Do we really need electoral divisions within the Fraser Coast Regional Council or not? Jim MacKellar ponders the question.
The question of whether we should have electoral divisions within our Regional Council area is one that has been long debated. At first examination the view that each Councillor should represent a division has much to recommend it. Each Councillor has a specific area for which they are responsible and about which they should be knowledgeable.
It is argued that residents can be aware of who their Councillor is and so who they should contact about Council matters. In the present, undivided, Council a resident is at liberty to contact whichever Councillor they feel is best able to assist them with their query or problem. This is, in fact, also the case in a Council with divisions. People are not restricted as to whom they may contact. So the situation does not really change one way or the other.
However, the real difference between the two systems becomes more apparent when we consider elections. Given that the state government insists that we are only allowed to have single member electorates there are two principle disadvantages in a divisional system.
The first, and most obvious, is the limitations on the geographical spread of the Councillors. The electors of the Fraser Coast showed at the last election that they are quite ready to elect Councillors from all over the region, regardless of where they actually live. So we have a fairly even spread of representation.
If divisions are introduced for the next election this would be arbitrarily changed. With each division having, as close as practicable, equal numbers of voters, we would see 6 Councillors from metro Hervey Bay, 2 from Maryborough, and one each from the northern beaches area and the entire rural hinterland. History has proved that, despite the best intentions of Councillors to consider the entire area, in democracy the money goes where the votes are. Regrettable but true.
The not so obvious disadvantage of single member divisions is in the resulting degree of diversity in skills and interests of the Councillors. This is the result of each voter being only able to make one choice of candidate. So they must weigh up all the issues and chose the person who has the best mix of strengths on the issues that most concern them. It also leaves Council vulnerable to being â€˜stackedâ€™ by vested interests. For example, the way the Gold Coast and Cairns Councilâ€™s have been controlled by the development industry in the past.
On the other hand, in either an undivided Council, as we have now, or one in with multi-member divisions, the electors are able to choose a number of candidates who cover a much broader spectrum of interests and talents. So an elector may give one vote to an environmentalist, two to people with business experience, a couple to people with community or arts interests, etc. etc..
In this way we are much more like likely to have an elected Council which is able to have a balance of skills and backgrounds and is thus able to bring a much broader perspective to their considerations of the business of progressing our region in a sustainable manner.
Though the present system may have its problems, I believe there are much better solutions available than changing to single Councillor divisions. One I would suggest is the New Zealand system of Community Boards. It warrants much more scrutiny and consideration than it has been afforded to date.