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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11879


Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (10:32 AM) —The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Members of Local Government Bodies) Bill 2002 may not be a controversial bill in this place—and I am pleased to hear that it is not—but in Queensland it certainly has been a matter of great controversy. The idea that the state government would want to provide a disincentive and try to head off the idea that local councillors should be standing for parliament I think was shameful. We live in a democracy, and there should be every effort made to promote people having a full understanding of how democracy works—not only at the state level but at the local and federal levels. It is an absolutely perfect thing to do.

We really must endorse somebody progressing from a council to state politics or to federal politics because people need to have a good choice of experienced candidates. The old saying is that all politics is local, and I think local government is the ultimate training ground for people to get involved in politics, to take it up and pursue it, to get a reputation and to get a profile locally. These things are absolutely essential, and we must continue to endorse them.

The steps taken by the Queensland government were taken in a blatant political attempt to head off what they saw as being a training ground for conservative politicians. I do not accept that whatsoever. In my area is the Ipswich City Council, which has long had councillors with links to the Labor Party. The fact that they have links to the Labor Party does not stop them from being strong advocates on local issues and does not stop them from wanting to progress and move on to state or federal politics. So it is shameful for that government to see the whole thing through the eyes of party political advantage and to try to head off local government as a training ground for advancement into politics.

I would like to highlight the great contribution that is made by local councils by running through the various councils in my area and talking about the contributions that they and particularly the mayors in those communities make. While all councillors contribute—and, as I said, any one of those could advance to different levels of government—the fact is that there are significant advancements happening there and the mayors in particular tend to be local figureheads and their work deserves recognition.

At Kingaroy, Mayor Roger Nunn has been active on issues like the Kingaroy Airport and advancing education in the area. He has been trying to develop university links to the local TAFE college, providing opportunities for local school students who wish to undertake university study but who perhaps do not want to leave their community in order to do so. I commend Roger and the whole of the council for continuing to promote the issue.

Reg MacCallum at Nanango has to be one of the longest serving mayors in Australia. He is the quintessential bushie, and has been active in making sure that employment is generated by the Tarong North project, something the member for Hunter and I were discussing yesterday. Reg has been instrumental in making sure that the project provides jobs in the Nanango area. He has an immense understanding of forestry. In the ridiculous debate about the development of the South-East Queensland Forest Agreement, which was a disaster for South-East Queensland, Reg has been an absolute ally.

Noel Strohfeldt is Mayor of Rosalie. Rosalie is an area hard hit by drought and by dairy deregulation. Noel has been a fierce and hardworking advocate on those issues. I urge him to keep up the good work. I also commend Mayor Geoff Patch, at Crows Nest Shire. Once again, the impact of drought there is huge. On top of that there have been some very thorny local issues with the hospital in Crows Nest Shire. The council, while not directly involved with the hospital, is there on the sidelines and its contribution is very important. The recent closure of the hospital has focused that health institution more on aged care, an outcome that I support. The fundamental difficulties with the hospital could not be surmounted in the short term, and the council has taken a hard and very bold decision that will carry the community forward in the long term.

At the Esk Shire Council, Mayor Jean Bray is one of the most outstanding local advocates in the whole of my area. She is someone who, when a controversial issue comes up, does not duck her responsibilities. Recently there was quite a furore there over dog laws. Anyone who has ever had anything to do with dog laws knows they are probably the most controversial issue that can ever come up. When the huge uproar emerged over dog laws in that area, Jean did not go and hide under the couch, although practically every other local councillor appeared to do so. She attended all the controversial meetings and spoke with the people concerned and, at the end of it all, there has been a better outcome due to her participation. I commend her for that.

Up at Kilcoy, Terry Dredge has been a strong campaigner on the issue of forestry. Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, I know the forest industry is dear to your heart and I am sure you would endorse the efforts that Terry has gone to to focus attention on the immense wealth of knowledge there is amongst the people who have been maintaining the forest industry resource in our country for so many years. To have all that knowledge being undermined by Johnny-come-lately green views that do not represent the best for the development of those forest areas is a terrible shame. Instead of a strong, vibrant forest industry resource, we wind up with a completely under-resourced national park just waiting for some terrible fire to come along and lay it to waste. It is a terrible scene, but Terry is fighting on that, and I commend him for it.

