Douglas and Mareeba shires face a super split
THE Douglas and Mareeba shires will go to a referendum in March to decide whether they bear the huge cost of breaking away from the super councils they were forced into five years ago.
Despite economic analysis that shows neither of the breakaway councils would have the financial strength to survive the split, Local Government Minister David Crisafulli said the decision must rest with residents.
Many community members in the shires were celebrating the announcement yesterday after bitterly fighting for independence since amalgamations were imposed by the former Labor Government in 2007.
But they've been warned the splits would come at a high price to ratepayers.
Residents in the former Douglas shire face an extra $701 on their rates notices in the first year if de-amalgamation from Cairns Regional Council went ahead, and another $462 plus inflation every year after that.
In the former Mareeba shire, the first year of de-amalgamation from Tablelands Regional Council would cost ratepayers an extra $872, and every subsequent year will add $240 to rates, plus inflation.
"This is a very rare democratic opportunity, and I think the residents should fully inform themselves to make the most of this mechanism," Associate Professor of Political Science at James Cook University in Cairns, Doug Hunt, said.
"It would be easy for some people to vote on the basis of sentiment, but perhaps a more deliberate and calculated consideration of the issues would be in order."
A report from the state's Boundaries Commission recommended that only the former Noosa shire be granted a referendum on de-amalgamation because none of the other candidates including Douglas and Mareeba would have the finances to stand alone.
The chances of a sustainable future for a Mareeba Shire Council were rated as "unlikely" and a Douglas Shire Council as "highly unlikely".
But Mr Crisafulli believed non-fiscal factors in Douglas and Mareeba, such as the long-standing discontent and a desire to reclaim their own identities, warranted a vote.
"It's whether they think the financial pain is worth the community gain," Mr Crisafulli told The Cairns Post. "People will go into the ballot box knowing that there will be some big costs involved.
"My preference is that the amalgamated entities work, but I don't live in Douglas and Mareeba, where there is a glimmer of hope (for de-amalgamation)."
Friends of Douglas Shire spokesman Robert Hanan said the community was thrilled by the announcement and a referendum on seceding from Cairns Regional Council was "only fair".
"We have been fighting for this for five years, and the issues that we've been encountering since the beginning are getting worse," he said.
Division 10 councillor Julia Leu also welcomed the decision to go to a referendum.
"It's fantastic news and I'm really pleased the Douglas community are finally able to get a say," Cr Leu said.
Former Mareeba Shire Council mayor Mick Borzi, who led the push for de-amalgamation from Tablelands Regional Council, thanked the Newman Government for granting residents the vote denied in 2007.
"This is an opportunity for the people to say, 'Let's come back to a shire that was growing, that is progressive and everyone will benefit from it'," Mr Borzi said.
Referendums will occur in March, on a date to be determined. tag The Boundary Commission's reports are available at dlg.qld.gov.au/bc/.
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Campaign: The decision to allow the Port Douglas to vote on de-amalgamation is a big win for people like Robert Hanan, who have been campaigning for it for 5 years. Picture: TOM LEE