March 26, 2024

by Dafyd Martindale

A Council system which was introduced in the South Burnett 12 years ago to counter parochialism could be scrapped when Kathy Duff emerges as our region’s new Mayor.

Kathy confirmed last week that rumours she wants to axe Council’s portfolio system are true.

The portfolio system allocates region-wide responsibilities to various councillors (eg. roads, water, waste, arts, tourism etc).

However, if this system is scrapped, I believe it will be the first step in ensuring that whatever gains we’ve made since amalgamation will gradually – but inevitably – disappear as the South Burnett descends back into a collection of squabbling towns.

Why do I think so? Here’s some background:

Former Mayor Wayne Kratzmann introduced portfolios to the South Burnett Regional Council shortly after he was elected in 2012.

Portfolios meant Councillors were allocated responsibility for broad areas of Council operations – usually those they were most interested in – and then shouldered the work of steering these “big picture” efforts in addition to their role in representing their Divisions.

At the time he introduced it, Mayor Kratzmann said a portfolio system offered a number of important advantages.

The biggest of these was ensuring all councillors would have a region-wide view rather than a narrow, parochial one, and would therefore bring much better-informed opinions to problems that crossed multiple divisions.

Others included building up individual expertise in each of the portfolio areas so Councillors could be less reliant on external advice and be far better informed in their own portfolio areas.

Portfolios also allowed Councillors to act as sounding boards for strategic issues and suggestions from members of the public relating to their portfolio, not just residents from their individual Division.

This encouraged more informed discussions at Council meetings than had otherwise been the case.

While some Councillors were sceptical at the time – including a few who saw (correctly) that portfolios would significantly increase their workload – it soon turned out Mayor Kratzmann’s views were correct.

In fact, portfolios have proven to be so successful the system has operated ever since, and most of our neighbours (ie. Toowoomba, Western Downs, North Burnett and Gympie councils) have adopted similar systems themselves.

The payoff has been that our region has made great strides in overcoming the jealous, resentful parochialism it inherited from the 2008 amalgamation, particularly in encouraging a South Burnett-wide view of progress.

All Divisions have received a fairly equal share of Council’s expenditures and they’ve been applied to tackle big problems kicked down the road by pre-amalgamation Councils who never had the funds to tackle them.

When he stood down in 2016, Mayor Kratzmann ranked the introduction of portfolios as one of his best achievements, and this view was echoed by incoming Mayor Keith Campbell when he stepped into the role.

Former Mayor Brett Otto also retained portfolios when he was elected in 2020.

But now Kathy Duff – who is not quite Mayor as I write this, but seems likely to be – wants to axe the current system and return to the inferior one it replaced.


Well, Kathy told me she believed portfolios had caused “a lot of division” in the last Council.

She said this was because poor communications meant some residents found it difficult to work out who they should speak to about a problem (ie. a Divisional Councillor about a pothole in their street, or the Portfolio chair about the general state of roads across the region); and some Councillors forgot to inform other Councillors about meetings called to discuss particular issues with residents.

Kathy said she believed that by axing portfolios, Councillors could focus purely on their Divisions, and could find solutions to highly complex, region-wide problems simply through discussions at meetings.

I suggested that rather than sacrifice a proven effective system, perhaps it might be wiser to look at what communication stuff-ups were allegedly causing problems in the previous Council and simply correct them.

But no, Kathy seems determined to throw the baby out with the bathwater and re-create the type of Council which existed in pre-amalgamation times with councillors focussing on their town(s) only.

Yes, rates were a lot cheaper back then but that’s a very “rose-coloured glasses” view of the past.

In reality, our individual councils were either bankrupt, or not far off it (a sobering fact still widely denied by some ex-councillors who lost their jobs in 2008).

All of the old councils were incapable of effectively tackling region-wide problems because they lacked the financial clout to do so.

The devolution of responsibilities from the State Government to councils also meant they now have to shoulder issues – such as paying for the replacement of infrastructure – they had rarely faced alone before.

There was also a fierce rivalry between the parochial warriors in the old councils to out-compete one another, something some people seem to be still yearning for these days.

Unfortunately, this rivalry plays badly in an amalgamated council and has also left us with a significant oversupply of pools, halls and other services – a crippling fiscal burden that no councillor seems courageous enough to tackle.

Everyone dreaming of the “glory days” before amalgamation must accept the fact there will never be another Murgon, Wondai, Kingaroy or Nanango council.

