27th July 2007The worst fears of many rural mayors have been realised when Queensland Premier Peter Beattie this morning produced a wall-sized map of the State detailing far more extensive knife wielding than many had predicted.
“157 shires in Queensland will become 73,” the Premier said, his words almost drowned by an audible gasp around the room.
“I think I now know what shock means,” a clearly rattled Cr Roderick Gilmour said after the meeting, who as mayor of Miles for the past 17 years never imagined he would see the town become part of a shire headed by Dalby 130km away.
There was the full spectrum of emotions expressed following the meeting – joy from mayors of some of the large central shires that will become the capitals of Queensland’s new super shires; relief from those far western shires that will remain largely unchanged; and clear despair from the mayors of smaller rural shires that have fallen on the wrong side of the amalgamation knife.
The mayors of those shires weren’t hard to spot after the briefing as they talked gravely into mobile phones to communicate the bad news back to councillors and staff at home.
Some were even visibly tearful, this from councillors who have been hardened by no shortage of tough times and challenges as they have determinedly led their small rural shires through relentless waves of drought, rural downturns and Government-forced challenges.
And in defiance of those circumstances many have found imaginative solutions to turn their shires into centres of defiant vibrancy and population growth.
They now fear that their towns, with their proud histories and identities, will be swallowed up into a clinically structured and soulless super shires, and their shire residents will lost access to fair and accountable representation.
Donna Stewart, Warroo Shire, Surat, (one of five shires being merged into the Roma Regional Council) said she “couldn’t have expected a worse outcome”.
“A very large percentage of our workforce is employed by the council, and I feel for those families,” she said.
“It is heartbreaking, all this history of the shire, and the recent history in which Warroo has been singled out by the Premier as a model of innovation. I fear that now that that may be all lost.”
Meanwhile, the Queensland Nationals state conference opened with condemnation of the Beattie government’s local government reform plan.
The conference quickly resolved to de-amalgamate councils if they wished if the Coalition was voted into government.
It also strongly condemned the amalgamation process and the effects it would have on business, families and jobs in Queensland communities.
SOURCES: Queensland Country Life and AAP.