Community & Business

8 September, 2023

Councils fight for change

Mareeba Shire Council and Tablelands Regional Council representatives will take bold proposals forward to the Local Government Association of Queensland conference next month in a bid to convince all other councils across the State to support change in a variety of areas. If they gain support, the LGAQ will take the proposals forward to the State Government. ROBYN HOLMES outlines the motions that will argued at the upcoming conference.

Farmers have vented their fury about how rates are charged and how land valuations are undertaken.
Farmers have vented their fury about how rates are charged and how land valuations are undertaken.

Timing of land valuations

TRC says land valuations, which are conducted by the Department of Natural Resources, should be done every three years, citing the workload more frequent land valuations cause.

The council says the benefits of only having valuations done every three years include enabling a more thorough and effective consultation period with communities, allowing for enough sales activity to be generated to make an accurate valuation assessment, and providing landholders with a longer period of certainty regarding their rates and rentals rather than the “ongoing cycle of uncertainty that annual valuations cause”.

Water licences and land valuations

TRC wants the LGAQ to continue to lobby Minister for Resources Scott Stewart to have the Valuation of Land Act amended to remove the value of a water licence from the unimproved value of the land to which the licence is attached.

Farmers have called for this to be done for many years now given the additional value it is adding to their land which is then used to calculate their annual council rates.

Best practice guideline on rating

TRC’s Agricultural Advisory Committee has had much discussion about land valuations and the rating process and the Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) and Growcom have made representations to council on the topic.

Following that deputation, the QFF has requested council’s support to a take a motion to the conference calling for it to be mandatory for all councils in Queensland to have the guiding principles in the “Equity and fairness in rating for Queensland local governments guideline” underpin council rating decision-making process.

It is considered that the principles in the guideline could be required to be reflected in the development of the Revenue Policy.

Local Government grants

TRC is calling for the Queensland Local Government Grants Commission to make available the full particulars of the new methodology adopted in 2022 to calculate the amount of grants councils will receive.

“The revised methodology has resulted in a significant reduction to council’s funding from the grant,” a report to council stated.

“This has come at the same time as significant cost increases for council and has effectively moved council close to being considered unsustainable under the current and proposed sustainability measures.”

TRC says that while the commission had published a report on the revised methodology, the information contained in the report “falls short of the information council is entitled to receive to fully explain to community the reasoning for the reduction in this substantial and important funding source”.

Tackling Navua Sedge

TRC wants Navua sedge to be declared a prohibited or restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014. Council also wants the government to provide urgent funding to accelerate research into potential biological controls for Navua Sedge and to control of the weed, particularly on Main Roads.

Native to tropical Africa, Navua sedge is a vigorous, grass-like, perennial plant  which has been introduced to several countries, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tahiti, and the Solomon Islands. In Australia, Navua sedge was first found growing on Cairns footpaths in 1979 and is now more broadly distributed in North Queensland.

Navua sedge competes strongly with pasture and other plants for nutrients, light, and moisture but is currently not a prohibited or restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

Council’s Agricultural Advisory Committee has identified Navua Sedge as a significant biosecurity risk to the pastoral industry in the Tablelands region and North Queensland more generally.

The weed is spreading rapidly, and better control of the weed is required particularly on Main Roads where vegetation control treatments are spreading the weed.

Population projection review

TRC will be urging councils to get behind its bid for the LGAQ to make urgent representation to the Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning Steven Miles to create a mechanism for population projects provided by the Queensland Treasury to be reviewed in circumstances where a local government considers the population projection to be incorrect.

Population Projections inform planning for education, health, water and sewerage services, housing provision, to name few examples. Major decisions and investments, both public and private, are made on their basis.

Components of population change are not explicitly modelled for local government areas, rather population change at the council level is calculated by extrapolating each council’s share of its encompassing regional population, which, in our case, is SA4.

There is currently no formal mechanism to request a review of population projections, rather it is up to each individual council to identify anomalies and raise this directly with Queensland Treasury.

Indemnifying water and sewerage providers

TRC wants the LGAQ to make representations to Minister for Regional Development, Manufacturing and Minister for Water Glen Butcher to implement legislation indemnifying water and sewerage service providers from liability associated with the release of Perfluoroalkyl and Poly Fluoro Alkyl Substances (PFAS) to potable and receiving waters, including stormwater.

Council says the potential impact of emerging contaminants and specifically PFAS (Per and Poly Fluoro Alkyl Substances) on the water and sewerage industry is a significant risk to water service providers and council.

PFAS are a large, complex group of synthetic chemicals that have been used in consumer products around the world since about the 1950s. They are ingredients in various everyday products. For example, PFAS are used to keep food from sticking to packaging or cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains, and create firefighting foam that is more effective.

PFAS molecules have a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. Because the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest, these chemicals do not degrade easily in the environment.

Council says the US has passed a bill indemnifying water and sewerage service providers form liability associated with the release of PFAS to potable and receiving waters, including stormwater as the industry are passive receivers of these substances and there are no viable technologies to remove these substances cost effectively. TRC also believes the US passed a similar bill relating to landfills.

Councils to run their own election

Mareeba Shire Council will propose that councils again be given the option of running their own elections which would cut the cost of the exercise significantly.

CEO Peter Franks said it would clearly be cheaper for councils to run their own elections as they did prior to 2008.

"They can do it themselves through the CEO, or sometimes a council officer and, in certain circumstances, council has appointed external parties to do it – even the ECQ could be engaged to do it," he said.

"It is considerably cheaper because a lot of work done by the returning officer - if they are a council employee - can be done during normal working hours whereas for the ECQ, they appoint someone external and their salary for a couple of months is added to the bill."

Mr Franks said in his experience, the model worked well.

"It worked very successfully - I am not aware of any reports in the 100 years councils did it of any misdoing or any wrongdoing," he said.

"And we had an indicative (election) result that night - it worked very efficiently."

But the biggest reason for the change was the cost.

"The big one is the cost - the ECQ cost for this council is over 1 per cent of our rates income - $180,000 - and that doesn't include the use of council facilities. We could do it significantly cheaper ourselves."

Local Government candidate training

TRC is seeking to make a major change that will affect anyone who is considering running for a position in local government.

If the motion is successful, it would mean that those putting their name forward to run for council would have to complete mandatory training before being able to be accepted as a candidate.

TRC says completion of the training that is currently available is not mandatory and candidates who have not completed the training are somewhat unprepared for office if elected. TRC says that training completed prior to election will improve decision making in the early months of the term and afford elected candidates an improved experience in their role.

The council says on-line material provided to candidates at the 2020 elections was not sufficient to prepare a candidate to be a councillor. Council wants training materials to be expanded to cover all areas of Local Government including Financial Management, Strategic and Operational Planning, Service Planning, Roles and responsibilities of staff and councillors, and councillor conduct including the operation of the Office of the Independent Assessor.


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