Pretending otherwise – or dangling false hopes – is just wasting time when we have several very serious issues to solve over the next four years, such as the closure of the Tarong Power Stations, fixing our water infrastructure and building new landfills to take our waste.

Now, you may think that perhaps I’m just a voice in the wilderness who’s averse to change.

But in the past week I’ve spoken to several former councillors who worked under our portfolio system and they all agreed the extra workload involved was well worth the benefits it generated.

They also shared the view that axing the portfolio system would be a backwards step.

Still – Mayor or not – Kathy only has one vote on the issue of portfolios.

So it will be interesting to see which of our other six councillors – if any – support turning their backs on progress in exchange for shouldering a greatly reduced workload and the bitter, ill-informed squabbles a focus on divisions will probably produce.

Let’s all watch this space.

* * *

Update May 20, 2024: At the SBRC’s April meeting Councillors resolved to scrap portfolios but to review the results in 12 months time and return to the portfolio system if its replacement didn’t deliver better outcomes. This prudent (and in my view, very reasonable) move was suggested by Crs Erkens, Heit and Potter and carried unanimously.

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13 Responses to "No Portfolios? Hello Parochialism …"

  1. Great outlook here. Kathy’s way or the highway. My guess is she has at least 4 votes to 3. Let’s see what happens.

    Much was made of potholes during the election campaign. So under Kathy’s control, who will take responsibility for “fixing the potholes”?

  2. Good article and yes, parochialism will creep in.

    I believe I can speak with authority on this issue. Cr Mayor Roger Nunn introduced Portfolios to KSC the year I commenced as Councillor as KSC went non-divisional.

    The first SBRC amalgamated Council continued with portfolios and during my 17 years as Councillor this helped bias issues and stem parochialism.

    The law states that all Councillors must act for the greater good, unfortunately some are only concerned with getting elected.

  3. If we have seven portfolios and only seven candidates for those seven positions, it becomes obvious that some Councillors will have a portfolio in which they have little or no experience or knowledge (eg. roads).

    These Councillors then become merely puppets, regurgitating the words of a Council bureaucrat who may or may not have the best interests of that Councillor or ratepayers at heart.

    For the portfolio system to work efficiently, we (the voters) would need to elect a Councillors who we believe is the best choice for that particular portfolio rather than for a particular division.

    We are all aware of the problems associated with not having divisions in such a wide spread as the South Burnett. So it becomes a choice of which is best for our community, portfolios or divisions. I support having divisions.

  4. Just for clarification, in December 2023 the portfolio system allocated 30 portfolio areas amongst the Mayor and six Councillors. The portfolios were:

    Corporate Governance & Strategy
    People & Culture
    Communication & Media
    Finance & Sustainability
    ICT & Business Systems
    Community Representation and Advocacy
    2032 Olympics & Paralympics
    Infrastructure Planning
    Works (Construction & Maintenance)
    Water & Wastewater
    Plant & Fleet
    Community Development
    Arts & Heritage
    Library Services
    Natural Resource Management
    Rural Services
    Agricultural Innovation
    Compliance and Environmental Health
    Disaster Management
    Waste and Recycling Management
    Rural Resilence & Disaster Recovery
    Parks & Gardens
    Property & Facility Management
    First Nations Affairs
    Tourism & Visitor Information Centres
    Sport & Recreation
    Commercial Enterprises
    Regional Development
    Development Services – Planning, Building, Plumbing
    Community & Social Housing

    This may seem a broad spread but it’s worth bearing in mind that our seven elected officials oversee an organisation that now controls more than $1 billion in community-owned assets and employs about 300 staff (a very complex undertaking).

    And with so much detail to get across, it’s probably not surprising that it takes most new Councillors anything between 12 to 24 months to really get on top of their portfolio areas (ie up to halfway through their first term of office).

  5. Why Why Why bash Kathy Duff? I don’t know of anyone better than Kathy Duff to fix the fiasco left by the Greens. Thankfully most thinking people of the SBRC have seen the light. Thanks.

  6. Thank you for your Editorial and commendation for the courage to call it as you see it. Many will totally agree.

    The Editorial brought a shiver down my spine that the new Mayor might just want to revert to pre-amalgamated times (which she thoroughly enjoyed) under the guise of “Caring for Community!”.

    The reality is that nearly 60 per cent of voters did not to vote for Mayor-elect Duff. Mayor-elect Duff does not have a mandate to do anything. As your Editorial says, the Mayor is one vote of 7 in the Chamber.

