cairns. Apparently, they have this type of system is some Councils in NSW, and from what I hear, the systmen works well.

These divions in Council whether they be geographical or party-preferred, really suck, because it results in voting blocks on issues and we see evidence of this at every Council meeting!