Some councillors are more equal than others

Some Redland City Councillors recently voted to restructure portfolio responsibilities. Instead of each councillor being involved in some aspect of the Council’s administration, we now have a system where only a few have portfolios.

The public interest

This is a significant and fundamental change to the governance of our Council. There was no public input, no explanation of the benefits and the result has diminished the roles of 40% of the elected councillors. The note to the Council meeting made a passing reference to “greater efficiency” although no measures, no evidence and no precedence were cited.

Major changes to policy and governance arrangements are issues of public interest. The changes to the portfolio arrangements, the surrender of the community’s planning powers (in calling for the Priority Development Areas) and even the changes to the Council meeting times are examples where this Council has acted in a high handed and unilateral manner, not in the public interest.


The limited discussion about such crucial issues calls into question the motives and ethics of the Councillors voting for these changes. In this latest instance, the councillors who voted for this system were for the most part the ones that ended up with portfolio roles. This raises some important questions:

  1. Do we have the most capable and experienced councillors managing Council activities?
  2. Will all councillors really have access to information about what is going on in some of the less well lit corridors of the Council’s offices, like the places where important planning and development decisions are made?
  3. What “backroom” deals were done and promises made before the voting to implement the new portfolio arrangement and allocate portfolios?
  4. How does the new structure deliver on the Vision Outcome for “Inclusive and Ethical Governance” established by “our” community in the Redlands 2030 Community Plan?
  5. Where is the assessment of the “public interest” and how do the changes ensure a test of ”public interest” is applied to all decisions when there are now so many elected representatives who sit “outside the tent”?

City Plan 2015

Well planned?

Well planned?

Redland City is currently preparing a new planning scheme, City Plan 2015, which will decide what can happen next door to each and every one of us.

A recent Land Supply Review states that there is enough land already zoned to hold the likely population growth “target” set by the State. But it appears that some councillors are keen to allow extensive land development in areas that are outside the City’s current urban footprint. This is regardless of the City’s land supply needs and principles set out in the Community Plan.

To ensure that the City Plan 2015 receives a social licence, all councillors must be given full access to all information being used to prepare the new plan.

City budget and financial situation

Redlands Budget full of holes

Redlands Budget full of holes

The Council is now budgeting an $11.5 million operational deficit for 2014/15 and shows no capacity to grapple with the challenge of matching expenses to revenue. This was demonstrated at the last Council meeting when a majority of councillors voted to add a Community Events Officer to the payroll at a cost of $100,000 per year without any business case being put forward.

Forecasts for future years are likely to blow out when the Mayor’s “optimistic” assumptions of efficiency savings are found wanting. The City lacks a clear and agreed strategy for setting rates with many areas claiming that they are being treated unfairly.

A way forward

How many beans?

How many beans?

Redland City needs to undertake a thorough review of its finances in order to match revenue and expenses over the long term. This is a project that will require high level leadership and commitment.

We now have some experienced and capable councillors who have just been freed up from portfolio responsibilities, like Crs Boglary and Ogilvie.   Appointing them to  lead a Financial Strategy Task Force should be implemented by Council without delay.

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7 thoughts on “Some councillors are more equal than others

  1. Thank you Toni for writing such a clear and concise comment about what could happen with fewer councillors representing the whole of The Redlands. This is really frightening stuff.
    We saw at the last local election how much money was poured into trying to get the candidates that the developers wanted elected.
    Independent candidates and councillors who renominated had a major struggle trying to counteract the terrific amount of advertising
    supported by developers who were pushing to get a particular group of candidates in.
    And they succeeded and got their majority vote in Council. All the misinformation put out against sitting independent councillors was destructive and as usual money talked.

  2. This is scary stuff – next will come the “don’t you worry about that” statement. Have Queenslanders not learnt this lesson before?

  3. What a backward and even frightening decision and definitely not in the interests of the Redland community. This type of revamp of Council has been discussed many times over the past 20 years. The last was when Don Seccombe was Mayor…. and thankfully it went nowhere. A few months ago the local paper published another version of the story under the headline “Shake up of Council”

    There are real, if hidden defects to having no divisions and councillors having to be elected by the whole community. There will be a many negative outcomes for the Redlands residents. A serious flaw is that campaigning throughout the whole city is very expensive. So the only people who can afford this scale of campaign will be those funded by those with specific agendas, as we saw at the 2012 election. Developers will assist like-minded people to get them into positions of power so that decisions affecting them are at least made by “like minded” people. Some would say decisions are then made to suit them (the donors). On this aspect the saga arising form the NSW ICAC are alarming for Redlanders and Queenslanders .

    In a “no division” Council it could also be that the all Councillors could come from, say, Capalaba, Alexandra Hills or Cleveland. In this scenario residents from places Mt Cotton, Thornside, Redland Bay and Point Lookout may not have any true representation.

    In my experience electing a councillor for a Division is good value. These people know (or get to know) the area, the streets, the schools, local businesses and local issues. If a resident from Lamb Island or Dunwich has a problem it is likely councillors won’t really prioritise making representations on behalf of communities where few people (and voters)live. In fact there is research in other councils who went down the path of no divisions and this confirms that smaller communities can be ignored.

    Another finding was that the smaller communities come to have little connection with their council. Alternatively, one to two motivated councillors are run-off their feet attending to things all over the council area. In the case of Redlands places like the Bay Islands wouldsuffer.

    Another likely problem is when, say, Redland Bay State School has a meeting, school awards or other event. Do people believe that a councillor living in, say, Birkdale would attend these or even travel to Russell Island, or Coochie to meet with people?

    With fewer councillors (the report mentioned 6) the community could well find that there are some councillors who are very proactive and attend everything and some will only attend where the majority of votes are.

    When budgets are being discussed, I have also seen “first hand” where those communities on the fringe don’t get infrastructure they deserve as some councillors will only push for the areas majority. The argument that the Mayor will use is that “we are councillors for the whole community”. In reality, I have seen and heard from councillors from across Queensland (and other States too) during my 18 years as a councillor. Those people elected ‘no divisional’ councils warned me of the flaws, especially that concerning the representation of small communities.

    Don’t fall for the old red herring “it will save ratepayers money” – you get what you pay for. Even if a proper investigation is undertaken and a proper benefit cost analysis is compiled I believe it won’t stack up. On the decision to appoint 6 portfolio chairs from 10 available councillors the evidence of the savings should be made available, a claim about greater efficiency is not evidence. Then again the idea of efficient democracy as a basis of decision making is a sure way to a dictatorship of the majority and the elimination of minority views, no matter how well founded or researched.

    Fewer councillors, no divisions, and knowing that paying for a whole of city campaign will be out of the realm of average independent grass roots candidates. There is a hidden agenda here and Redlands residents will be worse off. Stay with your Divisional Councillor and your local voice.

  4. The new Council portfolio system raises questions about ethics in Redland City’s local government.
    For instance how were the Councillors chosen? Were they chosen on experience?
    We need to know was it a democratic vote or en bloc?
    Was this portfolio system done to make it easier for some councillors to implement a City Plan that
    suits developers but is not in the public interest?

  5. A quick brush-up on Wikipedia about George Orwell’s satirical work says Napoleon’s
    changes to the governance structure of the farm “replaces meetings with a committee of pigs who will run the farm. ”
    Oh dear! Let’s stop there before the labels stick.
    i thought we had a plan for good farm management in the Redlands 2030 .

  6. These changes in Redland City Council seem to mimic the philosophy of the Newman government and most voters relish the next election day to get rid of bad rubbish.

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