Retiring mayor takes swipe at local government reform

Mayors stepping down from western Queensland councils

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Bruce Scott, who received an OAM in 2017 for his service to local government and community, and wife Maureen are planning to move to Charleville.

Bruce Scott, who received an OAM in 2017 for his service to local government and community, and wife Maureen are planning to move to Charleville.

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As Barcoo shire mayor Bruce Scott OAM prepares to archive his quarter of a century of service in local government, he has made his concerns about the state government's integrity reforms clear.

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As Barcoo shire mayor Bruce Scott OAM prepares to archive his quarter of a century of service in local government, he has made his concerns about the state government's integrity reforms clear.

Cr Scott is one of at least four western Queensland mayors who have decided the time has come for them to step aside as the March local government election nears, while another remains undecided.

Paroo shire mayor Lindsay Godfrey and Longreach regional mayor Ed Warren have said they won't be contesting the March poll, and Diamantina shire mayor Geoff Morton hasn't come to a final decision.

McKinlay shire's Belinda Murphy announced in September last year that due to family reasons she would not be standing again.

It's a combination of the right time for renewal and frustration with the direction the state government's local government reform has taken that has led Cr Scott to hang up his council hat.

Elected in 1994 and becoming mayor in 2000, with a self-imposed exile between 2012 and 2016, Cr Scott counts improvements in health and education services in his remote western shire as among the wins he had, along with regular air services providing better access for business and education needs, and the sealing of the road to their service town Longreach.

"Telecommunications was the big enabler - fibre optic cable and mobile phone access were huge achievements but we had to raise an enormous amount of capital to make it happen," he said.

Sledgehammer approach

Cr Scott's main disappointment was the state government's "sledgehammer approach" to strengthening the transparency, accountability and integrity measures in local government via its Belcarra reforms.

"This guilty until proven innocent approach, it's not the institution I joined 25 years ago.

"It's lost its appeal for many good people.

"People generally join local government for all the right reasons but now people can lash out and affect your reputation and you don't have any opportunity to defend yourself."

He said it had made local government less agile and less bold because they were caught up in really strict governance rather than being free to do what was right for their communities.

While not as outspoken, retiring Longreach mayor Ed Warren said he would not be surprised if the onerous Belcarra regulations stifled quality nominations when they opened on February 22.

Ed Warren said the Longreach council had been discussing a mayoral succession plan for some time.

Ed Warren said the Longreach council had been discussing a mayoral succession plan for some time.

"You've got to be so on your toes about expenses, you've got to have an electoral strategy and everything planned out to the last degree," he said.

"It could be at the end of the day that some remote councils might not have enough nominations.

"In Longreach last time we had 21 nominations for six positions so I can't see this being the case here, but it might affect remote councillors where they're very time poor."

Cr Warren said not having another job or business taking his attention had been a big help as mayor.

He said it had always been his intention to retire at the 2020 elections, having been in public life since 2007.

He was appointed Winton shire mayor that year when Bruce Collins retired, and won by the toss of a coin in 2008 when he and the late Butch Lenton each polled 423 votes.

Although he lost the same contest in 2012 he went on to be the chairman of the Central West Hospital and Health Service, with what he said was the same level of intensity.

Prior to the 2016 election, where he became Longreach mayor, 90 per cent of the shire was destocked, which he said "wasn't a good space to be in".

"This term was probably the best in my working life though," he said.

"We turned around from a lack of direction to encouraging community ownership.

"We looked at how we could make a difference and that was with the wild dog exclusion fencing loan scheme, and working with RAPAD on cluster fencing."

Another with experience of health board chairmanship is retiring Paroo mayor Lindsay Godfrey, who at one stage held the reins at the South West Hospital and Health board, the South West Regional Economic Development board, and as mayor, at the same time.

Retiring Paroo mayor Lindsay Godfrey believes he has the passion for one more board chairmanship.

Retiring Paroo mayor Lindsay Godfrey believes he has the passion for one more board chairmanship.

"I'm not sure how I managed," Cr Godrey commented. "It was a help though, you were across a lot more things."

In that time, things such as the new $70 million Roma Hospital and the Morven freight hub were announced for the south west.

Cr Godfrey said he could claim to have been good at getting money for infrastructure, including the resewering of Cunnamulla and a new $6m civic centre.

"That money was much needed, the town hadn't had any money spent on it for years," he said.

Prior to putting his hand up for mayor in 2012 he had around 20 years in agripolitics, including with the UGA in Cunnamulla, the steering committee that turned the UGA into AgForce, as AgForce's first sheep and wool president, on the organising group that set up the AWI, and on the NFF industrial committee.

Cr Godfrey said that after eight years he wanted to walk away with people asking why he was leaving rather than having them ask why he didn't leave four years ago.

"In 30 years of public service I've not seen much of my family," he said.

He may not be retiring from public life completely, saying he had the desire for one more board position in him.

Cr Scott, who is moving to Charleville, said he would be happy to be a mentor for any aspiring councillors who wanted to bounce ideas around.

Undecided

In the Diamantina shire, mayor Geoff Morton said it would be the quality of the candidates nominating that would decide whether he would throw his hat in the ring again.

"They must all be aware of the time it takes to do the job," he said.

"Last year I was out of the shire for 90 days, and I had a plane.

"It's not just a turn up on the day job anymore."

Cr Morton said he had found that the more people there were nominated, the more likely it was that the public would get a popular result than the proper result.

"That's about all I can say at the moment," he said.

Read more: The era of the 'mares' begins in NQ

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