The class of 2016: Deputy Mayor Keith Campbell, Cr Deb Palmer, Mayor Wayne Kratzmann, Cr Ros Heit, Cr Barry Green, Cr Kathy Duff and Cr Damien Tessmann get together for one last time
SBRC Mayor Wayne Kratzmann
South Burnett Mayor Wayne Kratzmann (Photo: SBRC)

March 16, 2016

South Burnett Mayor Wayne Kratzmann asked on Wednesday why social media has turned many Australians into “venomous human beings who want to spread negativity”.

The Mayor raised the question when he gave his final address to the South Burnett Regional Council at its last meeting before Saturday’s local government elections.

The meeting was held in Kingaroy Town Hall rather than the Warren Truss Chamber because a larger than usual audience was expected, but it saw very little business transacted because the Council is currently in caretaker mode

Instead, Councillors delivered their final portfolio reports to outline the current state of play with projects the Council is working on.

And some took the opportunity to deliver their own thoughts on coming to the end of their term.

Mayor Kratzmann delivered the most wide-ranging address, which covered his pride in introducing a portfolio system through to insidious attacks by social media trolls on all levels of Government.

His talk also covered the Road Levy, why rates had risen so sharply in the first few years after amalgamation, the need to keep rate rises low in the future, and the value ratepayers received from their Council compared to the State and Federal Governments.

The Mayor also reflected on some of the significant projects that have been completed in the South Burnett’s major towns during his term, then paid tributes to all the Councillors and staff he has worked with during the last four years.

The full text of Mayor Kratzmann’s final address appears below.

* * *

Former Mayors Alec McIntosh (Kilkivan), Percy Iszlaub (Wondai), Reg McCallum (Nanango) and Bill Roberts (Murgon) attended the final meeting of the current Council to support outgoing Mayor Wayne Kratzmann as he delivered his final speech

Can I say I am deeply honoured and touched by the number of people who have turned up here today – it seems we made the correct decision not to hold it in our normal Council meeting room.

However, I am disappointed that my last meeting in local government is not being held in the Warren Truss Chamber because it is a place of great importance to me. And I am proud to say this has also been embraced by our Council.

While at times it could be jovial, and even at times a touch generic, it was and always will be a place of judgement, a place of reflection, a place of decision.

A place of joy when you know we have helped someone to achieve or by approving a plan to develop, sometimes a place of disappointment simply because legislation stopped us from making a decision we would have liked to but simply couldn’t.

Most importantly, it’s been a place of protocol.

Of all my directions, protocol at meetings is one of those that I’m most proud of.

Our Councillors now lead the meetings and provide the briefings, helped and guided by our senior staff, with an enthusiasm and knowledge of their portfolio and their community’s needs.

Our portfolio system has been a huge success, much envied by neighbouring Councils.

Portfolios are a demand I put on my fellow Councillors, and a challenge they have all embraced with enthusiasm and fervour.

The portfolio system not only worked because it took all Councillors to another level of expertise, but also because it made Councillors responsible for the whole region, from Murgon to Blackbutt and everywhere in between, and not just their own Division.

* * *

Social Media Trolls

Just for a moment, though, let me touch on a negative side of Council, and local government in general, in 2016.

I know this is the “Silly Season” but the cowardly attacks on incumbents across Queensland during this campaign are simply disgraceful.

Why has social media turned Australians into venomous human beings seeking to spread negativity and – if they can’t find something bad – to simply make it up?

Sadly, it is no better here in the South Burnett.

Recently, a friend of mine was handed a leaflet from an organisation which contains sheer rubbish and is really bloody awful and pathetic.

This sort of stuff has been circulating for quite a while.

I always shrugged my shoulders and thought it was simply part of the job … but you know, it isn’t.

It serves no purpose, because it’s not truthful.

Still, I could live with that if it was simply not factual and just bagged Council, the Road Levy, the Mayor – all easy targets.

