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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
30/08/2007
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007

CHAIR —Welcome. Mr Raison, would you like to make an opening statement on behalf of Development Watch?

Mr Raison —Yes, and thank you for the opportunity. Development Watch represents a wide cross-section of residents from Coolum and surrounding districts. Coolum is about 20 kilometres south of here, in Maroochy Shire. Our primary goal is to prevent inappropriate development in the Coolum area. Unlike other community groups, we focus only on the impact of development on our community. We leave concerns about other aspects of community life in Coolum to the many other community groups in the area. The issues we examine range from development applications to major structural reform proposals, such as the South East Queensland Regional Plan, and now to council amalgamation. We have also participated in planning and environment court appeals. Our major project at the moment is a request for the minister for local government to call in a development application that proposes the construction of 660 residential dwellings within Hyatt Regency Coolum. This project would increase the population of Coolum by more than 12 per cent, which would have, amongst other things, an impact on electoral boundaries.

Although many maps have a dot on the Sunshine Coast with the word ‘Coolum’ beside it, there is no postcode for Coolum. Locals and visitors know Coolum as a collection of villages: Coolum Beach, Yaroomba, Point Arkwright and Mount Coolum. This definition is consolidated by the area being an electoral division, division 5 in Maroochy Shire.

Coolum had a brush with high-rise developments in the late 1980s. Two tall buildings were constructed in Coolum Beach, and the resultant community backlash caused the planning scheme to be amended to limit buildings in Coolum to three storeys. Coolum residents continue to strive to ensure that the area remains different to the more urbanised areas to the south. There is much evidence that forcing local governments to amalgamate does not provide effective distribution of services to community. Research done by the University of New England Centre for Local Government is most relevant to this issue.

Apart from the forced nature of the amalgamation process and the short timescale for its implementation, one of Development Watch’s major concerns revolves around the lack of community consultation. We all believe that government should be of the people, by the people, for the people—and I do not have a copyright on that quote, so you can use it. Certainly in Queensland it is not currently being governed by the people for the people. Nor is it happening in Maroochy Shire. Our council made a submission to the Local Government Reform Commission supporting amalgamation of the three Sunshine Coast councils without first determining the views of the shire residents.

Our other major concern relates to determination of electoral boundaries within our new regional council. We fear that Coolum will not be grouped with the like communities of interest to the north but with much more urbanised areas to the south or, worse, that Coolum may be split by divisional boundaries in an effort to balance the numbers between divisions. The integrity of community should not be compromised. We ask that a mechanism be put in place whereby Coolum residents can participate in a plebiscite even if our Maroochy council does not want one.

Mr Scanlon —I am a committee member of the Eumundi, Doonan, Verrierdale Action Group Inc., and I am authorised to represent our committee on behalf of our president, who is interstate. I am here today with Raynette Mitchell, who is the secretary of the group. Adrienne and Paul Prentice, fellow committee members, are welcome in the gallery. The EDV is a group of more than 3,000 concerned residents of the areas of Eumundi, Doonan and Verrierdale as well as Weyba Downs, all of whom live in the northern tip of Maroochy Shire. Since we formed in 2004 we have been fighting for a boundary change to enable us to become part of Noosa Shire. We have close links with Noosa Shire and we feel that Noosa is our community of interest, much more so than Maroochy Shire. We have conducted a comprehensive survey of our constituents and have reduced irrefutable hard data supporting the fact that more than 80 per cent of residents surveyed want a boundary change.

Our voice and our work, although strongly supported by Noosa Council and key community groups, has to date been consistently ignored by Maroochy Council. It has been disenfranchised by the premature abandonment of the size, shape and sustainability review, and it has been disregarded by the Local Government Reform Commission, whose review—a non-elected body—was conducted in camera with limited disclosure. We believe we have no effective mechanism to express the will of our people. As a result of this, we are very much in favour of the first provision of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007, which enables the commission to use personal information included in the electoral roll to conduct the plebiscite. It is our wish for the AEC to conduct a plebiscite in order to obtain a formal, indisputable record of the will of eligible voters of Noosa Shire. It is also our wish to have the areas of Eumundi, Doonan, Verrierdale and West Peregian, which is Weyba Downs, which we represent, included in this poll.

