ELECTION FORUM: Noosa Council candidate Andrew Squires. Photo: Caitlin Zerafa
ELECTION FORUM: Noosa Council candidate Andrew Squires. Photo: Caitlin Zerafa

More election ‘argy bargy’ claims tested as debate heats up

ONE of the most rancorous Noosa Council election campaigns in memory has seen another “misinformation” complaint to the Independent Council Election Observer dismissed as part of the “robust” election debate of claim and counter claim.

The latest was made by Future Noosa candidate Andrew Squires on January 31 complaining about Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington’s alleged “disinformation regarding rural roads”.

An investigation by retired Land Court judge Wayne Cochrane as acting ICEO related to a Noosa News article published on January 2 in which C r Wellington was responding to claims by Future Noosa candidate Karen Finzel that the council was neglecting the hinterland and had offered no explanation for not having a plan to seal the shire’s 200km of unsealed roads. Ms Finzel was also reported as saying it was only a couple of years ago that substantial funds allocated to hinterland roads were diverted to a road in urban Noosaville.

Cr Wellington was quoted as saying: “As for gravel roads, the council would be broke if we were to seal all 200 kilometres of dirt roads in the shire.”

Cr Wellington also denied as “just plain wrong” that substantial funds allocated to hinterland roads had been diverted to Noosaville. “It never happened,” he said.

FUTURE NOOSA:. Left to right: David
FUTURE NOOSA:. Left to right: David "Fletch" Fletcher, Karen Finzel and Andrew Squires who are standing in the next Noosa election under the one banner.

Mr Squires said Ms Finzel had never implied or inferred the 200km of unsealed roads should be improved “at such reckless speed that ‘the council would be broke’,” and that was an “an extraordinary manipulation” of her words by Cr Wellington.

“In my view any reading of the comments by Ms Finzel confirms she was not calling for immediate, uncontrolled spending to seal all 200km of gravel roads in the shire,” Mr Cochrane said.

“However, similarly, the reported comments of the mayor can be read as reflecting the reality of the need for the plans of local governments to be financially prudent and operate within the parameters of the council’s finances.”

Mr Squires alleged Cr Wellington was being misleading by saying there is a plan for the sealing of gravel roads in the hinterland. He claims Council’s June 28, 2019, budget showed no budget for sealing gravel roads over the next 10 years, just the re-sheeting of them.

The ICEO team’s review of the council road funding and its guiding principles for sealing gravel roads found council staff was able to “suitably respond to customer requests for sealing of gravel roads and clearly identify the priority order of the unsealed gravel roads within this program”.

Noosa Council candidate Tony Wellington. Photo: Caitlin Zerafa
Noosa Council candidate Tony Wellington. Photo: Caitlin Zerafa

Mr Squires also alleged Cr Wellington’s rejection that funds were diverted away from hinterland roads to Noosaville was “non-factual”, pointing to the November 16, 2017 review of the council’s 2017/18 budget. He claimed two hinterland road projects, Donnelly’s Rd and Black Mountain Rd, lost funding to Weyba Rd in urban Noosaville.

Mr Cochrane said a reading of that November 2017 budget review “indicates Mr Squires is correct”. However he said there “appears to remain considerable forward budgetary allocations for the Black Mountain Rd project”.

“Cr Wellington emphasised several aspects of the budgetary processes for local governments. Primary among those is that a local government can only allocate funding for the upcoming financial year and cannot commit to spending in future financial years,” Mr Cochrane said.

“Ten-year capital works programs are not commitments to future spending but are, he said, simply a possible forecast of spending that may occur in the future,” Mr Cochrane said.

He said the council has identified the top 30 roads prioritised for sealing and outlines the criteria for assessment and prioritisation.

“Clearly there will remain issues and debate about prioritisation and timing of major projects in a local government area which is both urban and rural,” Mr Cochrane said.

“That is a desirable feature of the democratic process as it is utilised in local government.

“Undoubtedly the issue of the priority and funding to be given to the hinterland roads issue will remain live.

“My concluding view is that, overall, the comments contained in the news article reflect little more than the sort of robust debate, claim and counterclaim about local government priorities which inevitably accompany local government campaigning.”

The ICEO has been set up by the Local Government Association of Queensland to investigate the accuracy of council candidate’s election statements.


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