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Council election 2017: What was that all about?

Plus newly elected: mayor and his deputy

Braidwood focus dissected.  Images: QPRC facebook.

The newly elected QPRC met for the first time in Queanbeyan on 20 September to elect a mayor and deputy mayor. In front of a packed public gallery, Tim Overall and Trevor Hicks were elected to those positions respectively by a majority vote in a show of hands.

The council consists of members of seven of the 11 groups that contested the election held on September 9.

The lead candidates of Groups listed A, D, B and C (Overall, Brown, Hicks and Schweikert) were elected in first through fourth places.  They may have been beneficiaries of the donkey vote, but it’s also indicative of a more urban-focused vote. Palerang’s Peter Marshall and Pete Harrison, elected amongst those later down the list without a full quota, remain advocates for regional issues and environmental integrity.

The population correlation

According to the 2016 census, QPRC area has 58,000 residents. Of that total population, 41,000, or just over 70% of the total, live in the former council area of Queanbeyan City. The much larger former Palerang Council region has a population of just under 17,000. Based on this statistic, it should follow that 70% of the councillors elected to the new QPRC would be representative of Queanbeyan and 30% from Palerang. This is, in fact, precisely the case. Seven of the 11 elected representatives are from Queanbeyan, while four (all former Palerang councillors) represent the former Palerang region.

Winners and losers

Former Queanbeyan mayor and administrator of QPRC for the past 18 months, Tim Overall, was re-elected easily and is now mayor. The vote brought three members of his team, including two loyal members of his former Queanbeyan block, to council as well. Overall has been high profile in the administrator role and had the advantage of a large financial hand-out from the state government to distribute around the region.

Former Palerang mayor Pete Harrison appears to have been punished by Palerang voters for his leadership of an unpopular council. However, he brings Palerang representation to the QPRC table and his experience will be vital when it comes to decisions that affect the wider region.

Bowing out after 33 years in local government is former Queanbeyan councillor Sue Whelan. She ran as lead candidate of an independent group, but fell just short of being elected: excluded on the final distribution of preferences. Her experience and knowledge will be missed.

The three political parties that ran teams, Country Labor, the Liberals and the Greens, all succeeded in getting their lead candidates, all former councillors, elected and Country Labor’s second candidate, Radmilla Noveska, has also secured a seat.

While there was robust discussion on the local social media platforms regarding the rise of party politics in the local government arena, the fact remains that as local government jurisdictions become bigger via amalgamations, the better suited the parties are to organise and mobilise across the entire region, and be resourced to run campaigns. As one social media comment put it: “at least with the parties you know what you’re getting”.

The Braidwood factor

There was justifiable concern among residents on the eastern edge of the new region about loss of local representation. The “vote for Braidwood” strategy of the three ungrouped Braidwood independents, however, was never going to be viable. The quota required for a candidate to be elected was 2,501 votes, and with the entire voting population of the Braidwood area around 1,100, even with an agreement to swap preferences, the three ran individual campaigns that were so narrowly focused they were never going to gain sufficient votes from outside Braidwood to make the quota.

Karuna Bajracharya was the big success of the three, gaining 25% of the Braidwood vote and he can take heart that his youth-focused campaign was positive and well-received. It remains, however, that a regional council requires regional policies and campaigns, and that ungrouped independent candidates will always struggle to gain support.

Of the others, widely respected Braidwood resident, Phil Shoemark, polled well for Trevor Hicks’ team and contributed to Hicks’ group gaining the highest group vote in Braidwood, while Danny King was a strong local support for Team Tim.

Looking ahead and the factions

With the state government’s amalgamation ‘sweetener’ now spent, and rates frozen until 2019, the new council faces a challenging couple of years to meet the needs of a large and diverse region as well as complete the projects to which the administrator committed during the hiatus between councils.

To judge from the campaigns and past experience, the council may fall into two factions: The Overall group supported by Schweikert (Liberal) and Hicks (who tended to vote with Schweikert on old Palerang Council), giving them the majority, and Country Labor and the Greens supported by Winchester and Harrison.

This 6-5 balance may provide effective governance and at least some checks on the Overall vision and spending plans mainly for downtown Queanbeyan building development. But with the numbers in favour of the urban and pro-development faction, the rural and outlying population of the region will need to lobby for their interests to be recognised and acted upon.

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