But it doesn’t.

It attacks people just because they are Councillors or Council staff or a family of Council staff or anyone who doesn’t support their ideals or dares to support Council or in fact sees the community of the South Burnett in a positive light.

And yes, I know it has no traction.

But it is damaging and embarrassing to the South Burnett, our people and what we are trying to achieve.

It sickens me and it’s the one thing I will look forward to when I’m not the Mayor, because as an average citizen I will take these people on and be the voice of reason.

* * *

The Road Levy

Let me touch on another issue, and that’s the Road Levy.

It is despised by all of us, because we all have to pay another $200 in our rates, which in turn gives us an additional $3 million to be spent specifically on roads.

I actually heard one of the best quotes of the election campaign recently: “I’m going to get rid of the road levy and spend more money on roads”.

I didn’t know Albert Einstein was running for Council!

If the existing Council wanted to be more popular and be certain of re-election, why didn’t this Council remove the levy in this year’s budget? Do you think you need a new Mayor to do that, or a new Council?

That talk is easy to say but it’s not do-able.

We need around $10 million per year in straight-out road maintenance to get even close to maintaining all our roads to our ratepayers’ satisfaction.

With the levy we have around $6.5 million. But take it away and you have $3 million less.

You work out the sums.

* * *

The Drive For Low Rates

I started work within the Wondai Shire Council in late 1978 as a payroll clerk, and within 12 months I was promoted to Deputy CEO.

With the exception of four years between 2008 and 2012, I have been part of every Council budget brought down by either the WSC or SBRC.

That amounts to 32 financial year budgets being adopted, and those 32 budgets all have one similarity: keep rate rises to a minimum.

During this time I have worked with over 50 Councillors and not once – not once – have I ever heard one of them recommend anything but the smallest rate increase possible after enormous debate and heartache.

In fact, plenty have argued to create a deficit to ensure the rate rise was minimal.

In the past four years it was the same story, but harsher.

We had over $100 million worth of damage to our roads and infrastructure in the 2013 floods, and coupled with the disaster of 2011, it put us in a position of almost no return – but you know this Council … and the Council of this current term would not accept that.

We went on a mission to secure funding from wherever we could.

No Council did better than us. We embraced the “betterment” system championed by then-Minister David Crisafulli.

No longer did we close bridges – we built better ones: from bridges in the main street of Nanango to bridges in faraway rural areas, some of which you will never see, let alone drive on.

But our farmers, our remote constituents, deserve them too.

And nobody did it more economically or better than South Burnett Regional Council.

Even if it didn’t fit the criteria, we still had a shot.

Our then-CEO told Councillors you couldn’t get Mining Royalties money for a sewerage treatment plant that doesn’t meet the guidelines – but we did. $10 bloody million dollars!

Then I went back to the Deputy Premier’s Office three months after that with the Swicker’s proposal and he said “not you again!”

And we got the Swicker’s second entrance money as well.

* * *

Why Rates Rose After Amalgamation

Still, I digress … like death and taxes, rates and charges are inevitable and will always increase.

But what has been forgotten is that in the last 2 years they have only increased by 2.75%, the lowest in over a decade.

Today everyone compares today’s rates and charges with those of the past.

Yes they have increased considerably – that’s a fact.

Most of us blame amalgamation for the increase, but sadly it’s not that simple.

At the time of amalgamation, the State Government, Queensland Treasury Corporation and the Queensland Audit Office were all bringing in legislation to ensure that all local governments must fully fund their depreciation and be financially viable.

That is, they must put money aside each year so as to be able to replace assets into the future and not rely on government grants, as Councils had in the past.

The Labour Government of the time believed, probably correctly, that small to medium Councils would not have been able to or would have refused to comply fully with the new regulations, so amalgamations came to fruition.

My colleague Cr Green is correct: amalgamation or not, we would have seen rates and charges increase at the same level if not for any other reason than compliance.

