April 16, 2020
by Anne Miller
Congratulations – and commiserations – to all the new faces we will be seeing on our Council benches over the next four years … buckle up, folks, you’re in for an interesting ride!
Most voters are sticking with known leaders in these troubled times of pandemic (check out the recent approval rating jumps for world leaders) but the South Burnett has opted for a virtual unknown – at least in council circles – in Kingaroy accountant Brett Otto as Mayor.
Mr Otto became a familiar face to many people during his election campaign but the reality is he has no Council experience.
He suggested many changes during his campaign which I believe have little chance of being realised, especially in the current economic climate.
If anyone thinks there is a keg of money in Canberra waiting for the right person to tap into it … think again.
COVID-19 and the measures the Federal Government has taken to prop up portions of the economy from total meltdown will mean there will be no “spare” money for pet projects in far-flung regional Queensland for years, maybe decades.
Mr Otto will be joined in the Chambers by new faces in Division 4 and Division 6, also with no Council experience.
Returned councillors Roz Frohloff, Gavin Jones and Danita Potter each have one term under their belts while Division 5’s Kathy Duff is the “old hand”, serving on the South Burnett Regional Council since amalgamation.
Ironically, the scuttlebutt is that despite her experience, Cr Duff does not have the numbers now to be elected Deputy Mayor, with “Spud” Jones tipped to get the payrise.
What the South Burnett needs right now is some steady hands at the wheel. We have tough times ahead.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe all these people are either already – or will become – quite fine councillors.
But when the going gets tough, experience does matter.
The South Burnett has been – and still is – suffering from the drought. The water projects currently being investigated in the South and North Burnett, thanks to pre-election generosity by the Federal Government, promised some light for a future based on irrigated agriculture.
But will there be State and Federal Government money around now to realise any recommendations these investigations suggest? I doubt it.
The South Burnett also faces the spectre of the imminent closure (within perhaps 10 years) of Meandu Mine and the coal-fired power stations it supports.
Think I’m being negative? Don’t forget that modelling in 2017 predicted Tarong Power Station could close as early as 2019. The fact that it is still powering on is testament to the changes which have been implemented by Stanwell that have made Tarong very responsive to the ever-changing market pressures.
If you think our economy is flat now, wait until the wages of these mine workers evaporate.
And consider another worst-case scenario: what if something happens to the Australian pork industry? How will this affect Swickers and the jobs that it supports? African Swine Fever is real and is not far away from Australia.
The South Burnett’s economy is basically a three-legged stool based on farming, mining and Swickers.
Our service industries – schools, hospitals, government agencies – simply support the families of workers in these three industries.
What frightens me is that during the COVID-19-shortened election campaign, I didn’t hear a clear explanation from any of the candidates about how the South Burnett is going to tackle these very real issues.
So good luck, everyone. We may all need it.
* * *
I barely know the new councillor elected in Division 6, Scott “Hook” Henschen, however everyone I have spoken to has told me he’s a really good bloke and will make a great councillor.
But I admit I am stunned that former councillor Ros Heit was not re-elected after the efforts she has put into her Division.
A commenter on Facebook proclaimed that Cr Heit had never done anything for Wondai. Sadly, this received a number of “likes”.
Just for the record, I think we should list some of things that Cr Heit has done for her Division which some people must have forgotten.
Without former Cr Heit’s efforts:
- Wondai would not have a new $217,000 CCTV system
- Wondai parkrun would not have happened
- Wondai Country Running Festival would probably not have started
- Wondai would not have won a Tidy Towns award
- The dingo statues at the Wondai roundabout may never have been replaced
- The community fundraising which allowed the Charlotte The Emu statue to be erected at no cost to ratepayers may not have occurred
- AGL probably would not have expanded its Community Grants Scheme which has supported multiple projects in Kumbia
- Council would possibly not have supported Kumbia’s new tennis courts
- Kumbia’s Apex Park may not have stayed open when consultants recommended it be closed
- There would not be a safety crossing outside Kumbia State School
- Wooroolin’s carpark area may not have been paved
- The old Wooroolin railway station building and the historic peanut thrasher would not have been relocated
- Tingoora and Durong South State Schools would not have had their carparks upgraded
- Durong Hall may not have been upgraded
Cr Heit has also been a strong supporter of the South Burnett Rail Trail and the Wondai Art Gallery, of which she is patron.
She also wrote the funding applications that led to Wondai getting an off-leash dog park and Wondai Art Gallery’s kitchen renovations.
Cr Heit also fought to freeze rural rates, but was outvoted in Council.
As I said, Hook Henschen is probably a great bloke.
But I ask, what more do you have to do to get re-elected?