We want the poll results to assist us to maintain political pressure at federal and state levels for the current amalgamation legislation to be altered. We want the poll results to assist us in possible legal disputation over the provisions of the revised Local Government Act, the conduct of the Local Government Reform Commission and possible breaches of the state constitution. As a legitimate, community based organisation we also want the ability to request the AEC to conduct a poll on our behalf.

We would like to make it clear that we support reform of local government but that we support the fundamental principles of what local government is about. Local people making local decisions for their local community, where their local council provides services and support that people depend on for day-to-day living and that suit the local circumstances, must remain unaltered.

We also wish to make a brief comment on the third provision of the bill—namely, the power to prohibit penalising or discriminating against any person or body proposing, assisting, conducting or arranging a plebiscite. Recent events in Queensland have reinforced a view that our democratic rights have been eroded to the point where they are almost non-existent. The checks and balances fundamental to the Australian Westminster democratic system are weaker here than in other states. There is no longer an upper house in Queensland. Freedom of information laws are becoming more and more ineffectual. Power within the state government is highly concentrated, and changes to the parliamentary process in Queensland are disempowering the opposition. This bill helps to redress this imbalance and restore the confidence of ordinary people that their rights will be protected.

Finally, we would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak before this committee. It is really good to know that we have the chance to speak and to be heard.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Scanlon. Mr Walpole, do you wish to make a statement on behalf of the Coolum Residents Association?

Mr Walpole —Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Bob Walpole and I am Coolum Residents Association President. We represent some 12,000 local residents in the Coolum area, adjacent to Noosa Shire, and we are charged with maintaining and protecting the quality of life preferred by the majority of Coolum residents. Unfortunately, we are part of Maroochy Shire. That does give us a great deal of concern, considering the amalgamation decision.

A lot has been said this morning by brighter minds than me. I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about all of the things that everybody else has said; I am going to cut to the chase. The fact is that the Coolum Residents Association support the amendment. For us, it is going to come in pretty handy in relation to the amalgamation issues—we hope. We also think that this will enable us to have a plebiscite on amalgamation at a later date. When this bill is passed, the Coolum community want to be included in any Noosa plebiscite. We have backed Noosa all the way because Coolum is a like community of interest. We think the same way and we believe Coolum should be a part of a stand-alone Noosa. I know and understand that the amendment does not relate to the comments I have just raised; however, we are hopeful that the Beattie government will take notice of what has occurred here today in front of you people and repeal its amalgamation legislation. That is where we are at and that is where we want to head. It has all been said this morning, and we are really backing it. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. My question is directed to the three groups here. I imagine that you would have been strong supporters of the size, shape and sustainability review because that process would have provided the opportunity for Coolum, Eumundi, Doonon and Verrierdale to become part of the Noosa Shire. I assume you were supportive of that process and were part of that process, or input into that process?

Mr Walpole —Yes.

Mr Raison —Yes.

Mrs Mitchell —Yes.

Mr Scanlon —Yes.

CHAIR —Looking at the terms of reference for the Queensland reform commission, it looks to me as though the outcome you were seeking was specifically excluded. So the commission must give preference, to the extent practicable, to including all of the existing local government areas in the new area. I feel for you because your particular desire was just trampled on by the new review process taking over from SSS. I recall Premier Beattie, after announcing the forced amalgamations, saying that he was exasperated—words to the effect that he had thrown his hands up because there had been this process going on for years, which lead to no outcome, that he was forced to bring about these amalgamations. Do you know what he was going on about when he said he tried, this process had been running and he was exasperated? The process was not complete, to my understanding.

Mr Raison —We were as surprised as Mayor Abbot about the government’s announcement. Concerning the terms of reference of the reform commission—you mentioned trying to contain existing boundaries within new boundaries—there was also one on endeavouring, where possible, to consolidate like communities of interest and that was what we were pushing.

CHAIR —It does not sound as though that has registered in any one location.

Mr Raison —No, and we have assumed, as have a lot of other people, that the decision was made before the event anyway.

