The Friendly Bay Islander - Dec 18, 2013 05:53

An Island Council?

An Island Council?
Cr Mark Edwards has support from Redland City Council to investigate the possibility for a separate Local Government authority (an island council) for the Southern Moreton Bay Islands. He is our December Q and A guest.

Q1: Cr Edwards, can you tell us a little about your background as a banker and chair of the Redland City Council Audit Committee?

A1: I had a 20 year career with one of the major banks which took me through a variety of roles throughout Queensland, including accountant and Branch Manager positions. I was fortunate to manage branches in rural and commercial areas. My final positions were city based regional management roles. Councillors tend to gravitate to areas of interest and in my case that is the portfolio spokesperson for Corporate Services which covers every aspect of Council that has a financial and audit trail. It is in this capacity that I Chair the Audit Committee which includes external auditors, internal audit officers, external reporting bodies and others.

Q2: And is it in this capacity that you have considered that a smaller island council might be a viable option?

A2: There are two aspects of viability. One is fiscal sustainability and the other is infrastructure delivery and the two are interlinked. Fiscal sustainability in its basic form is being able to operate a Council and continue to deliver services to its residents whilst maintaining its assets from the revenue resources such as rates and fees and charges. I think there is a strong possibility that a budget model could support this. When this model has been run and theoretically tested, we need to see the available surplus funds which will determine the level of new infrastructure that the funding will allow for. It is the available funding for new infrastructure that will determine viability.

Q3: What has specifically influenced your thought processes that might see a separate, small Local Government Council for the Southern Moreton Bay Islands, a possibility?

A3: Assuming a Council is proved to be financially sustainable, there are two dominant benefits for a local island authority. The first is that a new island Council would become the primary employer on the islands and offer opportunities to not only significantly reduce unemployment, but would offer our youth a career path to stay on the islands and contribute to the community. The other benefit would be a decision making process on policy which is island focused. This may mean reassessing the nature and standard of infrastructure delivered, as well as what constitutes the main priorities.

Q4: We note you have asked for a study to be carried out. What form would this study take?

A4: I spoke about fiscal sustainability and the capacity to build infrastructure earlier, which I believe are key assessment criteria. However, the State may likely have additional assessment needs and then there is also policy. For example, how does the creation of an additional Council fit within their policy framework? Is the State able to support a new Council administratively from their existing resources? The first step is to get the State to agree to an investigation and assessment of a sustainable islands council. They may choose to decline our request so it will be a matter of waiting on this outcome first.

Q5: We also note that your proposition has received unanimous support from the rest of council. And It is known that some other councillors do not look on our islands kindly. Could their support for your study suggestion indicate a 'Pontius Pilate' position - they would rather be rid of our islands?

A5: I don’t agree with that premise. What I would say is that each councillor rightly fights for funding to deliver infrastructure to their own division. With limited funds and huge demands across the City, the negotiations are very robust. The support of the councillors was given provided the islands are financially viable as they don’t wish to repeat what the State government did in the 1970’s when the State handed over the islands to the Redlands with no infrastructure in place and no compensation. My belief is that the islands population will eventually reach a threshold, if not already reached, that will support a local Council. We shouldn’t take that step until we can demonstrate we are sustainable.

Q6: Where do you see the advantages in the islands being autonomous?

A6:In addition to employment opportunities and an islands focused policy, I think there would be a number of intangible benefits such as community pride, a clear tourism focus, a seat at the table when addressing matters with the State and Federal Governments. We would be a Council ranked nearly mid-way in size of all Queensland Councils and that in itself would give the islands a stronger identity.

Q7: And what of the disadvantages?

A7: We can sometimes be our own worst enemies. Having island councillors who can work harmoniously together and with the community is important. The key to success is committing to strong financial management. If we had hostile fractured representation without regard to future outcomes, the Council would be short lived.

Q8: State Governments have been about amalgamating councils, not starting new councils. How could we make a case to Government that could see a Southern Moreton Bay Council an eventuality?

A8: There have been recent de-amalgamations so the creation of a new Council is just a next step. For now, we have just asked for the figures to be run which would be a yes/no to sustainability. To go further and seek the establishment of an islands Council becomes a State political decision and ultimately an islands' referendum decision.

Q9: So where to from here?

A9: The first step has been taken and there is Redland City Council support for the State to undertake a feasibility assessment. The ball is now in the State’s court and we need to await their decision to agree to the request or not. As the request is based on real data and not opinion, I believe the islands community deserve an assessment to be carried out.