The great divide

IN A step back to a pre-amalgamation era of governance, the Fraser Coast Regional Council has voted to support the introduction of council divisions.

The decision has split not just the people of the Fraser Coast, but also its council, with six councillors voting in favour; one absence; one abstention and three votes against – including the mayor’s.

Mayor Mick Kruger and councillors Linda Harris and Gerard O’Connell stood united against the motion, with the mayor describing the motion as a “step back to parochialism”.

“We’ve done the hard yards with amalgamation and we need to keep moving that work forward,” Cr Kruger said.

“Once you have divisions, it’s just human nature to fight against each other.”

But after survey results showed 81% of respondents wanted divisions, the movement was passed with the support of councillors Belinda McNeven, David Dalgleish, Barbara Hovard, Sue Brooks, Julie Arthur and Debbie Hawes.

Councillor Les MucKan abstained from the vote and councillor Anne Nioa was absent.

The council survey’s results were pre-empted by a Fraser Coast Chronicle survey showing 225 readers were in favour of divisions while only 25 were not.

Cr Brooks said while it was disappointing only 1105 survey responses came back out of 64,801 sent to electors, the survey was a clear indication that people favoured the divided system.

“People will choose representatives who will fight for their little pocket, within the context of the region. It will be win-win,” Cr Brooks said.

Just over half of respondents voted they would prefer a multi-member division, where two or more councillors take responsibility for an area, but it was a close match with 48% of people voting for single-member divisions.

Cr Dalgleish said the divisions would save travel time and allow each councillor to concentrate their focus on one geographical area.

“I’d like to be able to spend a whole evening at one group’s meeting without having to get to another meeting,” he said.

“It’s about giving good value to the community.”

Cr O’Connell said he would not support divisions, because he believed that despite the survey results, many people supported the current model.

He feared divisions could weaken the council by pitting regional representatives against each other and paralysing voters.

“It will limit the choice of voters, to only be able to vote in one person instead of 10,” he said.

“We are strong if we are united, but if we start drawing lines on maps, we become weak.”

The council will send its submission to Minister for Local Government Desley Boyle by March 1, which will be sent to the Change Commission to hold a public consultation on whether the divisions should be brought in.

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