CHAIR —I can understand the argument that communities of interest might change over time, that what is required to have a sustainable local government area might change over time. What is in that term of reference in the Queensland reform commission is basically showing no recognition of the fact that there is a community of interest because you are just lumping together historic local government areas in toto. It is really the antithesis of seeking to find communities of interested and sustainable—

Mr Walpole —You are quite right. There is no doubt that in the process with the Local Government Reform Commission, which was fairly short, they did not look at the detail in the various submissions from people like us. We had a very detailed submission which showed maps of boundaries, exactly how they could do this, how it would work and why people from Coolum, Eumundi, Doonon and Verrierdale were of the same ilk as people from Noosa. The truth of it is that they took no notice. The real concern is 31,000 people wrote in to this commission; 2,000 of them came from that little town of Coolum and they took no notice. That is a real concern and is the reason we have this furore here today. It has been going on for some weeks. We want to redress, we want to find a way to solve it. What will this amendment to the act do? At least, will it give us a plebiscite? That would be something, but as you have heard from Mayor Abbot and others, we really want to change what has happened.

Mr Scanlon —The process that the Premier was describing did not seem to be the process we were participating in. We were 18 months into a five-year program at the end of which there would have been plebiscites to determine the outcome. Part of the reason the process was perhaps not proceeding as quickly as it might was that there was a requirement for the Queensland Treasury Corporation to have investigated the financial status of the councils. They completed their study with 105 of the 157 councils but the remaining councils could not participate in the process because the Queensland Treasury Corporation had not done its work. For the Premier to say that we were dragging our feet—and, by the way, Noosa was not—without referring to the fact that the Queensland Treasury Corporation was tardy at best in its process, really begs the question: what was he trying to achieve in the first place?

CHAIR —Just finally, as someone who is from out of state—

Mr Walpole —We will not hold that against you!

CHAIR —Thank you. Do you think that, in the absence of a Commonwealth announcement of an intention to introduce this legislation, Premier Beattie would have backed down and changed his mind and removed the punitive sections?

Mr Scanlon —No.

Mrs Mitchell —Absolutely not.

Mr Raison —I do not think so, and I still do not think he will.

Mr Scanlon —We must continue and have this legislation passed so that he cannot.

Senator FORSHAW —Thank you for the welcome. As I was saying to Mr Walpole earlier, I was up in Coolum only a few weeks ago when APEC was on and enjoyed it immensely. My wife was with me and she actually drove to Noosa.

Mrs Mitchell —She is a good woman.

Senator FORSHAW —That is right. Firstly, as I am sure you know but which I will state again for the record, the Labor Party fully supports this legislation. Kevin Rudd is on the record as saying that he supports it and he has expressed his firm views to the premier about that. It would not be the first time that there has been a difference of opinion between a prime minister and a premier from the same party or a leader of the opposition and his or her equivalent at the state level. That is clear. I want to explore something with Development Watch, but others should feel free to comment. Your major interest, as you said, is in trying to ensure that the nature of this area does not change and become overdeveloped and in trying to retain the beautiful characteristics of the area. Do you see a potential for consideration of development issues being subject to local plebiscites? For instance, if there was a particular development proposal that a council or a state government wanted to support or that a developer wanted to build and you wanted to ascertain community opinion, would this be a vehicle that you would see as appropriate to use?

Mr Raison —I do not think so. The present structure of development assessment in Queensland, and certainly in Maroochy council, allows public input for all major developments. There is an impact assessment period where the public have a month or so to write submissions to council.

Senator FORSHAW —Is that when a development application is formally lodged?

Mr Raison —Yes, after a development has been formally lodged. Maybe our group should really be called ‘council watch’ because councils and particularly developers try to stretch the boundaries of planning schemes. One of our jobs is to remind councils that the planning scheme is a document that, in theory at least, has community support and that they should not exceed its bounds. I think the public consultation process for developments is adequate. The way councils treat the information they get is far from adequate.

Senator FORSHAW —I am not familiar with development proposals that may have been put forward in this region. I am from Sydney. But, if it is like other local government areas to a greater or lesser degree, development applications are often extremely controversial—particularly high-rise, large-scale ones. What sort of mechanism would you as an organisation use to ascertain community opinion and to be certain that you are reflecting the views of the overwhelming majority of the community if you did not take advantage of this mechanism in the future? I should say that I am not talking about every single one. I am talking about where there is a major development proposal.

Mr Raison —If I can use the proposal to put 660 residential dwellings inside Hyatt Coolum, that came up for public consultation and there were more than 3,600 objections to it. There were 81 submissions in favour of it. The councillors, of which there are 12 plus the mayor, voted six-all and then voted for the development.

