Your say in shaping a future City Council

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Photo: Lifelong Ipswich community leader Peter McMahon and Redbank Plains Community Officer Rose Dash with Ipswich Interim Administrator Greg

RESIDENTS MAY BE ABLE TO INFLUENCE THE MAKE UP OF A FUTURE IPSWICH COUNCIL

Ipswich wants to send a clear message to the Queensland State Government about how the community wants to be represented at the March 2020 Council elections and beyond.

by John Armstrong

A community discussion paper on Ipswich’s future divisional boundaries offers three options:
1. An undivided divisional area covering the whole of Ipswich,
2. Eight to 12 divisions with one councillor in each division,
3. Four to six divisions with two or three councillors per division.

Ipswich Interim Administrator Greg Chemello said it’s time for the Ipswich community to have a say about how Ipswich would be governed at the local level.

“This is a time to openly consider and debate… would you prefer councillors to be elected on a divisional basis [as at present] or across the entirety of the local government area,” he said.
In April, the findings will be presented to the State Government.

Mr Chemello said any decision on the future makeup of the Council was the State Government’s to make. “Our job is to get to the State clear, articulated views about what the community want.”

This review is just one part of governance reform in Council since Mr Chemello’ sappointment as Interim Administrator six months ago, following the sacking of the Council. A lot of reform is underway, which includes an 18-project approach across a whole range of Council operations, but the future makeup of Council is seen as key to democratic process within the Ipswich community.

“There are strong diametrically opposed views on whether divisions are essential for the city or whether they are not required at all; best thing for us to do is to ask the people,” he said. “This is genuine engagement and it’s important to the democracy of this city that people have their say in shaping their council.”

The eight-page discussion paper is available for residents to read and submit their views, including at a public forum on March 25.

Mr Chemello said Council offices and the Call Centre are dealing with more than 95 per cent of enquiries from residents, as opposed to just five per cent of enquiries at Divisional Offices when councillors were in place, so residents need to think about the role of councillors in strategic leadership of the Council and how best that can be achieved in the future.

“It’s not about individuals and certainly not about past councillors, it’s about the best way of delivering the role of the councillor, that’s the driving factor for me,” he said.

Things need to change if history is to be heeded. The Crime and Corruption Commission highlighted alleged corruption, but also poor governance within Council.

Mr Chemello said the divisional structure may have led to divisional focus rather than for the benefit of the whole community.

“You could argue that the divisional structure creates bias but it also it creates an understanding of the local issues, so you can see both sides of that argument.”

Local identity, Peter McMahon, said that the past 18 months “has been a very sad time for our ‘town’… and there’s been a lot of people hurt: innocent councillors, innocent council workers, and I feel really sorry for them.

“I’ve read though the discussion paper, and I do think we need divisional representation. We have a situation where people of Springfield don’t even know where Rosewood is.

“It’s two totally different groups of people, and I think they should have their own areas represented.”

Mr McMahon said the people have been really disappointed with the goings-on investigated by the CCC but that trust can be regained. He said he really doubted that “the Government telling us what to do [would work] but I now see fresh air coming into the place” and that the current governance reform would make Ipswich better than before.

Newly appointed CEO, David Farmer, said the whole of city option means that people take a more strategic view of what is best for the whole city, particularly in relation to major infrastructure decisions and a more unbiased view, while the divisional option enables councillors to look after their ‘patch’ and represent issues important to their constituency.

“That said, we need to understand that the only power a councillor has is on the floor of the Council, and maybe that was strayed away from with this [previous] Council and perhaps is one of the reasons for the downfall.

“Ultimately, the role of a councillor is to be an advocate for the local community but have a clear responsibility as part of the governing ‘board’ of Council, looking after the billions of dollars of assets of the whole community.”

On the separation of powers between the political side of Council and the administrative/operations departments, Mr Farmer said, “I think it’s fair to say that historically this city perhaps lost its way, and that separation of power became far too unclear, ultimately leading to the issues that are here with us now [with the CCC findings].

Residents can read the Community Discussion Paper and respond online with their day at ipswich.qld.gov.au/shapeyourcouncil.