Challenges, conflict, costs: mayoral candidates weigh in
THE Maranoa Region has a big decision to make next week, when electors head to the polls to vote for the next mayor and eight councillors who will serve constituents and rate payers for four years.
In an attempt to help voters decide, Commerce Roma gave all three mayoral candidates; Rob Loughnan, Tyson Golder, and David Schefe, a chance to respond to three questions they believed needed answers.
On Tuesday night, voters were at the Roma RSL hall to hear what the three men had to say. Here's how they responded.
Q1: What do you see are the two biggest challenges facing our region over the next four years? And, if elected, what action will you take to address them?
Natural disasters are a big concern to our region, particularly the recent drought will have a massive effect on our region, ongoing. There's been a massive amount of money spent by rural producers to keep livestock alive. On top of that, we've now got coronavirus. Those are going to have a massive long term economic impact on our region.
As a council, those are things we need to take into consideration when we look at our budget. Moving forward, we need to be advocating to other levels of government for support.
Today it's the coronavirus will be the biggest issue - the whole country will stop. You can't get any bigger for the Maranoa. In terms of the healthiness for our region, one thing is making it affordable to live here and to grow. If you can get the settings right, even against the national trend we can change things. If you have a look at it, we have rates we would normally get in 2060 or something. If we make it affordable, that's the way we can weather through really challenging times and having a council that backs the people - from small to large. And with local business, we have to ask how do we keep jobs here? We need to keep it growing and support the community. If you love your community, you will stay here.
The changing climate is a big one - it's brought about some disasters if we believe scientists. This drought hasn't been had in some time. Floods, not in Maranoa but water around the place. Things are changing and we need to be aware of that. I think we're acutely aware of that in agriculture. I certainly think that.
The other one is economic development - a lot of empty shops in our towns, a lot of places closing down. I think we need to do more together to attract some economic development, new people, businesses and skills to town.
Q2: Over the past term, there has been a perception of a divisive council. Please give an example of how you, as a leader, have unified different opinions to create positive outcomes?
Really, the council is made up of nine independent individuals. Certainly, in this term of council, part of what a we have to do under the local government act, every councillor has to speak to the decision, then councillors make an independent vote, even if they disagree. This does happen. The number one thing, my main issue is always: can we run a council with different views, and can we respect each other? I've always made sure we can respect those with different views. Certainly I don't want people to change their views, I wouldn't expect that. The people of the Maranoa might have different views, they elect a council, and every term is an opportunity for different views to be elected. I'm hoping in this term we can see a fresh change, whoever that might be.
I've proceeded over some pretty difficult councils at times, particularly after amalgamation. We've always had issues, always had different type of people, some are followers, and at the other end we have some hot heads. We need to make a useful team. We have to watch the hot heads, give them a chance to speak. I've always tried to make sure all councillors contribute equally and if they're not, work out what's important to them, so everyone can contribute to their constituents and community.
In my view, I am no more important. The role of the mayor is to go out there and articulate what all the councillors have decided, even if I don't agree with what council have voted on.
I think a lot of it is myth, but having served on two previous councils I considered to be very united, there were some aspects of last four years that have been more trying. I always try and keep a straight focus on delivering what I set out to do for the community
In terms of bringing a team together, I suppose an example would be the future of the two huge camps we have in our region. Council had dividing views on this, but I managed to convince councillors to move ahead, and because I was so vocal I had the job of negotiation. In that process, I then managed to get every single community group in the one room for the first time to agree on a single course of action. And we won, and that will build our community.
Q3: Local government faces ongoing financial challenges, especially in our environment with regional population decline. These challenges need to be balanced with the needs and expectations of the community, for long term financial sustainability. How would you, as a leader, manage community expectations while remaining financially responsible?
There are a lot of pressures from above, and as far as I understand, grants from other levels of government have been reduced. I've always been a big believer in trying to source external funding and maintain ageing infrastructure. You have to replace things that are ageing, it costs a lot, but I've always enjoyed trying to go out there and find the money to do so. That's one way to do it without costing the ratepayer too much. We are an awkward sized council that will always require some type of external help.
In the next few years, I don't know what the biggest problems will be that need to be fixed, but I do know we need to stop fixating on buying new things, things that are going to cost us more. We need to fix what's broken.
This years budget was $144 million, and our net rates collect only $23 million, that's after discount. A huge part of our budget is relying on external funding. Some pressures council have experienced have been from other levels of government. Over the past ten years, since 2009, we have lost $1.4 billion in local government funding from state government.
Also, the financial assistance grants, which were frozen under (Tony) Abbot, was one per cent of federal government revenue, but now it's about .55 per cent. So we only get around $15 million a year from the federal government, whereas if they reinstated tat to one per cent, we would get an extra $13.9 million.
To get that, based on our general rates, we would have to lift current rates by 59.9 per cent to get that. There are other levels of government not pulling their weight when it comes to infrastructure, and they're the people we need to talk to.
That's pretty simple - we would operate locally. I've got a different view. I believe Maranoa Regional Council has got so much rating that we are in a very good position, we just need to use it more efficiently.
The federal government is $300-400 billion in debt, the state $700-800 billion in debt, we cannot expect to keep asking for more money.
We need to make our area as efficient as possible. Not cutbacks to pay back in years, we're talking about being efficient, operating locally, having people closer to services, and economic development. We will never grow these communities unless we put a magnifying glass and look at what they need to grow. For some, that might just be filling up empty houses. That might be the growth. Mitchell lost 40 per cent of their population since 1960. Getting that back would be a population increase for whole region.
We just need to look locally, look at how we operate and then you will watch the Maranoa grow. If I'm elected with a like-minded group of people, you will see economic growth here in four years time.