The Inside Word

November State Politics update

You can almost smell it. You can certainly feel it. Election vibes have begun to permeate the halls of power in Queensland state politics. Conjecture in the media adds to this, but only because there’s something to report. SAS Group advisors are in and out of government, ministerial and corporate offices every day with our finger on the pulse so, we can report the election has taken centre stage. This is our state’s first hit out with a fixed-term election so, it will be interesting to see how the major parties chart their way to October 26, 2024. 

Our next polling day might be a year off, but if you’re seeking to influence Queensland state politics, policy, or election commitments it might be helpful to keep in mind that election day will be with us quicker than you think. Once you factor in Christmas and New Year, Australia Day, Easter, ANZAC Day, the EKKA, school, and other public holidays, we actually only have about 7 months of productive time. Not to mention, once the State Budget 24/25 is tabled in parliament around June, the major parties will already be well and truly in election mode. If you intend to pursue an election strategy, you really need to get that conversation started before Christmas. 

While all the attention in state politics this month has been centred on the major parties and their positions on health, youth crime, home ownership and federal government infrastructure spending, an otherwise innocuous piece of legislation passed parliament in November, which will have a significant impact on local government in our state. 

With no fanfare or media coverage, the Local Government (Councillor Conduct) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 passed into law on Wednesday November 15. The Bill provides for an overhaul of the councillor complaint system and improvements to conflict-of-interest provisions for Queensland local government councillors four months out from state-wide council elections to be held in March 2024.

It’s hard to overstate how important these changes are to creating a sensible and workable councillor conduct regime. The governance and culture of local councils exert significant influence on the governance and culture of local communities. This in turn impacts local decision making on budgets, policy settings, development applications and project approvals. At a time of substantial population growth, SEQ urban sprawl, interstate and international immigration and the Olympics and Paralympics, local government councillors have a major role to play in responding to a complex policy landscape (and the social and economic implications). 

In an effort to shore up council governance and councillor conduct in the face of organisational and interpersonal disintegration in several SEQ councils, in 2018 the State Government created the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) to respond to councillor complaints.

Unfortunately, the process established under the OIA seems to have been focused more on generating complaints than regulating conduct. The OIA had effectively been weaponised by those engaged in petty squabbles and interpersonal disagreements. This not only diminished the culture of local governance and hence the culture of local communities, but it also impeded local decision making on policy, budgets, and projects. Good local people with a lot to offer their communities were also giving council service a wide berth. Hopefully, these reforms will go some way to healing fractured communities and councils at a time when major decisions need to be made on momentous infrastructure projects. 

Finally, while the debate over infrastructure investment has been between state and federal governments, it’s local councils that will bare much of this burden (politically and financially). Mayors and councillors across Queensland report deep disappointment with this month’s announcement to cut federal funding for Queensland infrastructure projects. While the old saying might be, “never stand between a Premier and a pot of money,” it might be helpful to also “never stand between a Mayor and a new road” – especially as we embark upon 18 months of continuous election vibes for local, state, and federal polls throughout 2024 and 2025.

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