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Region split our call, says mayor

Mayor Peter Blundell
Mayor Peter Blundell Glyn Rees

A PETITION with nearly 7000 signatures in support of the de-amalgamation of Warwick and Stanthorpe would be needed to start the process off, under rules released by the State Government yesterday.

Upholding a promise to give councils which merged in 2008 under the Bligh Government the option of splitting, the LNP government of Campbell Newman yesterday appointed a Boundary Commissioner to oversee the process.

Former Mackay Mayor Col Meng has the unenviable task of guiding councils which choose to break up through the potentially messy business, with Local Government Minister David Crisafulli saying it could be "brutal".

A referendum would be held next year in council regions where 20 per cent of residents support putting it to a vote, through the signing of a petition.

The referendum would then need to deliver at least 51% support for de-amalgamation and councils would have to bear the full cost.

Mayor Peter Blundell yesterday said the petition would need to be instigated by the community.

"We would not be pushing it from within council," Cr Blundell said.

"Personally, I feel it would be too difficult and costly to de-amalgamate, but I've said all along council will be guided by the community.

"If people wish to go down that path we'll listen."

With the Southern Downs population standing at around 34,500, a successful petition would require roughly 6900 signatures, which the mayor described as a "significant" amount.

He also urged caution given the likely stratospheric cost of breaking up the forced Warwick-Stanthorpe merger.

"As well as a cost to de-amalgamate, there would be a cost involved in working how much it would be," Cr Blundell said.

"I think we also need to consider what going back to being two small councils would mean when it comes to effectively lobbying higher levels of government."

The mayor said he was only detecting a small level of support for de-amalgamation at both ends of the region.

Former Stanthorpe Shire councillor and amalgamation opponent John Boucher last night said a lot of people at the Granite Belt end of the region would still prefer to be a separate shire.

But he said getting 20 per cent of the region's overall population to initiate a referendum could be a tough ask if the cost of a split was felt to be "onerous".

"It really depends on what sort of cost it would entail," Mr Boucher said.

"They've had one term to achieve greater efficiencies and it doesn't seem to have happened.

"I think the region is just too big - the councillors are spending a huge amount of time simply travelling to and from meetings and visiting constituents."

Local Government Association of Queensland president Paul Bell yesterday welcomed Mr Meng's appointment as Boundary Commissioner, but warned de-amalgamation would be "no bed of roses".

"The high cost will certainly have residents thinking twice before they tick a box saying they want to go back to the way things were before," Cr Bell said.

Queensland councils which have foreshadowed a possible de-merger include Noosa and Port Douglas, with Redcliffe keen to secede from the Moreton Bay Regional Council, which could cost as much as $8 million alone.

Topics:  de-amalgamation, mayor peter blundell



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