The attendance at the de-amalgamation rally over the weekend has proved to me the strength of will for change. That so many people would come out in support of de-amalgamation indicates that the desire of Stanthorpe residents to de-amalgamate has not lessened with the passage of time.
As Councillors, we are tasked with listening to our residents. Likewise, we are charged to act in the best interests of all residents. This strong support for de-amalgamation has galvanised my position and I will advocate to my fellow Councillors and the Queensland Government in support of de-amalgamation, once the Granite Belt Community Association has provided the supporting evidence that de-amalgamation is viable. I know that in 2007, when the Queensland Government resolved to forcibly amalgamate Stanthorpe and Warwick Shire Councils, residents were deeply opposed to the move. Both the Stanthorpe and Warwick Shire Councils put forward submissions against amalgamation, but they were unsuccessful; as was the submission by the Return Our Shires Action Group in 2012.
The forced amalgamation was traumatic for our communities: everyone lost something and for the most part, the promised economies of scale did not materialise. The size of the local government area was increased; the number of councilors decreased. In addition, the restructures and redundancies that affected Council staff left a long shadow. While some would argue that financial impact on ratepayers should not be a consideration in the Queensland Government’s decision-making on de-amalgamation, it will in fact be the major consideration. In the short term the de-amalgamating council, Stanthorpe, will be required to bear all costs associated with the change: for both the Stanthorpe and Warwick council areas; and will need to prove that its ratepayers can bear this additional burden.
A sound, well-reasoned and peer-reviewed business case is required and content must be factual. The proponents of de-amalgamation need to prove to the State Government that the Stanthorpe economy was being held back by the amalgamation of 2008, and then provide evidence of how it would grow and prosper once de-amalgamated from Southern Downs Regional Council. While ultimately it is the Queensland Government that will be judge and jury, it is clear to me that the strong message of the weekend rally is for de-amalgamation of Stanthorpe from Southern Downs; and I will be calling on my fellow councilors to think long and hard on this issue.If there is clear evidence of benefit to our residents, then Stanthorpe should be allowed to shape its own destiny. The divisions will not go away, and the ill-will within our communities is throwing a cloud over the entire region.