by Tom Sharp
One only needs to cast ones’ mind back to the 2016 Scenic Rim local government election to realise the power of events in determining outcomes.
Few may remember that the front runner of that Mayoral campaign was David Cockburn and his defeat on the last day of counting, after preferences, was less than 500 votes.
David’s campaign resonated across the region and he easily won the primary vote, polling well in every division. While preferences also played a smaller role, some of my own preferences determined this outcome and one has to own one’s own mistakes.
His defeat came at the expense of family tragedy mid-way through the campaign with the loss of a family matriarch and saw David withdraw from active campaigning. While he never played publicly to this event it sadly cost him the election and in turn rode the destiny of the people of this region.
While I cannot change history, I do feel for David’s loss and that of the region. It was David’s time and it was a crucial moment in our region’s history to invite the necessary change of bringing governance back to the people. His loss was our loss.
Turning to 2020 it was a global event that led to the most unusual election in history and the significance of its impact was unprecedented. One of those impacts witnessed 20% of the enrolled population failing to vote as opposed to 8.5% in the 2016 election. The informal vote was an unprecedented 4.4% versus 3.8% in the previous election.
Then came the media ‘white wash’ by both channels 7 and 9, suggesting to the public to return the incumbent in a time of crisis. One should ask this city centric media what would be the local authority impact in such a situation that would constitute such confidence and trust?
Lastly the impact of the ECQ regulations in pushing ahead with the elections while removing the democratic process of engagement i.e. the ‘direct absence’ of “how to vote” cards for seven of the 11 days of pre-poll and polling day itself.
This last act positioned the majority in marking 1 in the box and evacuating the voting centre post haste.
The end result has now resulted in an unprecedented election outcome whereby only 1 in 4 people voted for the mayor of this region, unheard of and a desperate plight for the destiny of the people of the Scenic Rim over the coming four years.
As for the campaign on the ground, again I witnessed a number of incidents that could only be best described as desperate.
Let’s take a look.
I feel truly sorry for Mrs. Christensen and the way in which she was brought in to this campaign. I also believe the people of Boonah are owed an apology from the outburst in relation to this matter. If there was such a rumour then I did not hear of it, not once, and I was talking to people throughout the region.
The continued outburst directed at the Fassifern Guardian throughout the campaign can only be considered deplorable and again a written formal apology should be forthcoming. The stance taken by the Fassifern Guardian is applauded and the response article a touching piece of journalism that should be read by every citizen in this region and beyond. It rides us to the heart of democracy.
Then came the unauthorised advertisement in the Beaudesert Times praising Mr. Christensen for unaccounted actions and cowardly criticism without any form of evidence suggesting the other Mayoral candidates were looking to return to a ‘grey past’, short term focussed and small focussed. I am not too sure what any of these criticisms actually mean. One can only suggest this as ‘highly embarrassing’ for the paying advertiser and those associated with encouraging this mystery person.
However, the icing on the cake has to be the unprecedented Media Statement by Scenic Rim Regional Council “Announces Economic Stimulus Package” on the eve of Polling Day and by the CEO (I am guessing) on behalf of a council that is in caretaker mode. The questions that need to be asked of the CEO as follows:
- Why the sense of urgency to announce the day before the election especially given council is in caretaker mode?
- Did any councillors raise this very question with regard to caretaker mode and again how was it possibly justified? Waiting until after Sunday, the day after polling day, to release it would have demonstrated fair practise and accountability.
- If it is truly a stimulus package would it not have a value to it and wouldn’t this value be of substance i.e. given annual council revenue approaching $70M a substantial economic stimulus package would amount to approximately a minimum of $3.5M, given the global benchmark of ‘substantial announcements’ by corporations of a variance of 5% or more?
- What is the value of this supposed stimulus package?
- Is this stimulus package discriminatory in nature given the first item is the suspension of interest charges on any outstanding rates i.e. what happens to those who paid their outstanding’s in the days leading up to the announcement and what does that do for those who have met the obligations on time? What message does this send going forward? Perhaps a fairer option would have been to offer to discuss with the incoming Councillors, the opportunity to return any interest already paid on overdue rates for the half year.
- Shouldn’t the great majority of measures announced already be standard practice i.e. “Prioritising procurement with Scenic Rim-based business” for example?
