Government steps in: Rockhampton to have by-election
ROCKHAMPTON will have a by-election to elect a new mayor after the State Government this morning stepped in to intervene.
Pressure mounted on the incoming Queensland Labor Government to get on the front foot to address the unprecedented political ramifications of Rockhampton regional mayor Margaret Strelow's resignation due to misconduct findings and address the question of who would succeed her.
A few weeks ago, Cr Strelow donned a suit of bubble wrap to draw attention to the precarious situation created by Labor's change to legislation in June where the second place getter in the mayoral race was next in line to take over if a leadership change took place within a year of the Local Government Election.
Many in the community, including local politicians were up in arms about the situation which would result in the only other candidate in the 2020 mayoral race, Chris "Pineapple" Hooper, the legitimate successor to take over despite only receiving 30 per cent of votes.
In a statement released by the Queensland Government this morning, Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said once the new parliament was sworn in, the Palaszczuk Government would introduce and pass a bill to retrospectively amend the Local Government Act.
"I have received advice that should this be completed at the earliest opportunity, any vacancies to any mayoral or councillor positions that have recently arisen will need to be filled through a by-election," Mr Hinchliffe said.
"This will ensure communities can have a proper vote to determine who represents them."
Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam said mayors and councillors from across Queensland had made clear their concerns the runner-up provisions were undemocratic, elevating to office candidates who received only a small percentage of the vote.
"For example, in Rockhampton, the runner up for the position of Mayor received just 30.9 per cent of the vote," Mr Hallam said.
"In the case of the Townsville City Council, the next in line to fill the Division 10 vacancy being left by Cr Les Walker's election to State Parliament received just 18.3 per cent of the vote.
"In elections past, runner up candidates have polled in the single digits."
Mr Hallam said a by-election was the best way to ensure the candidates to fill these vacancies had the support of the people they would represent.
"We urge the Palaszczuk Government to repeal the runner-up provisions urgently," he said.
LNP local government spokeswoman Ann Leahy said the resignation of Rockhampton's mayor Margaret Strelow showed why the first job of Labor's new Local Government Minister must be to overturn their anti-democratic 'runner-up laws'.
Ms Leahy said Labor's changes to legislation were a farce and the people of Rockhampton deserved better.
"Voters should decide on who will represent them as mayor in an election - it should not be who comes second or third," Ms Leahy said.
"This mess is entirely Labor's fault and the new Local Government Minister needs to act fast to fix it.
"The laws were rushed through the parliament this year without any scrutiny by a committee."
She said it was anti-democratic Rockhampton was facing having a mayor it did not choose.
"The residents of Rockhampton are also unable to nominate to stand for the Mayoral vacancy," she said.
Capricornia MP Michelle Landry has called upon the Queensland Labor Government to explain how a contender for the local government election could be appointed as mayor without being democratically elected with a majority.
She questioned the Queensland Labor Party's policies on local government elections, labelling them as "undemocratic" and "farcical".
"How on earth can the Queensland Labor Government put in laws that means if the Mayor resigns or passes away within the first 12 months of their term, the person with the second highest votes is automatically appointed?" Ms Landry said.
"These laws just defy belief. The Queensland Labor Party can sleep easy knowing they have installed a Greens-aligned mayor smack bang in the middle of coal country."
Ms Landry said she had nothing against Mr Hooper personally, but fundamentally disagreed with a great deal of the policies he wanted to implement in Rockhampton.
"I'm calling on the Member for Rockhampton, Member for Keppel and the rest of the Queensland Labor Government to stand up and do something about this," Ms Landry said.
CQ-based Senator Matthew Canavan said Chris "Pineapple" Hooper was a top bloke and a Rocky institution but he didn't think he should be Mayor.
"Thanks to a ridiculous law created by the Queensland Labor Government, Rockhampton wakes up to Chris as Mayor because Margaret Strelow has resigned within 12 months of an election," Senator Canavan said.
"Chris was the runner up in a two horse race in March with just 30 per cent of the vote. It would be just as fair to make Donald Trump Mayor of Rockhampton."
He said it was a travesty the leadership of Rockhampton could be determined by those in power in Brisbane.
"These investigations have stemmed from a vindictive Labor Party. This all stems from a visit to a solar farm," he said.
"Jackie Trad kept her job as Treasurer after failing to declare a house. Massive double standards.
"I wish Margaret and Darryl all the best in the future. I hope Margaret considers running again one day but even if she does not she leaves an enormous positive legacy for our region."
Former-mayor Strelow spoke further about the situation on social media when asked by a Morning Bulletin reader why she stood down when it was not required by the tribunal.
"They required a (forced) confession at this morning's meeting. If I didn't give the appropriate confession this morning then I would have breached the order and been liable for further complaints for breaching the orders," Ms Strelow said.
"I wasn't prepared to be forced to put something on a statutory declaration that I didn't believe to be true - so it follows I'm not prepared to make a forced confession."
Incumbent Labor candidate for Keppel Brittany Lauga said on Tuesday afternoon that it was disappointing that Ms Strelow resigned.
"The Independent Councillor (Conduct) Tribunal had resolved that she would be required to apologise to the council and update her register of interests following their finding of her being guilty of misconduct," Ms Lauga said.
"The tribunal has not recommended that the mayor resign so the decision was one that Margaret Strelow made even though she was not required to.
"It's disappointing that she's put the city in this position."
Labor's incumbent candidate for Rockhampton Barry O'Rourke posted a lengthy response on social media regarding Ms Strelow's resignation and his government's decision to rectify the law change and hold a by-election.
Let me be very clear on this - Margaret Strelow did not have to resign. No one asked her to.
The tribunal finding did not require her resignation. Ratepayers did not expect her to or want her to. She simply should not have done it. She has behaved selfishly and not in the interest of ratepayers.
I urge people to read the tribunal findings, rather than the disingenuous rubbish being spouted by Ms Strelow and the LNP.
They show that this is entirely a mess of Ms Strelow's own creation, and something she could have easily put to bed at any point over the past few years.
If the failure to declare was a genuine error, she could have resolved it when the department identified it in 2018.
Even with this adverse finding from the tribunal, Ms Strelow could have put everything behind her with a simple apology at a council meeting - hardly a big deal.
Alternatively, she could have chosen to continue fighting this at QCAT. There was simple no reason to resign and her decision cannot be justified rationally. It's either a childish tantrum or a stunt designed to cause a completely unnecessary by-election.
Nonetheless, a by-election is what will happen now. I've made it clear to colleagues over the past few months that we got the balance wrong with this year's law change and it needs to be rectified.
The Premier had already committed to doing that but now the amendment will be brought forward as a priority. That's the right move in the circumstances.
The downside is ratepayers will of course be forced to wear the cost, which is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Having put us through this unnecessary expense - I call on Ms Strelow to do the right thing and rule out running again.
It's time to draw a line under this sorry episode and allow the community to move on. To all the budding community leaders out there - this is your chance, and I'd urge you to take it.
Finally, I'm disappointed to read the Member for Capricornia considers it "draconian" that Mayors and Councillors are required to maintain a register of interests.
These exist to keep elected officials accountable - voters have every right to expect this kind of transparency and everyone has to abide by the rules. It's unfathomable to me that anyone would think otherwise.