It’s Only Taken Them 10 Years

If anyone is under the illusion that the Fraser Coast Regional Council … or it’s predecessor the Hervey Bay City Council … is quick to repair things then here is something that may change your mind.

scarness pier in hervey bay
This was the scene early on Friday morning as repairs finally commenced on the damaged access ramp

The access ramp that allowed people with mobility issues to access the beach from the Scarness Pier was damaged in a major storm back in 2004 and it has remained in its damaged state ever since.

But now … finally … after 10 years … repairs have started. I guess you just can’t rush some things.

Changes at the Fraser Coast Regional Council

So there’s been some shuffling of the Councillor’s deck chairs at the Fraser Coast Regional Council?

According to the announcement that was made today these changes have been made to strengthen the Councillor’s portfolios system and ensure they best represent the interests of the community.

The changes are:
• Economic Development: Mayor Gerard O’Connell
• Events, Sport and Recreation Open Space: Cr Darren Everard
• Community, Heritage and Family Services: Cr George Seymour
• Cultural and Performing Arts: Cr Phil Truscott
• Infrastructure and Planning: Cr Trevor McDonald
• Primary Production and Rural Infrastructure: Cr James Hansen
• Community Health, Education and Training: Cr Robert Garland
• Small Business, Manufacturing and Service Industry: Cr Chris Loft
• City and Town Centre Development: Cr Daniel Sanderson
• Water and Wastewater: Cr Rolf Light
• Tourism and Regional Marketing: Cr Stuart Taylor

Will this really mean that we get a better performing council? Will it mean that we get a council that actually exercises some control over the Council staff?

I doubt it.

High Hopes for Fraser Coast Council Dashed?

So we elected a new Fraser Coast Regional Council and had high hopes that they would take some positive action to bring some form of prosperity back to Hervey Bay, Maryborough and the other parts of the Fraser Coast.

Sadly those high hopes of having a Council that actually got off it’s collective bum and did something positive for the region seem to be have been dashed.

Instead of actually getting in and doing the things we all know need to be done the new Fraser Coast Regional Council has come up with a 120 day plan. Yes folks instead of action we have “The Plan” and you can read the full text of it HERE.

Don’t be surprised if, after reading it, you feel rather underwhelmed.

In some ways “The Plan” sounds quite inspiring … the Council is going to plan to do some wonderful things. It’s going to have committees … it’s going to meet with local businesses … it’s going to do … pretty much what the old Council did … bugger all but talk!

People on the Fraser Coast Regional Council you all got elected because you told us that you already knew what was wrong with this region and you had already had plans to fix it so why do we need another plan? Why aren’t you just getting on with the job?

Why aren’t you already out there talking to small and medium sized businesses and telling them about the advantages of moving their businesses to Hervey Bay. You don’t have to look hard to find those reasons and it’s not rocket science to understand the incentives that those businesses might need to encourage them to come here so why are you talking instead of doing?

If so many of you ran on a platform of bringing more jobs to this region why is there one very important word missing from the announcement of your 120 day plan?

For a mob who were elected on the promise of bringing more jobs to the region why does the word “jobs” fail to appear anywhere in that announcement? If there’s no mention of jobs in the plan maybe our new Councillors have lost the plot already.

Local Government Candidates for the Fraser Coast

Well it seems that the race towards the local government elections is beginning to lurch along despite a false start.

Here in Hervey Bay we seem to be gathering an interesting crop of candidates ranging from councillors from the current Fraser Coast Regional Council to people with business experience who want to see something better for the region than what we currently have and others who are just plain enthusiastic.

In the past it’s been hard for ordinary residents to actually get to know the candidates … and for those candidates to get their message out to the voters. But these days … thanks to all the various types of social media … it’s a little easier than it once was.

These days we have candidates advertising on Facebook and even running their own blogs where ordinary people like you and I can actually question them … and hopefully get a response.

One such candidate is Stuart Taylor … the guy who runs Charlie Bucket’s down on the Esplanade at Scarness. He has an interesting blog that gives you some insight into the man behind the election advertising and if you want to know what his vision is for the Fraser Coast … and Hervey Bay … then head over to this entry.

Perhaps you can even surprise him with a few questions to see if there’s some substance to his ideas. Visions are wonderful things but what’s behind all those wonderful ideas?

Another new candidate who is using the web to get his message out is George Seymour. Follow that link and you will find that he has policies on everything from abandoned shopping trolleys (cattle grids at car park entrances … really?) to bigger recycling bins and cat desexing.

And of course there’s Jim MacKellar who has his own website and at the same time is busy sending out press releases to every local news website he can find … and that’s not such a bad thing.

Fraser Coast Regional Council to become divided

Next year’s local government elections here on the Fraser Coast has become even more interesting than it was obviously going to be.

Local Government Minister Paul Lucas has just  announced that the Government had accepted the recommendations of the independent Change Commission to change the Fraser Coast from an undivided council to a divided council.

The Change Commission will now work out where boundaries will be drawn to ensure quotas comply with requirements of the Local Government Act 2009.

And what will all that mean? Only time will tell but perhaps some of the current members of Council will be struggling to make the new Council … and that may not be such a bad thing.

