RECOMMENDATIONS by the Local Government Remuneration and Discipline Tribunal that have seen some councillors in western Queensland eligible for pay rises of 110 per cent have been defended by a Tribunal member as both encouraging quality candidates to run and recognising the workload of a modern-day councillor.
The issue has been a controversial one in communities ravaged by drought, poor returns and businesses closing down, and even brought an about face in one community, but Tribunal member Bob Longland believes it should be seen in terms of the greater level of responsibility expected of councillors by the state government.
“A lot gets pushed down to local government nowadays, which is a good idea, but some recognition of that is needed,” he said.
“And we wanted a regime to encourage people to run for council.
“Local government is especially important, it’s the closest to the people, and we need to encourage people to do the job.”
Under the recommendations, smaller councils have been reclassified, with category one and two councils being moved to category three, which means that the maximum pay rate for mayors formerly in category one moved from $73, 803 to $95,488.
Category one councillors can make the biggest pay jump, from $22,492 to $ 47,444, or 110 per cent.
These amounts are based on a 100 per cent meeting attendance, as from July 1 councillors will receive half their pay on a pro-rata basis for attendance at the 12 mandated meetings in a year, the first time this has occurred.
Taking the full pay rise recommended can cost the state’s small rural councils up to an extra $100,000.
Council pay rates are no longer linked to salaries of state MPs.
One of the west’s councils voting to accept the maximum pay rise has been McKinlay shire, whose mayor, Belinda Murphy described it as a levelling of the playing field.
“There are so many factors, but I advised my councillors to take drought out of the equation when making their decision,” she said.
“We don’t ask our staff not to take a pay rise because there’s a drought on.
“Four out of five councillors here are landholders and they’re putting the effort in when they really need to be out putting out lick.”
She described her position as full-time and said she didn’t want to see the mayor’s position to be available only to those who don’t work, or those who can afford a replacement wage.
“The government has put mayors and councillors back in charge and we’ve got to acknowledge that,” she added.
She also said that giving councils the option to accept a lesser amount had created a finger pointing environment which she didn’t think was fair.
The Barcoo Shire Council voted for a lesser increase in line with CPI, and mayor Julie Groves said it was difficult for small shires that don’t collect a lot of rates to justify anything larger.
She also felt that with the small population base, a larger wage would be unlikely to attract more people to the job.
“All our councillors said they enjoyed what they were doing and didn’t feel there was much extra they could do, and were already well-paid,” she said.
Community opposition to those taking the full pay rise has centred on the severity of the drought and the belt-tightening undertaken by private businesses, which they would like to see councils matching.
According to Local Government Association of Queensland media executive Craig Johnstone, while they support the Tribunal’s recommendations, an inadvertent consequence of recategorising councils is that those that were category 1 or 2 now have to establish an audit committee.
He said that while they improve council accountability, in this instance they will place an unnecessary burden on small councils, when the intent of the legislation was always meant for large councils with large budgets.
“We will seek to work with the government to resolve the issue,” he said.
• Barcaldine - Full pay rise
• Barcoo - Reduced pay rise
• Blackall-Tambo – Reduced pay rise (Resolution for full pay rise rescinded)
• Boulia - Reduced pay rise
• Bulloo - Full pay rise
• Burke - Full pay rise
• Carpentaria – Full pay rise
• Cloncurry – Full pay rise
• Croydon – Full pay rise
• Diamantina - Reduced pay rise
• Etheridge - Reduced pay rise
• Flinders - Reduced pay rise
• Longreach - Reduced pay rise
• McKinlay - Full pay rise
• Murweh - Full pay rise
• Paroo – Full pay rise
• Quilpie - Reduced pay rise
• Richmond - Full pay rise
• Winton - Reduced pay rise