Senator FORSHAW —Which council is this? 

Mr Raison —Maroochy Shire Council. The process is still ongoing. The developer did not like some of the conditions, so they were negotiated. The submitters, 3,800 or thereabouts, over the last couple of weeks have been bombarded with a copy of the negotiated decision and with information on how to appeal the decision. We are now in that period where, if we desire and have the wherewithal, we could go to the Planning and Environment Court.

Senator FORSHAW —That is what I wanted to question you about. This is relevant to the topic in the broader sense—and what you have just said certainly indicates that you have got a very efficient grassroots capacity to ascertain this, if you get that many objections. I would assume that the process is similar to that in other states, where the council can make a decision but, if it rejected a development application or if it approved it, the issue could then be taken further through the legal system. What was the name of the court? 

Mr Raison —In Queensland it is called the Planning and Environment Court.

Senator FORSHAW —What role does the state government have or the minister have—the minister for local government or the minister for planning; I am not sure of the particular title—in overriding decisions of councils at the moment? 

Mr Raison —The state government can only step in if there is a state interest. The state interest is well defined in the Integrated Planning Act, and there are just two arms to it. One is an economic or environmental interest that affects the state and the other one relates to good governance and the proper implementation of the development assessment system by the local council.

Senator FORSHAW —The standard powers that state governments have.

Mr Raison —That is right. And because community groups like us do not have the financial wherewithal to fight multinational corporations in the Planning and Environment Court, we have gone to the minister for local government with a submission asking him to call in that particular development and explaining to him why we think there are very good state reasons for calling the development in.

Senator FORSHAW —The minister could take away the planning powers or restrict the planning powers of the council under current legislation? 

Mr Raison —I really do not know to what extent the state government direct and implement the Integrated Planning Act. I think it is as long as councils stay within the bounds of the act.

Senator FORSHAW —I am just raising these issues because a substantial part of your submission is that you do not want to see overdevelopment—

Mr Raison —Yes, certainly.

Senator FORSHAW —But currently as I would understand under the system, at the end of the day—and this is the case right across the country—the whip hand is often with the state minister or the court. That is their history in a lot of places.

Mr Walpole —The interesting thing is that, if Coolum were part of a stand-alone Noosa council, we would not even have those sorts of concerns, because they are very strong environmentally. They think the same way as we do. So we would not have those development problems.

Senator FORSHAW —It gives you more political clout.

Mr Walpole —Absolutely. Yes.

Senator FORSHAW —I was going to ask you about the Maroochy Shire Council’s submission, but you have indicated that they—

Mr Raison —Yes.

Senator FORSHAW —Senator Moore or someone might want to question you on that.

Mr Raison —Yes, there was absolutely no consultation—

Mr Scanlon —Senator, you were asking a question about the make-up of the local council. At the present time, a local—

Senator FORSHAW —I do not think I was, but anyway.

Mr Scanlon —I have interpreted it in that way, if I may.

Senator FORSHAW —So you mean Maroochy Shire Council?

Mr Scanlon —No, I mean any council. Any council in Queensland under the old regime could effectively have been called a local council. There were local representatives, and it was possible for the communities to identify what their particular representative stood for. There was a situation in the Gold Coast that you might be aware of where there was a funding arrangement to try and elect a developer sponsored council. At the present time, that is very unlikely to happen here in Noosa. It has been quite a split council, and people have identified with that.

We believe strongly that a regional council will take away the knowledge of people and their effective voice in the election of representatives. When the regional council meets for the first time and votes in March, if we have the misfortune to get that far, it will take 15,000 electors to elect a councillor. And the only way, if there are no boundaries, that a councillor could possibly get elected is if he is sponsored by a developer or a development group or he is sponsored by a political party. So it takes away a fundamental basis, in my personal view, for what we now understand as local government.

Senator FORSHAW —I will just say that my point in pursuing the line of questioning was that there are some constitutional ramifications—

Mr Scanlon —No, I understand that.

Senator FORSHAW —and that is why we made the point that recognition under the federal Constitution gives at least the opportunity for some greater say and greater certainty, if you like, at the federal level and at local government level. Thank you.

