Into the fray: the fight for Noosa control kicks off
NOOSA Council’s election battlelines have been drawn by the two mayoral candidates with challenger Clare Stewart projecting herself as the face of a badly needed change, ready to reform an out-of-touch administration.
In front of a packed pro-business crowd at the Noosa Heads Surf Club overnight, incumbent Tony Wellington stood firmly on his record of solid achievements like rate rises kept to CPI and a bold promise to build Noosa into a world class example of a sustainable community.
Both played to their strengths well in their opening addresses.
“Despite the apparent thriving economy at a grassroots level, these are my observations, small business is hurting right across the shire,” Ms Stewart said.
Cr Wellington had a promise: “I will continue to resist forces that threaten to undermine Noosa’s special qualities.”
The mayoral contenders at the March 28 election were joined at this opening meet the candidates forum well-organised and run by the Noosa Chamber of Commerce and Industry by 19 of the 20 declared candidates to date, with Karen Finzal sending in her apologies.
The Q & A session featured a curly question for council on “a severe lack of affordable housing”.
Ms Stewart did not flinch in question time when admitting she had joined the LNP last September because she believed in supporting small business, while Cr Wellington raised his hand to admit that he has been a member of Noosa Parks Association alongside former Noosa Landcare leader and councillor candidate Phil Moran.
Council critics often take aim at the current council for being beholden too much to the well-organised, politically savvy NPA, but candidate Cr Brian Stockwell fired his own salvo by warning that there were candidates in this election looking to tear down Noosa’s hard-won development and lifestyle protections via “death by a thousand cuts”.
And in a rare show of solidarity not one candidate raised their hands to say they would support the Peregian Beach Surf Life Saving Club being rebuilt closer to the water with sea views to ensure it was financially viable.
Existing councillors defended the independence of Tourism Noosa to fund its promotions without council interference after calls to force equal promotional spending on the hinterland.
And there were calls for council to increase the level of rural road funding, with some candidates citing a situation of major neglect and potholes out beyond the coast while the mayor denied claims the Noosa River plan was “flawed and had to go back to drawing boaard”.
A two-and-half-minute platform to publicly pitch for office may not separate the electoral golden wheat from the chaff yet, but most candidates clearly staked their claims (that report to be posted later on councillor candidate pitches).
Already there seems a couple of camps pro-business or pro-town plan emerging with business owner and former 2016 candidate Patrick Lloyd lashing into council for a litany of failures like crippling business with red tape.
His constant council barbs were well-received as an all-too-familiar theme of the hinterland “us” against the coastal “them” was well applauded.
Mr Moran, who is firmly in the camp declaring to protect the current draft town plan, had one of the best lines on the night by warning the electorate of some candidates armed with “light sabre and a cape” ready to save the day.
Noosa Chamber president Murray Brown in his welcome address set the tone for the night in front of newly resigned chamber head Janet Kake, a councillor candidate who came across as articulate and informed from her close dealings with council.
Mr Brown said: “It’s been suggested that enterprise down here near the ocean is going remarkably well, so we would suggest that more emphasis should be applied further west so that some of that spare capacity that exists in the west of the shire can be taken advantage of.
“We want to have a vision for 20 years, these guys are going to be in their position for four years. We’d like to think that they were looking out 20 years as well.”
Ms Stewart won the ballot to speak first ahead of Cr Wellington and began: “A little over three months ago I began this campaign in earnest. I have over that time met with people right across the shire.
“I have met with all the small towns, on sporting fields on the side of roads in meeting rooms,” she said.
Ms Stewart said this community “needs change”.
“It needs someone to lead who will listen and act in the best interests of this community, I believe the person for that job is me.
“The Noosa Junction is crying out for an upgrade for better infrastructure. Footpaths are unsafe, roads need sealing and upgrading, facilities at sporting clubs are substandard or non-existent.”
Ms Stewart said the hinterland “feels neglected and under-resourced” while parking is “crippling” and the Noosa River needs a proper plan.
“I’m speaking to a community that feels at risk because not enough firebreaks are being undertaken; a community whose residents and businesses cannot understand nor access the new Noosa Plan,” she said.
The former barrister said the community needs an improved transport strategy.
“I’m witnessing a fractured community, a disengaged community, a community which doesn’t just deserve better it should expect it.
“I believe we can do better. The only people I will be accountable to are you the ratepayer.
“I will be there to help, not hinder.
“Let’s return Noosa to the people of the shire. I’m a fighter and I’ll fight for you.”
Cr Wellington started by laying out his past “front line” battle to oppose Noosa’s amalgamation and then as a Sunshine Coast councillor working towards de-amalgamation.
“Over the past four years under my administration the Noosa Council has achieved a massive amount,” he said.
“We’ve kept all rate rises at or below CPI of the local government cost index, we’ve run a surplus budget every year and on top of that we’ve paid off $10 million of high interest rate debt that we inherited.”
“Noosa Council has become over the last four years an absolute national leader in terms of dealing with climate change.
“Under my watch, Noosa Council’s economic development department has quadrupled its staff and increased it’s operation budget.
He said the local economy continues to expand and grow as “Noosa achieved 5.18 per cent in GRP (gross regional product) last year” while tourism spending hit an all-time record of $1.2 billion last year”.
“I want Noosa to become a real global leader of sustainable living.”
Cr Wellington wanted to showcase to the world how “we can maintain a wonderful lifestyle”, a biodiverse environment and a buoyant economy”.
“Those elements that define Noosa also underpin our lifestyle and are our economic strength,” he said.
“I will oppose those who want to make Noosa more like everywhere else.
“I stand on my record, I am not a member of a political party,” he said.