We might even get some Councillors who are prepared to look at their role in a whole new light. Hopefully we’ll at least see an end to complaints that Council is biased towards Hervey Bay or Maryborough.

The Fraser Coast Regional Council Fiddles While the Region Dies

As one report after another shows, the majority of people who live in this region are at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Our illustrious Fraser Coast Regional Council could be taking some positive steps to alleviate the problem but instead … as Jim MacKellar points out … all they are doing is giving themselves pay rises.

According to the draft Community Safety Plan presented to the Fraser Coast Council on Thursday 27/1/2011 almost half (49.8%) of the residents of the Fraser Coast are among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged people in the state of Queensland.

Only 3,300 people in Maryborough are considered to be among the 60% least disadvantaged people in the state. 24,000 are among the 40% most disadvantaged.

These are appalling and distressing facts. Especially as there are no apparent reasons for our region to be so poor, for our people to be so disadvantaged compared to the rest of the state.

We have a wonderful climate, ready access to road, rail and air transport, a ready pool of employable people and ample available land. Why are we so disadvantaged?

Even more appalling is the fact that this report was presented to Council on the same day as they chose to increase their salaries to cover the proper reduction in their allowances. Where is the empathy?

What is to be done? Professional regional economic development presents the only real opportunity to improve the situation. And the organization best placed to implement regional economic development is the regional Council.

But what are they doing? The Council’s economic development efforts are directed only to major projects and tourism. And the last few months have proved how fickle the tourism market can be. Why are we pouring millions of dollars into it at the expense of all other forms of business development?

Economic wellbeing is based upon a solid foundation of small to medium size businesses producing goods and services for local and external markets. Building this base can only be accomplished by following the well proven steps that have been successful in the past.

Where are our small business incubators? Where is our business retention scheme? What has Council done to improve the regulatory environment for small business investment on the Fraser Coast?

Are our present Councillors seriously interested in improving the desperate degree of socioeconomic disadvantage on the Fraser Coast or are they more focused on the preparation of their fancy reports and strategies to create the impression they are doing something?

‘Words, its only words’, may very well be the theme song of this Council but the people of our region need more, much more.

The Race is On!

It must be a sign that local government elections are approaching. Jim MacKellar … an occasional contributor here at the Hervey Bay Gossip … now has a website online that’s a clear indication that he intends to stand for the Fraser Coast Regional Council at those elections.

You can find his website here and it’s definitely worth looking at if you want to know what Jim stands for.

Road Conditions on the Fraser Coast

Back on December 29 … in the middle of all that rain … we had to take an unexpected trip from Hervey Bay to Ipswich and back. We knew that the highway was going to a bit of a mess but we weren’t expecting it to be quite as bad as what it was.

We encountered this sign just south of Maryborough

The other part of the sign read "... to Gympie" but that wasn't quite right.

The potholes certainly started just after we passed that sign but they almost disappeared once we crossed the boundary between the Fraser Coast Regional Council and Gympie Council and on the return journey all the potholes on the Gympie side of the border had been patched.

I guess that’s not surprising … we passed two patching crews in the Gympie part of the highway.

Sadly that wasn’t the case on the Fraser Coast Regional Council’s side of the border. On the return journey the potholes were worse and in one five kilometre stretch south of Tiaro we passed six cars pulled over on the side of the road so that the drivers could change tyres … some even had buckled rims.

Again I guess that’s not surprising … we didn’t see one patching crew at work on any of the roads we travelled over in the Fraser Coast Regional Council’s area.

These two photos are just a sample of the road conditions we encountered south of Maryborough and if the rain that the Bureau is forecasting comes … and you’re travelling down the Bruce Highway this weekend … we would suggest that you drive with care.

Electoral Divisions Within Fraser Coast Regional Council

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 ‘stacked’ by vested interests. For example, the way the Gold Coast and Cairns Council’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.

Does the Fraser Coast Regional Council Understand?

As Jim MacKellar points out, there’s a message for the Fraser Coast Regional Council in the huge amount of rate arrears but is the council really listening and if it is does it really understand?

Perusal of the FCRC’s Community Financial Statement for the 2009-10 reveal quite a bit for local ratepayers to be concerned about.

One of the most disturbing facts revealed is the 20% of arrears in payment of Council rates and charges. This represents an amount of $12.6 million outstanding.

The causes behind this level of rate arrears must be of serious concern to our Councillors. Is it because people simply will not pay their rates i.e. a rate rebellion?

Or is it because the level of rates in this region are causing financial stress to a substantial proportion of our residents, i.e. they are not paying because they simply cannot afford to.

As we live in an area recognized as economically distressed and welfare dependent it would be a fair assumption that the later applies in many of these cases.

Has Council compiled information as to the circumstances of these people for consideration by our Councillors when they next vote on an increase in the rates and charges?

Given that Council has over $80million in cash reserves (money in investment accounts) and showed a surplus (profit) of $12million for the last financial year, one would have to seriously question the necessity of this years increases in rates and charges.

How much money does the Council need to accumulate and how much hardship are the Councillors prepared to inflict on our needy in accumulating more and more reserves?

Where is the compassion, where is the empathy?