Senator JOYCE —Obviously this must be terribly frustrating for you because what you really have in front of you is a political problem, and the only way you can deal with that is with a political solution. What mechanisms do you have at your disposal in fulfilling a political solution?

Mr Scanlon —We have been very active in contacting a range of state ministers, state politicians and federal politicians of both persuasions to try and influence them, but particularly Labor Party federal politicians, to lean on the state government to change its mind. We propose to continue that lobbying after this process is over. We are trying to worry candidates at the next election.

Senator JOYCE —Which election is that?

Mr Scanlon —The rumoured federal election. Because, despite the polls that appear regularly in the newspapers, the fact of the matter is that six seats at least have to be won in Queensland for there to be a change of government. We firmly believe that winning the last two or three of those will be very difficult, and it has been made incredibly more difficult by the stupidity of the state government in trying to stop the democratic will of the people in Queensland.

Senator JOYCE —I noticed that Senator Ludwig said that in changing my mind I should disendorse myself. Do you think it is a sign of weakness to change your mind?

Mr Scanlon —Absolutely not. It is unfortunate that the media tends to portray these things as a backflip. We often find—and it probably will be the case here today; the media went as soon as the first session was over—that junior journalists are sent along to try and comment on things about which they have no experience.

Mr Walpole —We reckon it is a sign of a strong politician.

Senator JOYCE —It would be helpful Mr Beattie and Mr Fraser changed their minds, wouldn’t it?

Mr Walpole —Absolutely, Senator Joyce.

Senator FORSHAW —At least they could remember how to; you couldn’t remember whether you voted for it or against—

Senator JOYCE —Notice of motion. Later on, you can tell us all about the strength of a notice of motion. You talked about catchment—

0Senator Forshaw interjecting

Senator JOYCE —You can see I was inspired not only from my own side but also from the opposition—an incredible dissent! Mr Raison, you have brought up an interesting area about catchments and the alignment of new boundaries. The catchment that you would run along would be which one? You talked about the alignment of local government boundaries with catchment area boundaries.

Mr Raison —I do not think I was talking about catchments. I was talking about the communities of interest—it was in relation to the term of reference that mentions communities of interest. The one about catchment areas is in relation to another term of reference. For Coolum it is a little difficult because Coolum is in three water catchment areas. A fair bit flows towards the Maroochy River, which is primarily controlled by Maroochy Shire Council, some flows directly into the sea through a local river system and some northwards towards Noosa. So we are pretty even-handed about catchment areas.

Senator JOYCE —There obviously is a community of interest that you see between Coolum and Noosa that you do not see between Coolum and Maroochydore.

Mr Raison —Yes, certainly—and even to closer than Maroochydore. The next town south from Coolum is Marcoola. It has a large number of six-storey buildings and it will have more because the rules there allow it. It also has an airport, which Noosa council certainly does not want to have control over. It is the same further south, at Mudjimba, Twin Waters—more urbanised areas. People come for holidays to Coolum from Maroochydore because it is so different and it is not very far away. We would like to keep that difference.

Senator JOYCE —Obviously there would be inherent problems if they were all under the same local government. Over time, you would imagine, there would be a generic look over the whole area.

Mr Raison —Yes.

Mr Walpole —That is quite right. The issue comes down to developers. They are actually rubbing their hands with glee right now at the thought of an amalgamation. Gold Coast developers and the people who are down at Maroochydore and Mooloolaba are saying: ‘You beauty! Now we can get into Coolum and a bit into Noosa.’ It will literally change the face and style of those two areas. Coolum and Noosa will no longer look the same if this thing happens.

Senator JOYCE —Would it be in the interests of those developers to lobby the state government to try and get Noosa’s boundaries changed?

Mr Walpole —I would not think so. I think all they want is a regional council—that way, it makes life so much easier for them.

Senator JOYCE —To get rid of the pesky Noosa Shire Council so they can put up a—

Mr Walpole —Absolutely correct.

Senator JOYCE —The state government always uses the argument that these boundaries have not changed since Don Bradman was playing and therefore that is a reason to change. How long ago did they invent the state boundaries?

Mr Walpole —I do not know. You would have to tell me. I think it has to be somewhere around—

Senator JOYCE —One hundred and fifty years ago.

Mr Walpole —That is right.

Senator JOYCE —Do you think, therefore, they have put forward a very good argument about why we should change state boundaries as well?

