February 19, 2024

by Dafyd Martindale

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that South Burnett residents are going to the polls on March 16 to elect a Mayor and five councillors for the next four years.

We’re facing some potentially dangerous times.

Three serving Councillors (Jones, Schumacher and Duff) have all put their hands up for the Mayor’s role, and so has newcomer Tom Wilson.

But under current rules, serving Councillors cannot nominate for both jobs (ie. Councillor and Mayor) so this stampede for the top means we will have at least three new Councillors sitting downtable when the Mayoral election is decided.

And it’s possible this influx of fresh, untrained faces could expand even further, depending what happens with the Mayoral vote and in Division 1.

Is this a bad thing?

Well, in most circumstances having one or two new councillors every four years isn’t a bad thing at all. New councillors bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the table, and if they can be guided by more experienced councillors this influx of new talent is generally healthy and productive.

However – like all good things – it needs to be done in moderation.

Why? Because being a councillor is a far, far more difficult job than it looks on the surface. So difficult, in fact, that it appears to take most new councillors anywhere from 12 months to two years to find their feet and get a really solid grasp of the issues.

This time, they will need to have a solid grasp right away because our Council is being assaulted on all fronts by big claims on its very limited resources:

  • In the next few years,  the SBRC will spend $11.8 million (at least) to upgrade Gordonbrook Dam’s spillway to guard against a 1-in-10,000 year flood event (thank you, State Government).
  • Council will also have to plan for the closure of its existing landfills, and the multi-million dollar cost of building new ones (again, thank you State Government).
  • To add to the stress, the closure of Meandu Mine and the Tarong Power Stations will occur, possibly as early as 2030. This will blow a massive hole in our region’s economy that could affect everything from population levels to house prices. Council must work out strategies to guard against the region becoming an economic basket case.
  • Agriculture is still the foundation of the local economy but Australia faces a number of very real biosecurity issues. Cropping is already being hit by Fall Armyworm. Foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease are knocking on our doorstep. What would our economy look like if African Swine Fever hit the pork industry? It’s easy to say these are Federal and State issues however Council would play a key role in any recovery.
  • Finally, the perennial problems of roads and water quality / availability must continue to be addressed (both with multi-million to billion dollar price tags). Councillors will have to face these issues in an era of climate change where catastrophic weather events are likely to become the expensive norm rather than the exception.

If history has taught us anything, it should be that we can’t afford to elect candidates based simply on fairytale promises.

Right now, we need the sharpest minds we can muster to tackle the big problems that have to be solved in the next few terms.

We should also be careful not to elect people who form their opinions and “do their research” by simply reading posts on Facebook or Telegram.

Any slip-up by our elected officials – or more time-wasting – could see us having to shoulder eye-watering rate rises, the closure of major services, and possibly both.

So if you haven’t been giving much attention to the March 16 elections or think they’re unimportant, I’d urge you to please think again.

The vote you cast on March 16 will affect not only your six-monthly rate bills, but the services you get and the future you’ll inherit 10 years from now, which could be bleak indeed if our councillors get it wrong.

And, if you think “I rent, so why should I care?” please think that again, too. Your landlord takes the rates they pay into consideration when setting the weekly rent, so you have just as much at stake in this election as property owners.


One Response to "We Live In Dangerous Times"

  1. What a great piece Dafyd, a lot to think about.

    We certainly need someone sharp and smart who will lead us cautiously and fairly into the future.

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