March 10, 2020
The four candidates hoping to become the next South Burnett Mayor faced off for the first time during their election campaign on Tuesday evening.
The “Meet The Candidates” night was organised by the Nanango Tourism and Development Association (NaTDA) at the Nanango RSL Club.
The venue was to be Tara’s Hall, the site of the 2016 Candidates Forum, but the local bingo held sway and the would-be pollies and the 50-or-so local residents keen to hear from them were transferred into the smaller Long Hai Function Room.
The night was chaired by NaTDA member – and former Nanango and South Burnett councillor – Barry Green, who ended up having to field some questions from the floor himself about the still unpopular (in some quarters) Nanango streetscape which occurred during his time in office and before current South Burnett Mayor Keith Campbell took the reins.
NaTDA president Gloria Kirkness welcomed the speakers and secretary Jane Erkens was timekeeper, making sure each kept to their five-minute limit.
The evening began with short speeches by Division 1 councillor Roz Frohloff and Division 2 councillor Gavin Jones who have both been returned unopposed.
The four mayoral candidates were ushered out of the room while Crs Frohloff and Jones spoke and then brought back one at a time to have their say at the rostrum.
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Mayor Keith Campbell opened the night’s stump speeches by reminding the audience the Council received an injection of “new blood” at the 2016 election with the election of four new Councillors.
It got to work in earnest soon afterwards.
Roads had been the biggest issue with ratepayers in 2016 and the Council commissioned a detailed audit of the region’s entire 3000km road network, then got to work addressing the problem.
The result was that the road network – particularly the unsealed road network – was now in the best shape it had been for many years, and was continuing to improve over time.
In addition, during the past four years his Council had acted to reduce costs as much as possible while retaining all existing services; kept rate rises as low as possible – much lower than the previous 2008 and 2012 Councils – and had also reduced debt by almost 20 percent, from $44.9 to $35.9 million.
Mayor Campbell said his vision for the coming term was to grow the region by addressing three main concerns:
- Securing more water for agriculture to foster the creation of new agricultural industries and more jobs
- Capitalising on the region’s future as an energy centre – the South Burnett is already home to the Tarong Power Stations and the Coopers Gap Wind Farm; a solar farm has been approved in Kingaroy; and two more large wind farms are planned for construction
- Developing tourism, which has been in a slump for several years but has seen a recent injection of new life from local operators that holds great promise for the future
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Abigail Andersson said she was pleased to see so many people who obviously cared for the future of the South Burnett attending the meeting.
As the mother of three children, the wife of a successful South Burnett businessman and a member of several community groups herself, she believed she shared the feelings of many people in attendance that things could be better.
Abigail said in her view elections were “all about change”, and the question all voters needed to ask themselves was were they really ready for change or not?
She believed that tourism, technological innovation and the arts had all wilted under the current Council, and if the reason for this was a lack of funding then Councillors should seek more State and Federal dollars to make up the shortfall.
Abigail said she was not looking to “reinvent the wheel” rather just use common sense.
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Speaking during his set speech – and during an informal Q&A afterwards – candidate Brett Otto said that if elected, he would donate $20,000 of the Mayor’s salary to charity.
Mr Otto said he had already promised $4000 to the recently reinvigorated Proston Rodeo; $4000 to the Murgon Men’s Shed; and would be happy to put another $4000 towards the Nanango Film Festival if the event could be revived.
He also promised to pay for all his own travel costs.
He said he already donated $20,000 a year to melanoma research through his own business, and wanted to stress that this apparent generosity was not about “buying votes”.
If elected, Mr Otto also promised to:
- Open up council for more community involvement in debates
- Hold four Mayoral forums in four different towns each month
- Video and livestream all Council meetings
- Encourage more debate at Council meetings
- Form local, town-based working groups to develop town plans
- Hold press conferences after each Council meeting and ensure equal access for all media
- Maintain the current Council’s focus on debt reduction
- Examine the Budget to deliver rate relief, especially for pensioners and farmers
- Examine all senior Council executive staff positions
- Seek more State and Federal Government funding for the region
- Ensure all existing halls, libraries, pools and other Council amenities remained open
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Candidate Toni Ralph said she had lived in the South Burnett for more than 20 years and ran a butchery at Kingaroy Shoppingworld with her husband for most of that time.
This had given her an insight into the people who live in the region and their hopes, fears and concerns.
She said the impression she’d gained was that many residents felt the Council, Councillors and Mayor had lost touch with the electorate, and shed was standing for Mayor to address this.
If elected, Toni said she would:
- Ensure there were better communications across the region to help promote growth
- Tap into local talent to help capitalise on growth opportunities
- Work to have an over-50s village built in the area to help retain the South Burnett’s ageing population, and
- Address existing shortfalls in health care, transport and education systems
“I don’t think we’re tapping into all the resources we could tap into,” she said.
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In Their Own Words …
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Upcoming Candidate Forums
Tuesday night’s candidate forum is the first of several planned for the South Burnett and neighbouring Gympie and Cherbourg council candidates over the next two weeks.
Other forums will be held on:
- Wednesday, March 11: Pam Brunjes Pavilion, Goomeri Showgrounds, Laird Street, Goomeri at 7:00pm – for Gympie Division 6 candidates
- Monday, March 16: Carrollee Hotel, King Street, Kingaroy at 6:30pm – for South Burnett Division 3 & 4 and Mayoral candidates
- Tuesday, March 17: Blackbutt Memorial Hall, Bowman Road, Blackbutt at 6:30pm – for South Burnett Mayoral candidates
- Wednesday, March 18: Palace Hotel, Drayton Street, Nanango at 6:30pm – for South Burnett Mayoral candidates
- Friday, March 20: Royal Hotel, corner of Lamb and Gore Streets, Murgon at 6:30pm – for South Burnett Division 5 & 6 and Mayoral candidates
- Monday, March 23: Cherbourg Town Hall, Cherbourg at 5:30pm – for all Cherbourg Shire Council candidates (to be confirmed)