The compounding factor for Councillors is the reduction in our share of the taxation pie – our financial assistance grants.

* * *

The Value For Money Rates Produce

Council rates and services should be judged on value for money and I put this to you: household rates in our towns are between $2,000 and $2,800 p.a.

So let’s say you pay $2,600 per year for your house rates and services in Kingaroy. What do you get for that?

For the sake of comparison, I asked one of my staff who lived in Kingaroy how much income tax she pays a week to the Federal Government. She didn’t know at first because it came directly out of her pay before she saw it (wish we could do that with rates), but she investigated and advised it was $208 per week.

She is paid an average wage, no way is she in the high earner bracket.

So I thought I would take a stroll around town and see which tier of Government gives her the best value for money, given that she pays $50 a week to Council and $208 a week to Canberra.

I walked out the front door of my office and saw the Town Hall, provided by Council, straight in front of me; the Library, once again provided by Council; and noticed people eating lunch in the Council-provided forecourt.

Then a bus pulled up on its way to Brisbane. That’s right – a service saved by this Council.

Then I turned left onto the footpath, a safe haven provided by Council, stepped off the kerb and channelling, also provided by Council, saw all the Council work happening in the carpark, and noticed a non-occupied old Health Building (oh that’s right … that used to be Queensland Health, operated by the State Government), hoping as I did so that our earthmoving equipment didn’t hit any of the Council-provided street lights in the vicinity.

Anyway, I headed left again and saw some work being done on the new Council rail trail. Sadly, no trains are running any more (oh that’s right, the State Government ripped them all up in their wisdom a few years back).

And after I safely negotiated the pedestrian crossing, I walked a block and came across a beautiful Council park with new playground equipment and flowers. Then I needed a pit stop, but was pleased to find Council had put in a new child safe set of public toilets, clean and tidy and no cost to use, unlike overseas. I think I even noticed a newly renovated swimming pool as I headed back to the CBD.

Then I got slightly waylaid and ended up in Markwell Street. It was good to see a Community Hospital, so I checked with the receptionist and was told it was closed. I asked what the Federal and State Government were doing about it and the lady replied “Oh I don’t know about them … but I think Council is reopening it in September.”

Coming out again, I noticed all the new roadworks that had been done in front of Anderssens Fruit shop – much better than a few years ago – and then made my way back to work.

Later on I said to my staffer “I reckon your $50 to Council is OK. But I think you’re being ripped off by the feds with the $208 you’re paying.”

* * *

How Our Major Towns Have Progressed

We’ve achieved so much in the last four years.

Murgon has a brand new Aquatic Centre, a new bridge at Silverleaf, is hopefully on the cusp of some new economic development, and has the booming BP Dams on its doorstep. The Rail Trail due to open later in the year will be the stimulus Murgon, Wondai and our villages of Tingoora, Wooroolin and Memerambi have been waiting for.

Wondai, our artistic home, has a new village green. And as the centre of the Rail Trail, it also has a lot to look forward to.

Our major centre of Kingaroy has had an infrastructure overhaul. New state-of-the-art sewerage treatment plants and water treatment plants will ensure its development from a large country town to a small city in the future.

No one sees this work, but it is essential to our development.

Councils in the past talked about it, but we did it.

Now let’s say those three words we were belted from pillar to post about: the Nanango Streetscape.

Just take a look at us now!

Only the incessant naysayers are saying anything negative, Nanango simply has come of age – we used to avoid it as we took the bypass, but now we slow down and enjoy it. And maybe even stop and shop in town. Well, that’s what Cr Green and I do every week.

And Blackbutt, the gateway to the South Burnett and likely its new growth centre, is about to get a new supermarket thanks to Council, a $3 million drainage and kerb and channel upgrade, and $1.6 million about to be spent on the Blackbutt-Crows Nest Road.

The list goes on and on.

But people say you do your best work during adversity and this Council has done just that.

