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?

Anderssons Fruit Market for quality fruits and vegetables


12 Responses to "We Live In Interesting Times"

  1. Well written Anne. Experience really does matter in these trying times. I heard that over 3,000 people did not vote. Is this figure correct?

    • Thank you, Tina. In the mayoral poll, there were 23,008 people enrolled to vote; 18,951 did. That means 4057 people did not vote.

      • Now that the mayoral poll has been declared, I can update that voting figure. There were 23,008 enrolled to vote and 19,234 did. That means 3774 people did not vote.

  2. Thanks Ros for your great work in Division 6.

    Good luck to Hook and Mayor Otto, you will most likely need it in the current economic climate.

  3. A fairly strange editorial. It was obvious that there was a real appetite for a change or upgrade, if you will. It seemed as if anybody challenging was at all in any way thought to be able to be a good Cr. then they got the nod.

    That is democracy at work, and as it should be, too.

    As for Mayors here. The first two were thought not to be real flash and the one before Keith was not even able to contest the position as the previous incumbent pulled his nomination after the nominations had closed leaving no challenger for the position. It would have beneficial for the whole South Burnett if there was a contest, but sadly that was not to be.

    Keith fought a hard battle against some very good challengers and then only just won. Now the challenge was again fierce and Mr Otto topped the poll. He may be a newbie but I am sure that Mark Pitt will “beat” him into shape. He will learn quick. He will just have to won’t he?

    I do not agree with your comment: “He suggested many changes during his campaign which I believe have little chance of being realised” in the current economic climate, as I attended a meeting of his and I read it that he was going to find ways of saving through economic handling of what council does do and not out to blow the budget on frivolous projects. I thought that was real commendable.

    As for the new Div. 4 Cr., I had never heard of her before so I went to Kingaroy to find out what made her tick, and guess what? I found out that she has a very wide range of lived experiences and is very intelligent and I do think she will add a lot to the Council and above all she has worked hard and smart to achieve what she has, and she will talk with you and not at you and that is all we can wish for as a Cr.

    The Div. 6 Cr. also appears to have a good range of experience. He did not campaign in my area at all and as Ros had done so much for the Division and also visited every house it is obvious that people were really after a change.

    Anyway, we got what we got and if things do not go any better I am real sure that they will not go any worse. Thats a given!

    Now, with the Kathy vs Spud issue. I will say that Kathy has always been a gracious lady with me and if she does not agree, she will always talk with and not at me, something that I have not experienced so much with Spud. Kathy seems to be almost everywhere at once. I don’t know how she manages.

    As the deputy is an in-house vote I would remind all you councillors that if Kathy loses that spot, the representation of the whole northern section of SBRC will be somewhat diminished as all the rest are from the south! Even the Div. 6 guy is a long way from the Murgon-Wondai area. Not nice at all! Anyway we will see what happens, eh.

  4. I agree it would be ironic if the north lost nearly all its representation on Council, but I disagree this would be unjust. After all, it’s what the majority of northerners voted for. And I’m sure they know what they’re really like better than anyone.

  5. The South Burnett will miss the cool head and good judgement of Ros Heit in these challenging times. Thank you Ros for all your hard work.

  6. I admire the way you have called out in your editorial the “big issues” for the South Burnett!

    It was with some sadness, that even with the onset and impacts of COVID-19 already being felt in the closing days of the election campaign, there appeared to be no recognition, or modification to campaign promises.

    The next four years isn’t going to be about the incoming Mayor single-handedly delivering pet projects such as softfall under swings, pretty streets or running water out to road crews, it is going to take a competent team focused on the big issues who can engage and lead the region on the road out of COVID-19.

    For those existing big issues you mentioned, it requires capable relationship builders who can constructively lead and unite the region around how to best respond to those risks (many already underway) that could upend the South Burnett’s stool!

    This pandemic has revealed how fragile industries such as tourism are to pandemics, yet they are often proposed as replacement industries for mining.

    I have confidence in Mark Pitt. I just hope those elected also do.

    We need them now, more than ever to be united and leaders of substance, not just focused on their “pet projects” or settling old scores.

  7. Long before COVID-19 came on the scene, the results in the ballot for Div 4 and Mayor could well be anticipated.

    In Div 6, the stage was set for an absorbing contest when rural ratepayers were slugged giant rate rises. In some ways it can said that Ros Heit took one for the team.

    “Disgruntled”, in their commentary, hit the nail on the head about how ratepayers disapprove of being spoken down to and need to be treated with respect.

    So lessons to be learned. Be respectful and take ratepayers along as part of the council team, know the budget inside out, be aware of the impact of decisions on all ratepayers, above all be innovative and look to better use the resources at hand thus providing value for money levied.

    Give the newbies a fair go. The theory that they know nothing and cannot contribute is disappointing and wrong. If it was correct, then Cr Jones would have been incapable of starting an overhaul of our road network.

    I am looking forward to seeing results and I agree with others in their confidence in our CEO.

    It all starts at the first meeting and I sincerely hope Anne’s scuttlebutt about the Deputy Mayor’s position is incorrect.

  8. Ros Heit was the only councillor who stood up for what she believed. Sad to see her go. After what she has done not to be re-elected is madness.

    Watch this space to see if the new Division 6 ‘strong voice’ achieves a fraction of this.

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