Mr Walpole —I think there is a really good argument to remove states. However, that has got nothing to do with this piece.

Senator FORSHAW —Next question, Senator Joyce!

Senator JOYCE —Well, no, because we have in our constitution in Queensland the ability for senators to be allocated to certain areas of the state rather than allocated across the state.

Mr Walpole —I guess I meant state parliaments, actually.

Senator JOYCE —What would be the likelihood of the current position being maintained if there was a strong belief or, in fact, if it was proven that it was going to affect a federal election? Do you reckon that that could be the impetus for Mr Beattie to change his mind?

Mr Walpole —As a catalyst? It would be interesting. My feeling is that Premier Beattie, I am sure, has listened to his federal counterpart and has decided to continue on this road.

Senator JOYCE —Do you think he does not respect Mr Rudd?

Mr Walpole —No, I did not say that. What I said was that he has decided to do his own thing his own way, and I think that is a shame because, if he listened to his federal counterpart, he might change his mind. I wish he would, because it would be good for him and it probably would be good for the federal Labor Party.

Senator JOYCE —From your knowledge of Mr Beattie, has he had the ability in the past to change his mind on things?

Mr Walpole —He has changed his mind on things before.

Senator JOYCE —Have you ever heard him say sorry before?

Mr Walpole —No, I have never heard him say sorry.

Senator JOYCE —I have—all the time. It would be helpful if he said sorry on this one as well.

Senator MOORE —I just have one question. It is about the expression from both groups about using the legislation that we are looking at. I have had a look at it. It is really short and it does not say anywhere that you could not be included in a plebiscite that was called. In terms of the process, it would seem that that would have to happen after this has passed, with the full agreement of all the parties, I believe—there is no question about that. The core element of what you have come to ask us about is that, in whatever process follows on from this legislation, you would want your voices heard in that process. Is that accurate? I took that from your opening statements.

Mr Raison —I have the impression, and I certainly could be wrong, that these plebiscites that will be allowed to occur in Queensland will be on a voluntary basis. I am not quite sure who will decide whether a particular council should have one. If it is Maroochy Shire Council, we will not have one in our shire and we will not have a vote.

Senator MOORE —All we have in front of us is the legislation and the explanatory memorandum. The guidelines for how they will operate we have not seen, so it would seem to me that, in terms of an action coming out of this process, it would be working with whomever to ensure that your voice is heard. It seems to me from hearing the evidence from the Noosa shire council this morning that they did not think there was a need in their area because their concern about the issue was self-evident, but they thought that, if there were going to be one, they would be involved. They would be working within that process to get your two areas involved—I am saying ‘two’ because your areas cover a considerable number of suburbs, so it would have to be linked in that way. They would also put pressure on the Maroochy shire to see whether they will be part of it. That degree of detail is just not in front of us.

Mr Scanlon —The difficulty is that what we have assumed is that the council will be the body that will—

Senator MOORE —Stimulate the request.

Mr Scanlon —stimulate the request to the AEC to conduct a plebiscite. Under that arrangement, there is no mechanism for interest groups such as ours to be considered. It is a personal view, but I do not think my colleagues would disagree, that the prospect of Maroochy council calling a plebiscite is remote—but, if one were called, our views would be swamped. So what we are asking for is the ability for the AEC to conduct a plebiscite of our interest groups if they are not included in the Noosa one.

Senator MOORE —That would be a specific request.

Mr Scanlon —A specific request.

Senator MOORE —We will note that as a request.

Mr Scanlon —It is not just that the council would have the only mechanism for calling one. Other interest groups—legitimate interest groups; I am not talking about mickey mouse ones—that can prove the case should be able to call for them.

Mrs Mitchell —Similarly, if Noosa Council calls for a plebiscite, we presume it would just be conducted within Noosa shire. So we are in no-man’s-land. We are outside of that, but we are inside of Maroochy shire and we presume that they do not want a plebiscite. We will be in this no-win situation if plebiscites are conducted within shires.

Senator MOORE —That is certainly a very reasonable recommendation that you make within the ambit of this legislation. It is very difficult to keep the discussion on the legislation that is in front of us. We will take that up in the consideration of what we will do, because I imagine it would not be unreasonable in some areas that people would have this process. I know in both regional areas there has been a longstanding debate about your preference for being in Noosa rather than Maroochydore, so it did not occur overnight.