* * *

Thank You To My Fellow Councillors

I’m proud to say I’ve worked with and lead a band of six community workers second to none in my 35 years in local government.

Things have been tough, and not just the weather … our team of Councillors and staff have been through the wringer.

We lost a husband, a brother, then a son and now a partner.

Two Mayors of differing styles but similar passion have also been lost to local government in recent times. But we have stuck together and worked through these tough times.

Two of my colleagues are not going out to bat again; two more may be retiring even if they are not wanting to, certainly one.

And at least one is lining up again, but I’m sure her neighbouring sister will as well.

* * *

I actually heard a quote from someone who said all the Councillors on the South Burnett Regional Council just follow Kratzmann – that has to be the best one ever!

I could give you plenty of resolutions where Cr Heit is not in my corner, but I would crawl over hot coals for her if that was needed.

She’s a fine Councillor, and one who has made me more proud than any other.

I’m sure if you could have portable chemo, she would have had it hooked up to her vehicle while on road inspections.

* * *

Then there’s the Lady in Pink. Her re-election in Division 5 is of no surprise to anyone, least of all to me.

She drives the whole six of us crazy. She’s a smoocher, a schemer, belligerent, argumentative, but loyal, passionate and caring.

And even in her darkest hour, she was most concerned about letting her community down … that just doesn’t happen with Cr Duff.

* * *

We are going to have two new Kingaroy Councillors by the weekend.

A councillor at 21, and then being re-elected unopposed, is some achievement.

There are a lot of words I could use to describe Cr Tessmann, but time is running short.

His is not, though, whatever happens Saturday.

I saw the Cr Tessmann I so much admire when he unsuccessfully debated to help some businesses that lost trade due to some Council upgrades.

I looked at him and saw in his actions – but more importantly, in his eyes – the reason you become a Councillor: he was simply striving to help people in his community, against the odds, knowing he wasn’t going to win, but believing he had to give it his best shot.

Very early in my Mayoralty, in fact before I was sworn in, someone who should have known better was trying to solicit some nasty untruths about me and Cr Tessmann could have easily done nothing.

But as usual he chose the path of integrity and not the path of popularity.

It’s something I will never forget.

* * *

Our Division 2 rep for the last 8 years has been Deb Palmer.

She was bred to be a councillor with a name like Allery, and she will walk away in the knowledge that her beloved Blackbutt is a much better place today than it was at the start of her term.

Tenacity best sums her up … once she makes up her mind she won’t be swayed, and if you do something she thinks is not right, wow does she let you know!

We’ve been through so much together, soon to be no longer Councillors but friends forever.

* * *

Barry Green, I think, has been in my psyche for my entire life.

It started with the radio – Barry was the South Burnett’s greatest radio announcer, then the footy, then the races and, of course, the new Council.

He is the press’ favourite son and he can get away with anything.

He says the most outrageous things and yet he is never, never in strife with the media.

For someone who loves Nanango so much, he’s a real regional councillor. Barry speaks at meetings when the need arises or when he thinks the need arises, but when he does it’s never for a short time.

That finger rises and I give him the nod and then say 50 Hail Marys, because none of us know what’s coming.

He is the only councillor in my entire career who can start talking about the prescribed subject and then wander into many other fields, which normally include economics and horse racing.

Barry is a person who analyses major decisions at length and normally rings me early in the morning and says “now Boss, I’ve been thinking over the weekend and I’m not sure you’re right…”

Get him on your side and he’ll stand with you through thick and thin.

If you had to pick a best mate, you’d pick Baz.

* * *

You know, so many Councillors strive to be the Deputy Mayor, but I reckon it’s the worst job … I hated it.

You only get to go to events the Mayor can’t make it to. And even then, you get introduced as the Mayor’s replacement.

With any decision of note, the Mayor gets the accolades while you normally get the Finance portfolio … in charge of rates. Wow!