    For Mayor-elect Duff, this should be a realisation that there are many voters who will be watching with great interest in her leadership ability. The rationalisation for discarding portfolios seems to be an excuse by Mayor-elect Duff for an inability to bring a team together.

    It was not difficult to detect in her 5 Point Election Plan that she was anti-Council amalgamation. Reverting to the past is a retrograde step.

    To ignore the tried and tested portfolio system, introduced by a previous Mayor, fails to understand that it is essential that each Councillor must have an appreciation for the entire region, if we are to progress.

    We elect a Council to grow the region’s capacity.

    Councillors should be among the best brains the South Burnett can put forward to lead the business of the region. They are there to represent the entire South Burnett, not just their own little patch!

    Frankly, the Editorial contains much information that should not be ignored.

    There is cause to be somewhat alarmed at what’s ahead under the leadership of Mayor-elect Duff.

    I will be recommending the discontinuation of Council Divisions – to ensure that the South Burnett attracts strong business minds and not parochial and self-interested attitudes – if Mayor-elect Duff continues along this path.

    It will be interesting to observe the mind-set of the new Mayor over the course of these four years.

  7. As a public-elected representative, every elected Mayor and councillors should always remind themselves of the words “How will this decision improve the South Burnett area and its people?”

    Every one of you will be judged on your individual opinions and performance, or worse, that of a sheep following the leader.

    I believe always do what’s best for the majority, not the minority, as you’re all there at the grace of the South Burnett residents and can be removed by the same people.

  8. Ms Duff deserves her chance to lead like any other legally elected public official. Given her experience, she ought to be given the benefit of the doubt.

    My opinion on the platform run is that those who voted for Ms Duff think she will reduce rates. If that does not happen we may well have another one-term mayor…

    I wish her the best of luck and hope she can lead our region successfully. But I have fears over rates as I think they need to increase when considering our small base of ratepayers and the size of the area we live in with the services demanded. Our rates appear too low to be sustainable.

  9. The Five Point Plan will be viewed by history as business as usual for any experienced councillor. Formatting it into dot points to make it look visionary seems to have convinced enough voters that it was the answer to everything from potholes to personal happiness.

    What was not listed on the plan should be more of the concern, as no doubt the “mandate” word will be used to intimidate those who question how building and staffing extra depots will reduce rates?

    New councillors with different skills and perspectives will need courage to remain independent and focussed on the whole region so the 60% who didn’t vote for the incoming mayor have a genuine voice.

  10. Wow! no one has been sworn in yet but here’s sinking in the boot already. Obviously your horse didn’t win.

  11. I agree with this viewpoint, and go one step further – Divisions also need to go.

    More of the State’s 77 councils are undivided than divided, and that’s not by coincidence. Attracting good business brains to local government will bring better results to a region than voting in the most popular candidate in a Division, as sometimes seems to be the case.

    I’d much rather our elected members are kept busy developing and implementing strategies that will ensure the South Burnett’s long-term sustainability than dealing with daily reports of potholes, wandering dogs or neighbourhood disputes.

    We need vision and innovation, not a return to the days of old.

    I can’t help but think that marketing won this mayoral election, and along with plenty of others, will be watching to see how the coming term unfolds.

  12. Thank you all for your feedback both negative and positive.

    I love the South Burnett and live and breathe our community.

    I contacted the Local Government Association to find out what options we have for meetings, including Portfolios, Committee Meetings and/or workshops.

    I voted to introduce the Portfolio system with Cheryl Dalton when Wayne Kratzmann was Mayor.

    I think that, at this time with a new team of Councillors, that it is a healthy start to have every Councillor across every aspect of their Division and working closely with the community who elected them.

    I think Portfolios can actually work the opposite, causing confusion as to who ratepayers are to go to on issues and also not enabling Councillors to be across everything in their community.

    I believe a model where Councillors are representing us on committees in their areas of interest is a better model and having workshops instead of Portfolio Meetings will enable Councillors to really drill down and better understand the operations of Council where we are looking for solutions such as the Kingaroy water, for example.

    I also want to correct the gentleman who was concerned about how I would reduce rates. My five-point plan was affordable rates by cutting the waste. I firmly believe that there are places in Council where we can deliver more efficiencies and over time instead of our Council being known as having some of the highest rates in Queensland that we should be able to change that to where our ratepayers feel that they are getting value for their money and that the rates are fair and affordable.

    I am keen to discuss my five-point plan and any other concerns with anyone who would like to contact me on 0437-020-705.

    I certainly plan to lead a progressive and proactive Council and one that we can all be proud of. Please note these are my personal views only.

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