Mr Walpole —Last year the Coolum Residents Association conducted a quantitative market research study in the Coolum area. Before amalgamation was even considered out there in the media, 67 per cent of people who lived in the Coolum area said: ‘We would prefer to be part of a Noosa shire council than part of a Maroochy shire or a Maroochy-Caloundra combined council.’ That is interesting information from well before anything had occurred.

Mrs Mitchell —We feel in this current scenario that little communities like the EDV and people from Coolum are in this live-or-die situation. There are no doors left open for us. With amalgamation we lose. If a plebiscite is held within Noosa shire we lose. What do we have to do to get somewhere? We have been fighting this battle since 2004.

Senator FORSHAW —Can I just make a comment here which might assist. Senator Moore is correct. We do not have anything within the legislation, the explanatory memorandum or the second reading speech to clarify how these plebiscites might be held and how extensive they might be. But the Prime Minister is on record on at least one occasion—and I understand there are more—in answer to a question in the parliament on 16 August as saying:

It will amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act to give effect to our commitment to assist local councils in holding plebiscites on amalgamations if choose to do so.

The understanding that we have got—in a rather short space of time—is that it is local councils that would formally request them. The government would assist through the AEC and would be prepared to fund them, but it is local government areas that are the structure upon which this would all develop, which leaves you in a dilemma.

Mr Raison —The second reading speech also comments that the legislation is not designed to allow community groups to initiate plebiscites. It would be very nice if we could get some kind of petition in our community and, if 80 per cent of the community wanted a plebiscite in the area, then so be it. But the second reading speech certainly indicates that community groups should just sit back and relax.

CHAIR —Just to further assist: the legislation is designed to reinforce what is the existing position, which is that it is open to any council—even before this legislation—to seek to have the AEC on a fee-for-service basis undertake a plebiscite. This legislation is designed to counter any punitive actions by a state government against anyone seeking to access that. The funding of the plebiscites is separate to the legislation. The funding is a decision of the executive government. The legislation is really just designed to preserve an option which is already there for local councils.

Senator MURRAY —On that of point of clarification: in fact, legislation would not prevent it; it would encourage it. There is nothing to prevent any residents association or group of citizens from petitioning their council to conduct a plebiscite. It would be a very strange council indeed that would resist or reject a significant petition from its citizens. I do not think you are left out of the loop at all.

Mrs Mitchell —But then it is not really our local council that we want to have the plebiscite. We are just kind of nothing to them. We are sitting on the tip of their shire.

CHAIR —So you want to have a plebiscite in a portion of the council area which petitions the existing council?

Mrs Mitchell —Not within the whole shire.

Senator MURRAY —But, with respect, if you say to the Maroochy council that you think that all the residents of Maroochy are entitled to express an opinion and, if the Maroochy council decides not to have a plebiscite, they are deciding on behalf of people—

Senator FORSHAW —That is irrespective of this legislation. That right exists now.

Senator MURRAY —But they are not without power to put a petition to their council. That is simply the point I wanted to make.

Mr Scanlon —We would like the opportunity to have a set of rules which stay standard and that we can actually operate under. We have had a whole series of changes. We are always playing to somebody else’s rules and it would be nice if the committee could recommend that local groups have the option under this legislation to call a plebiscite—an option which we do not have at the moment.

Senator FORSHAW —We will take that on board, but our job is to try to think of the consequences of the legislation in the broad. There may be a whole range of other communities around the state that for one reason or another are in a similar position. That is why we were pursuing it, but at the moment this legislation is not designed to give you any more right than you already have.

Mr Scanlon —I understand that.

Senator MURRAY —I thought that your submission was a very sensible one. I just have one question, arising indirectly from something Senator Joyce put to you. I think it was Mr Keating, the former Prime Minister, who, amongst others, recommended the prohibition of donations, indirectly or directly, by developers to politicians, whether they be in local, state or federal government. Do you agree with those views?

Mr Walpole —We do agree.

Mr Raison —Certainly.

Mrs Mitchell —Absolutely.

Mr Scanlon —Yes.

CHAIR —As there are no further questions, I thank you indeed for coming today and for your participation.

[2.37 pm]