Those with an interest in the forthcoming local government elections in Queensland will be aware of the possible effect on the results by the accelerating reform program in the industry here, which may see a continuation of the trend toward higher turnover of elected officials. The trend has been moving in an upward direction over recent quadrennial elections and particularly since 2012.

The commentary by the LGAQ following the 2016 Elections was that a new norm appeared to have been established, with an average turn-over rate  of around 50%. The Association saw the continuation of this trend from the 2012 elections as resulting in a significant loss of experience and knowledge from the ranks of Councillors.

Four years on, the LGAQ analysis and reporting by the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ)had revealed:

  • Of the 77 Councils, 36 Mayors (47.3%) were returned including 8 returned unopposed, compared with 29 (39.7%) in 2012. In other words 52.7% were not;
  • A gender analysis revealed a slight increase in the proportion of female Mayors across the state from around 16% to a little above 20%;
  • 42 sitting Councillors contested the 2016 Mayoral elections of whom only 15 (36%) were elected;
  • Three sitting Mayors stood for election as Councillor of whom two were successful;
  • The proportion of councillors elected from the ranks of non-sitting candidates was 49.8% – slightly less than the record proportion of 51.2% elected at the 2012 polls, but still a very high turnover compared with long term historical trends.

Since the last election there have been 26 by-elections (3 Mayoral and 23 Councillor) resulting in more new faces entering the local government family.

The new trend may be even more evident in 2020, influenced by recent high profile interventions in some large Councils. Since 2016, five Mayors and nine councillors have been charged with corruption and other serious offences and won’t be standing at the 2020 Local Government Elections. A further 16 councillors were dismissed from office in Councils currently under administration and may face a considerable challenge in convincing their electorates to return them – if they nominate.

Looking on the bright side

The Queensland Government’s reform program has done much to educate and regulate those who will form the new councils after March 2020. New institutional arrangements have been initiated to oversee and review the conduct of mayors and councillors and to promote more transparency and accountability in these office holders. This, together with the general optimism displayed by local communities about their capacity to be self-determining about local issues, is encouraging.

As the LGAQ does in advance of Local Government Elections, the Association has released findings from research conducted in January 2020 from 1,000 surveyed individuals across all Local Government types, which showed that, in the eight months from April to December 2019:

a) 60% of Queenslanders indicated they were happy with their Council, with the findings revealing dramatic increases in satisfaction in rural and remote parts of the State;

b) community satisfaction towards local councils is driven by a focus on infrastructure and economic development of their regions; trust in local councils to work hard and do the right thing for their communities; and a perception that local councils are transparent and getting on with the job;

The findings also showed Queenslanders were far more trustworthy of their councils than they were of the Federal and State governments.

We will therefore watch with interest the results of the 2020 elections to see if the trend of high turnover continues.

The calendar of key dates and timelines for the elections can be found at the ECQ website.

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