25 January 2018
Hon Stirling Hinchcliffe
Minister for Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs
PO Box 15009 CITY EAST QLD 4002
Congratulations on your recent elevation to the Palaszczuk ministry and in particular your allocation to the Local Government portfolio.
By way of background, the Moreton Bay Ratepayers Action Group Moreton Bay Assn. Inc. (RAG) was created in mid 2010 as a representative body for Moreton Bay ratepayers and residents concerned about the rising costs of living following the amalgamation of Pine Rivers, Caboolture and Redcliffe councils. Contrary to the Beattie government’s suggestions that costs to ratepayers in the way of general rates and charges would be contained or even reduced through efficiencies of scale this has not come to pass.
RAG’s immediate concern was the steeply increased charges for water and sewerage imposed by the then newly created water retailer/distributor Unitywater, chaired then and still by ex-Brisbane lord mayor Jim Soorley.
We ran a series of very well attended protest meetings throughout the Moreton Bay community during 2010 through 2012 on the subject of rising living costs and Unitywater in particular, and the outcome was strong support for RAG to conduct campaigns on behalf of the community for the disbandment of Unitywater, the de-amalgamation of Redcliffe from Moreton Bay Regional Council and the transfer of the Hills District to Brisbane City Council.
Both the Redcliffe de-amalgamation bid and the Hills District to Brisbane movements were ultimately thwarted under the Newman government’s mantle through the then Boundary Commissioner refusing to accept Redcliffe’s submission (with disgraced Redcliffe MP Scott Driscoll running serious interference), and the Change Commissioner ultimately recommending the dismissal of the Hills District’s proposal in 2013 on disputable cost grounds.
In the 2014 Redcliffe by-election won by your colleague Yvette D’Ath, RAG supported independent candidate Len Thomas who ran on RAG’s central themes of increased living costs since the imposition of Moreton Bay Regional Council and Unitywater on the Redcliffe community. We were able to rally over 100 people to man his booths, and ultimately the votes he attracted in coming a clear third effectively denied Yvette’s LNP opponent any chance of beating her.
In relation to Unitywater, the Bligh government yielded to widespread community anger in south east Queensland by capping water prices and creating the opportunity for councils to re-assume control of their water businesses. Much to our disappointment, but not to our surprise, Moreton Bay council did not follow the lead of the Gold Coast and its sister councils in taking back its water business.
It seems the councillors preferred, and continue to prefer, to take the lucrative revenue stream from Unitywater’s monopoly, and avoid the personal political risks of water pricing.
To add insult to injury the council, and its partners Sunshine Coast and Noosa councils, refuse to take ownership responsibility by each at least placing a councillor on Unitywater’s board to represent ratepayers’ interests; and (2) the board has thumbed its nose at convention and the community by passing a resolution with the acquiescence of its owning councils to allow its directors ten year terms.
Minister, we understand it’s a rapidly changing world and that past conventions in relation to fiscal responsibilities between state, federal and local governments are being thrown out the window because of heavy government debt levels. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right or give cause for it to sit well with ratepayers.
We objected to over $100 million of ratepayers’ money being used to build ancillary infrastructure for the Moreton Bay rail line, and in a similar vein we also object to $85 million and probably rising of ratepayers’ funds being used to purchase the land, remediate and prepare the site for the university at Petrie.
We don’t deny the benefit to the community of these assets but we fundamentally object to ratepayers’ monies, raised through rates and charges and intended for the provision of local services and infrastructure, being diverted to get the state and federal governments out of a financial bind.
RAG is a foundation member of the Queensland Local Government Reform Alliance and was one of the two groups behind the formation of the Your Community First organization which fielded five candidates in the 2016 local government elections.
Although YCF’s efforts in 2016 did not result in the election of its candidates it did run a credible second in all five divisions contested with an average TCP vote of 33.4%. It achieved this result against the developer funded campaigns of the so-called independent incumbent Moreton Bay councillors and retiring councillors’ personal picks supported by Allan Sutherland.
The integrity of YCF’s running a group of candidates was indirectly favourably commented on during the CCC’s Operation Belcarra public hearings last year.
We like many in the community took a keen interest in Op Belcarra and are disappointed that the inquiry through its process and timing seems to have let a lot of people off the hook, and that the proceedings really only served as a demonstration of what was wrong with the current electoral setup and what should be done to improve things for the future.