In the past, Ipswich has been a hotbed of Labor politics. John Nugent, the mayor, is an Independent, and he does a very good job. I would also like to mention Paul Pisasale, a member of the Labor Party but also someone who does a lot of good work for our community along with the mayor and other councillors. I would like to mention their strong endorsement of multiculturalism and the work they regularly do to conduct citizenship ceremonies. I think Ipswich citizenship ceremonies are unmatched in Australia. There is a strong level of support from the council. The whole community comes out to support those citizenship ceremonies. I do not think a migrant looking to take up Australian citizenship would find any greater welcome than that extended by the Ipswich community through the citizenship ceremonies which are provided in large measure by the Ipswich City Council.

At Boonah—and I have only a very small part of Boonah in my electorate—Mayor John Brent is known as a strong campaigner. I would like to highlight the steps that we took together in relation to banks. The Commonwealth Bank tried to close some local branches. John Brent and I met the head of the Commonwealth Bank in Queensland. We jumped up and down and kicked up a big fuss. The bank, immovable as ever, endeavoured to pooh-pooh our activities in that regard. However, in the end, we did manage to save the Commonwealth Bank branch at Brassall. The fact that we actually saved a bank branch is news these days. That was a very good outcome. Apart from thanking John Brent for his part in that, I would also like to thank the treasurer, because he helped as well.

In Laidley, Mayor Shirley Pitt is very strong and very active in the local community. She is another person who has campaigned on bank closures. She has also been working very hard to overcome some of the difficulties created in a community in which there are a lot of rural residential subdivisions without complementary infrastructure. This is a terrible problem in many areas of my electorate and it can leave people marooned in an area without any support. There are then problems with kids who have nothing to do in small communities and are stuck out there by themselves, with no transport and no way of getting out. Mayor Shirley Pitt has been strong on that. The Laidley council has a very active youth consultative group which works hard on those matters. So, once again, that is an example of a local council confronting local issues and doing something about them.

Jim MacDonald, the Mayor of Gatton, is orientated towards developing and diversifying the local economy. For example, with Jim's contribution they have developed the Gatton Sprints. People get into their hot rods and do some laps around Gatton and a huge crowd comes to see them. It is good to watch and the council has made that quite an event. Gatton is a very vibrant community. I know that Jim will be absolutely gutted by the decision of the state government to take away TAB recognition of the Gatton race meetings. I think that is appalling. However, the Gatton community is going places, and Jim and the other councillors there are playing an important part in that. Finally, on my long list of mayors in the electorate of Blair, one small part of Blair—a very important part—is around Karana Downs, which is part of the Brisbane City Council area. The mayor there, Jim Soorley, is well known to everyone, and so I do not need to make any comments about Jim.

Underlying the massive infrastructure that councils provide across that area are the hundreds of elected representatives in the area of Blair. They are providing very important services to local people. They have a valuable skill and knowledge base which would be a great addition to this parliament or to the state parliament. We have to do everything we can to encourage people with those skills to use them and to advance into federal or state politics, if that is the way they want to go. This amendment, as the opposition has said, is commonsense. The state government stands condemned for having taken steps to go in the other direction. It was a terrible thing for it to do. It is good to see the opposition supporting setting matters right through this bill—although I think it still leaves open the question of what will happen in the future in Queensland.

We are not talking only about federal politics, although this bill does. At the local government level in Queensland it is important that people with those skills have the opportunity to progress into the state scene. This is not something that is going to advantage either the Labor Party or the coalition partners up there; it is something that is going to benefit all Queenslanders. That is what the state government should be there for.

I commend the opposition and members of the federal parliament for taking this very important step but it is appalling that the question remains up in the air in Queensland. We have to make it quite clear that those local representatives are welcome at all levels of politics. We endorse their participation and encourage greater participation by all members in the community who may wish to get into local councils or state politics. We support them and urge them to do so.