March 3, 2019
South Burnett Mayor Keith Campbell has called for public consultation about proposed changes to Council elections being considered by the State Government.
The government flagged last week it wants to introduce compulsory preferential voting at the next local government elections, due to be held in March 2020.
Under this reform, voters would need to number every box when voting for the Mayor and their Divisional Councillor, and would no longer have the option to “just vote one”.
Local Government Minister Sterling Hinchliff said the reform would bring Council elections into line with the same procedures used in State and Federal elections.
But the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) and Mayors around the State have spoken against the change.
The LGAQ says it is concerned the government is proposing a change that excludes any public consultation process.
They say this is at odds with written commitments and public statements the government previously made to engage with LGAQ and the need for broad community consultation.
The LGAQ says it had been involved in confidential discussions during the drafting stage.
But it believes councils and the community deserve the opportunity to have input into any proposed changes in order to fully understand their impact.
Mayor Campbell said the South Burnett would be following the LGAQ’s lead in opposing any change to the existing system without public consultation.
“This is ultimately a matter for the community,” the Mayor said.
“Waiting until the introduction of the Bills will be too late for meaningful community engagement. The die will have been well and truly cast by then.”
The Mayor said all previous major electoral reforms had been preceded by extensive community consultation.
“From the South Burnett Regional Council’s point of view, we would support a community education program about the proposed changes,” he said.
“For the community to accept the results of the 2020 local government elections, it is critical that they have had a say on – and have confidence in – the process associated with those elections,” he said.
Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio and Gympie Mayor Mick Curran have also spoken out against the proposed changes.
Mayor Antonio said with 10 Divisions and an average 35 candidates in Toowoomba’s council elections, the complexities of counting compulsory preferential voting would be significant.
Gympie Mayor Mick Curran also questioned the need to change the existing system.
“It should not go unnoted that the optional system now in place was recommended by the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, and supported by the Fitzgerald Inquiry,” Mayor Curran told local media.
He said the change also increased the risk of more accidental informal votes being cast, and of candidates potentially making preference deals.