The word ethical was thrown around this campaign more times than fast balls at the Gabba. One needs to ask how ethical was this announcement and all council announcements made in caretaker mode? For example, while the announcement to cancel the regions iconic ‘Eat Local Week’ is pretty much a ‘no brainer’ in light of the current pandemic situation, I understand that the decision was made without any discussion with the Councillors – their first knowledge of it was when they read about it in the media.
Cr Christensen once campaigned on – transparency, accountability and ethics – are we still awaiting the outcome of that promise?
Turning to the positive moments of this campaign, I had the great fortune of meeting fellow Mayoral candidate, Chris Summers and his wife Judy and getting to know them over the course of the campaign. I could not have met a more delightful couple or have been more impressed with Chris’s common-sense intelligence, his campaign policies and approach in connecting with the people.
Visibility during the course of Chris’s campaign was made all the more difficult with the COVID-19 impact, making it near impossible to cut through and a true reflection of the level of public engagement given his numbers versus Virginia Price alone. The people of the Scenic Rim can be proud and exceptionally lucky to be able to call Chris and Judy Summers one of their own.
I also had the privilege of meeting all divisional candidates on the campaign trail and congratulate each and every one of them for what I witnessed as showing exceptional comradery and focused discipline in their own campaigns and in a great many cases assisted opposing candidates with setting up, handing out how to vote cards and signage or the transportation of. This was also performed under difficult conditions – well done.
Turning to those elected I would like to especially acknowledge Division 1, Derek Swanborough; Division 2, Jeff O’Connell and Division 5, Marshall Chalk. I was fortunate enough to meet all three candidates during the course of the election and listen to their policies and make some judgement of their character and integrity.
Should their collective focus be on unifying the region and bringing transparency and accountability into focus, these three along with Councillor Duncan McInnes have the ability and character that can afford true representation and a possible change of culture within council and actually hold council to account, given they will be a majority.
I would also like to take the opportunity of acknowledging the two retiring councillors in Rick Stanfield and Nigel Waistell. Rick served a total of six terms on council, four with the old Boonah Shire and two with Scenic Rim.
Cr Stanfield will always be remembered by me for the stance he took alongside fellow councillor Duncan McInnes in voting against two Scenic Rim Council budgets one in 2016 and again in 2017. On both occasions these men were lone soldiers in the trenches fighting for the people in this region on the discriminatory high rates and less than ordinary services provision that the people have now had to become accustomed.
Nigel Waistell, who served two terms as a councillor worked hard for his constituents over the course of eight years and will forever be remembered as the sole councillor of this region who attempted to publicly lift the lid on the toxic council culture that resides within.
Congratulations to both Councillors for your public service and the contributions you have made to your respective communities over the years.
I would also like to make mention of our Returning Officer, Gary Wessling, and his team. Gary has fulfilled this role within our region for a great many years for all government elections and along with his team perform the thankless task of producing the election results under extreme conditions. This election was no exception. I am hearing it may be Gary’s last local government election and his efforts, knowledge and leadership will be our loss. Thank you to Gary and Team.
In closing I would like to finish where I started. The decision to run was made as a consequence of numerous requests from groups and citizens right across the Scenic Rim who indicated to me, they were desperate to see a change in a number of aspects which currently form the governance of this Council. It was overwhelming to receive those requests!
My campaign was focussed on:
Rates and Services – a fair rate for a fair service
Consultation – ask what the people want, don’t come to them with pre-determined outcomes
Communication – tell the people what the hell is happening in straight language
Council culture – educate where necessary those officers and staff, that we serve the constituency, not the other way around
Bureaucracy and red tape – remove the blockades and confusion for fair requests, submissions and applications and give a fair and timely response
Will I need to adjust my policies in four years’ time?
While I am exceptionally happy with our campaign and how it resonated across the region given the exceptionally short time period from announcing my bid, I feel for the people who are disappointed by the result.
I would like to acknowledge and thank the people of this region that I have encountered over the course of this campaign and in the last four years. Whether it was in the streets, within your workshop, your shop front, your retail counter or on your doorstep, thank you for your courtesy and your time. Your personal stories, your resilience and your good humour touched me and it is what makes these endeavours all the more worthwhile.
As we say in the “hill country”, “see you round the ridges” and thank you.
— Tom Sharp, Beechmont