With local government elections almost upon us, Redland City CEO Bill Lyon has reminded voters to check which division they are in prior to next month’s Council elections.
Division boundaries were adjusted a few months ago by the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ), after putting a draft determination out for public consultation and considering submissions.
Lynn Weston said she was “horrified” to find out recently that her family had been shifted from Division 10 (Birkdale and Thornside) to Division 9 (Capalaba). Every other voter in Creek Road, Birkdale will still be voting in Division 10.
Boundary changes are supposed to even up the number of electors in each division to within plus or minus 10% of the average. For Redland City, with about 10,000 voters in each division, the permissible variation is plus or minus 1,000, approximately.
Given these maths, it seems strange that of 95 submissions to the ECQ, ten included proposals for a boundary change in Birkdale that would affect only five electors. None of the ten people making these submissions claimed to live in this area. Why so much fuss about so few people?
The area in question included the privately owned Howeston Golf Course and adjacent 60 hectares of government owned land. It seems the desire for electoral redistribution was more about potential land development than which councillor should represent five voters.
Division 10’s Councillor Paul Bishop recently explained in a video that under rule changes implemented by the Williams Council, only the local councillor and ‘Portfolio Chair’ are guaranteed to be kept aware of matters going on in a particular division.
Could it be that this electoral boundary rejig was part of a broader play? If the local councillor was perceived as ‘difficult’, getting the land moved to another division might solve the ‘problem’. Division 9 is currently held by one of the Mayor’s pro-development supporters, Cr Paul Gleeson.
The five ‘citizen’ submissions
Early in 2015 the Bulletin ran a story about Federal Government plans to sell off 60 hectares in Birkdale (the Commonwealth Lands) with Federal MP Andrew Laming suggesting it could be used for a university.
The story (and photo) also featured Mayor Karen Williams and State MP for Capalaba Steve Davies (LNP) who just happened to be in the middle of a re-election campaign.
Steve lost the election but retained an interest in the Commonwealth lands. He was one of ten people to argue for this area to be redistributed from Division 10 to Division 9. His submissions dated 26 September included the following words:
With regard to Divisions Nine and Ten, I propose that the current northern most boundary of the proposed Division Nine at Jones Road, should be moved further north to include the statistical area 3100326. This would only result in a net change of five voters from Division Ten to Division Nine. In exchange, this small change will deliver a more natural, and identifiable boundary of community open space. This is especially pertinent given that the land, currently owned by the Federal Government, is proposed to be purchased by Redland City Council. This open space area naturally extends south into community open space currently in Division Nine and CCD 3100407, and also forms a natural boundary along the waterway. It would place similar open spaces together into Division 9, rather than the current proposal that splits the nominated locations into proposed separate Divisions. (Redlands2030 bolding)
On the same day almost identical submissions were made by Nick and Don McAlpine. Nick was a Rowlands operative who campaigned for Steve Davies at the 2015 election. Don said he was writing in his capacity as President of the Redland Bay Golf Club.
Next day, ECQ received a similar submission, including a sentence identical to the one bolded above, from Nick Turnbull – understood to be a close friend of Mayor Karen Williams’ family.
Turnbull’s submission was sent from an email address “Jodelling” but he asked that further communications be addressed to another email address which he provided.
Lachlan Crane, a former staffer to Steve Davies, sent a submission to ECQ on 28 September. His version was very similar to the one made by the McAlpines and his former boss.
The ‘councillor’ submissions
On Monday 28 September four Redland City Councillors sent submissions to ECQ which included proposals to move the five electors, the golf course and the Commonwealth lands from Division 10 to Division 9. It seems as if some work had been done to improve the technical basis of the submission, perhaps by a Council officer. The nonsensical argument about “placing similar open spaces together” was dropped.
At 12:50 PM Cr Julie Talty fired off her submission, in an email to ECQ, which included:
Propose that the northern most boundary of the proposed Division 9 currently on Jones Street be moved north to take the statistical area 3100326 in to the proposed Division 9 area. This small deviation from Davidson Road north along Old Cleveland Road and then turning West along the northern boundary of area 3100326 which takes in the northern boundary of the Hewston Golf Course and follow the creek line back to meet the city boundary with Brisbane. There are no voter impacts from this change which provides a change of only 5 voters in area 3100326 away from proposed Division 10 and into proposed Division 9.
Interestingly, her submission made a reference to the golf course, but mis-spelt it as “Hewston”.
One minute and eight seconds later, ECQ got an identical email from Cr Mark Edwards. Cr Kim-Maree Hardman followed at 12:57 pm. A few minutes later at 1:06 PM Cr Paul Gleeson completed the quartet – four councillor submissions lodged in 16 minutes and 40 seconds.
Just to make sure, Cr Talty sent a second version of her submission a couple of hours later. Someone working in the Mayor’s office emailed a third submission on behalf of Cr Talty at 4:32 PM, this time spelling the golf course’s name correctly (it’s “Howeston”).
These ‘councilor’ submissions were all made using official Redland City Council email addresses. Presumably their interest was work related and therefore a matter of public interest.
The next morning, at 11:08 AM a copy of the ‘councillor’ submission (with the golf course name mis-spelt) was emailed to ECQ by Cr Talty’s husband, John Talty. That was the tenth submission.
The Final Determination and reactions to it
Perhaps the staff at ECQ are not well trained in smelling rats. Ten submissions wanting a change with hardly any people affected? ECQ accepted the proposal and incorporated it in the Final Determination Report (which includes copies of all submissions made to ECQ) published in October 2015.
Many Redlanders were surprised by the Final Determination. Division 10’s Cr Paul Bishop was one of them. He had, for many months, been raising community awareness of impending decisions about the Commonwealth land, and adjacent Willards Farm.
When the Report was published, Cr Bishop wondered why ten different people wanted ECQ to move the boundary. In a Bulletin story he says:
Curiously, it all seemingly occurred after public consultation, yet did not involve discussion with either the divisional councillor or the local community concerned.To suggest the change was proposed to ensure fair distribution of voters is incorrect, as only five residences are involved.It appears the change is really about shifting these blocks of valuable land away from one councillor, who has activated people’s interest in the site, to the jurisdiction of another division.
The Bulletin’s report included the following:
Cr Wendy Boglary said she had grave concerns about the political motivation behind the 10 submissions.
Mayor Karen Williams denied orchestrating the submissions and said she did not make a submission.
Cr Williams said the Division 9 boundary was extended to include the Commonwealth land because the area would connect open space from Capalaba to the Tingalpa Creek boundary.
What we still don’t know
The notion that ten different people would be concerned about connecting open space as part of an electoral redistribution is laughable.
Similarities in the submissions indicate that they were the result of some coordination but we don’t know their identity and exactly what they were trying to achieve. We are left wondering about the objectives and behaviour of councillors Talty, Edwards, Hardman and Gleeson who made submissions in their official capacities, arguing for a change that has no obvious rationale.
The role of Mayor Karen Williams should also be fully explained. Although she denied “orchestrating” the submissions, it would be remarkable if she was blissfully ignorant of what was going on.
Councillors Talty, Edwards and Gleeson, and Mayor Williams, are running for re-election. A clear and detailed account of who organised the Birkdale redistribution submissions would assist voters to decide if any of these candidates deserve to get back into office.
Redlands2030 – 2 March 2016
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