We commend the intended crackdown on political donations, and look forward to your government addressing the remaining 26 recommendations from the report, especially the tightening up of provisions regarding groups of candidates and candidates calling themselves independents. We also implore you to re-introduce the legislation covering the banning of political donations by developers and the creation of the councillor complaints tribunal submitted to the Parliament last year.
We also support QLGRA’s continuing push for a wholesale review of the existing local government boundaries established 10 years ago during the 2008 council amalgamations and, on the back of the outcomes from Op Belcarra thus far and continuing council malpractices, the ICAC Now movement.
There continues to be disquiet in the Hills District over the relative injustice of the Change Commissioner denying its residents a plebiscite on moving to Brisbane, and a continuing undercurrent of lingering disappointment in Redcliffe over its de-amalgamation bid being rudely cast aside during the Newman government’s cynically conducted amalgamation review of 2012.
And throughout the Moreton Bay community, in Redcliffe and Bribie Island particularly, there prevails an ever present feeling that Moreton Bay council in being the 3rd largest council in Australia with over 420,000 residents is too big, too far flung, and too remote to properly service the people it represents.
With Caboolture intended to be the primary growth area in the region going forward a workable solution might be Moreton Bay being split in two, and in its stead a Pine Rivers/Redcliffe council alongside a Caboolture/Bribie Island council.
In closing RAG will be hosting QLGRA’s 2017/18 ½ yearly conference in Redcliffe on the weekend of 24 & 25 February. This year the conference will be open to the public and be attended by delegates from
its wide network of affiliated ratepayer and residents groups right throughout Queensland. There will be a range of speakers and Q&A opportunities for attendees to participate in the proceedings.
As the minister responsible for the issues that will be discussed you are invited to attend, and if you are interested in attending please let me know asap so suitable arrangements can be made in terms of the agenda and publicity.
Your comments in due course on the points I have raised would be appreciated.
Ratepayers Action Group Moreton Bay Association Inc.
Enough is Enough
Five years ago, groups of Redcliffe and Caboolture ratepayers met separately to discuss their concerns about a number of local issues. One issue in particular dominated the two groups discussions and that was the concerns expressed in relation to increases in rates, fees and charges and loss of discounts in relation to rates levied by the newly amalgamated Moreton Bay Regional Council. These discussions prompted a subsequent protest meeting by the Caboolture group outside the Moreton Bay Regional Council Chambers in Caboolture in November 2009 .
Since the first meeting at Redcliffe in October 2009, the Ratepayers Action Group has come a long way. Some of our achievements include:
- 5 large protest meetings at which Councillors, the Mayor, Local Members and Unitywater attended
- Good press coverage - 15 Newspapers, many 3 or 4 times including front pages; 4 radio stations - one with over 40 announcements; and 4 TV stations - 12 viewings
- Our website - averaging 3500 visitors per month
- Information stalls - recently held at Lawnton, Samford, Woodford, Deception Bay, Bribie Island, Kippa Ring, Redcliffe and Morayfield
- The establishment of a head office at Redcliffe
- Influencing the Council to: introduce the water rebate, reconsider about charging investors rates to those ratepayers addressed at PO Boxes, and having some individual cases of assisting to get rates and water bills reduced.
- Influencing the Council for a second year in a row to keep the full water rebate.
- Influencing the State Government to cap the Water Access Fees;water usage & Sewerage Charges to the CPI for two years
- Supporting a local candidate for the Redcliffe By- election.
However, like any group that is new to form, we have had our problems, such as the LNP attempting to prevent branch formation at Arana Hills, the Caboolture Breakaway attempt, and some people trying to dominate our association aims. Another group at Redcliffe has tried to damage one of our protest meetings.All of these we have overcome.
We are a recognised group - we have been mentioned in Queensland Parliament as LNP and supporters (we are a non-political group), and that we rent crowds; the Mayor has seen fit to visit the Presidents place of business on 3 occasions; Unitywater has invited our organisation to 3 functions and meetings; Council has invited us to a meeting.
The Ratepayers Action Group aims to set up a branch in each council division .
The driving force that dominates our associations discussions are the concerns many ratepayers express with regard to increases in rates, fees ,charges and loss of discounts in relation to rates levied by the amalgamated Moreton Bay Regional Council & Unitywater. .
Can we win? The short answer is ABSOLUTELY WE CAN! However, Rome was not built in a day. We promise you that it is our belief as is it of thousands of Moreton Bay's Ratepayers that it can be changed. The problem is keeping people motivated enough and to do the right thing to achieve the results we need.