However, since amalgamation, our Deputy Mayor Keith Campbell has done an extraordinary job and during my time has been not only the loyalest of deputies, but has acted in the position of Mayor numerous times as well.

His is a strategic thinker and a man of principle.

Not only has he held the Finance portfolio, he has carried the Town Planning brief as well.

The citation by the Queensland Treasury Corporation of our much improved financial position since amalgamation is due in no small part to the efforts of the Deputy Mayor and his finance team.

He is a wonderful Councillor and I wish him all the very best.

* * *

Thank You To My Staff

Can I quickly add my thanks to all the Council staff, particularly the senior managers and General Managers. You know the high esteem that I hold you all in.

To my CEO Gary Wall, it’s been an honour and a privilege to work with you for the past 16 months,

I wish it could have been longer and I apologise for not being here after March, but you more than anyone know why I have chosen the path I have.

We’ve held the steering wheel together in our pursuit to make the South Burnett a better place.

There’s no doubt I had the accelerator and you the brake, but something that is now very unusual in the work of Local Government happened: we gelled.

It’s been a great combination and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

Gary, you are a credit to your profession and our community is blessed to have you at the helm.

To Amanda, Lynelle and Kez: you simply made my job fun … you are all amazing and I will miss you more than you will ever know.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Sheena and I do that with the knowledge she is a Mayoral candidate thus I will be brief.

I can unequivocally say that I wouldn’t have achieved what I did without her wonderful assistance. We were a great team.

And to Bronwyn – the keeper of the gate: it wouldn’t matter if you were the Queen of England, you couldn’t get to me without getting past Bronwyn.

Words don’t do justice to her. I have annoyed her, I know, every day. But if you ask her, she wouldn’t trade me for anyone else if she didn’t have to.

* * *

The Future

In closing can I say that after 1400-odd days as the Mayor of the South Burnett and all the work and infrastructure projects we have carried out there are two special events that I am proud of.

The first is the formation of the Mayors Community Benefit Fund.

Due to the efforts of so many amazing people we have raised over $234,000 in funds that have been distributed to flood victims and non-for-profit organisations in the South Burnett. Thank you to everyone.

And secondly, the honour of standing in front of the people of Doedewaard in the Netherlands when we finally put airman Patrick Tiernan to rest, and the privilege for Eleanor and I to lead the Remembrance Day parade through the streets of Doedewaard, whose people will always hold the South Burnett close to their hearts.

And to everyone else:

There has never been a day, in fact an hour, when I haven’t been aware of the importance of my role as your Mayor.

It goes without saying that it is a tough job, but I’ve loved every minute – well, almost – because I’ve done what I’ve always wanted to do: help the people of the South Burnett.

To my Dad, whose only crime is that he is immensely proud of his son and tells that to anyone who wants to listen: he instilled his pride of the South Burnett in me and has been a major contributor to our region in his own right.

And of course to my wife Eleanor: I could be blunt but true by saying she gave up her career for me. Some people would say Council would have been better off if she stayed and I went, me included. But she’s been my inspiration to do good, she defends me, knows me and loves me. And in March 2016, that’s what I need the most.

Say what you will about my tenure, the true scorecard will be drawn up in time, but I can assure you this:

I was not born to sit in the back of the bus, it’s not in my blood to close transport services, not to rebuild bridges, not to help people in their time of need and certainly hospitals don’t close on my watch.

I have my detractors and it’s a sad fact that as a politician, you are now more popular if you do nothing, but that’s not me.

In four years we have built more infrastructure than at any time in the history of the South Burnett, we have more projects on the books than ever before, and we now have a Council team that work together and not in isolation.

Our future is bright and our region has more potential than most, so work with your Council, support them and the results will be seen for our children to enjoy.

I hope the next Mayor of my beloved South Burnett is a better Mayor than me – we need that.

But one thing they won’t be is a more hard working or proud and passionate one!


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