ELECTION FEVER: Coast divided over divisions

IS THERE an imbalance between hinterland and coastal local government representation?

Depends where and who you're asking.

The Sunshine Coast and Noosa are clearly divided on the amalgamation/de-amalgamation debate and it appears there are also some differing views on the best representation system.

Following Noosa's de-amalgamation the new-look council has been a non-divisional body.

Outgoing Noosa Deputy Mayor Bob Abbot, himself the first Sunshine Coast Mayor (2008-2012), has worked in both divisional and non-divisional councils and he reckons the current setup in Noosa is a winner.

"It's horses for courses of course," Cr Abbot said.


He said while Noosa was in the "upper end" of councils that remained undivided in terms of population, it was still relatively small in terms of physical size, meaning the non-divisional setup was working well.

"I would not like to work in a council with divisions again," the retiring long-time local politician said.

"It really has made a difference to what happens in the hinterland. All councillors are accountable for what happens up there."

He said the non-divisional process had also forced the current council to take a focus on bigger issues and be more strategic in its thinking, as well as being more responsive at a local level.

Retiring Sunshine Coast Deputy Mayor and Division Four Councillor Chris Thompson, a three-term councillor, believed the current, 10-division system on the Sunshine Coast was working "extremely well", despite hinterland councillors expressing some frustration at what they felt was a battle for an equal slice of expenditure.

Cr Thompson acknowledged there was some complaint from hinterland councillors at times, but said the underlying theme of "for the greater good" meant rates revenue had to be directed to where it could service the majority of people.

"We try to share it across areas that are of the highest priority," he said, noting the primary enterprise corridor on the Coast had been earmarked along the coastal fringe between Caloundra and Maroochydore, areas set for significant population increases in the next few decades.

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He said that growth meant it was necessary for the council to spend a lot of money on the public realm and infrastructure, but it would create a lot of money in the expanded rate base, part of which could then be spent on the hinterland.

"It's up to divisional councillors to put the best business case forward (for funding in their divisions)," he said.

Cr Thompson said removing divisions in a region as large as the Coast could be detrimental to the hinterland and to the overall makeup of the council.

"No divisions could see all coastal councillors elected and you may have no one going in to bat for the hinterland," he said.

"I always tried to be fair and impartial about supporting initiatives from elsewhere."

Cr Abbot said the non-divisional system worked in Noosa because councillors knew an election could be won or lost on a few votes, so the hinterland could not be ignored.

He also acknowledged the much greater size of the Sunshine Coast local government area, and believed that increased size would make it difficult for an undivided council to function effectively.

Asking councillors to be deeply informed on all issues across the entire region would mean they would be forced to work at a more strategic level and possibly lose touch with the community, Cr Abbot thought.

He also felt removing divisions may deliver a more limited spread of candidates and councillors, suspecting the cost of running a Coast-wide election campaign would freeze out a lot of self-funded candidates.

"It would cost an extravagant amount to run a Coast-wide campaign," Cr Abbot said.

"You're not going to get a good spread of councillors (by removing divisions)."