Southern Downs Regional Council area.
Southern Downs Regional Council area. Contributed

'Warwick's poorer cousin': Group pushes for de-amalgamation

NEWS from the south has told of a Stanthorpe group who want to see a return to the "good old days".

Reports on Monday said the Granite Belt Community Association had been investigating the possibility of de-amalgamation.

The group is planning to organise a petition and a public rally to attempt to prove support for the idea.

President Alan Colyer said de-amalgamation was the wish of the community.

"It needs to happen, primarily because of the way Stanthorpe is being treated," he said.

"I don't believe the council is even remotely listening to the people of Stanthorpe and we're getting left behind.

"We're always shown to be Warwick's poorer cousin."

Mr Colyer said anything was worthwhile if you were willing to pay for it.

"Of course the mayor will say it will be too expensive for us," he said.

"We're not willing to tell you or anybody where we are up to with this, but it would be presumptuous to say it can't happen.

"It's happened elsewhere, why can't it here."

Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie said de-amalgamation was something that needed to be broached at a state government level.

"The Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs manage amalgamations and de-amalgamations and it's an issue for them," she said.

"I'm not aware specifically of the issues the Granite Belt Community Association has.

"They have been previously invited to meet with council to address their concerns but they declined saying they did not want to meet with us.

"That's an open invitation, it always has been but if they wish to look into de-amalgamation then they'll need to take that up with the state government."

Cr Dobie said there was no doubt the 2008 amalgamation brought many changes to the region.

"It's not the first time it's happened, like the amalgamation of Warwick, Allora, Glengallan and Rosenthal shires into the Shire of Warwick in 1994," she said.

"But in 2008, Stanthorpe Shire campaigned heavily against amalgamation in the lead up to the forming of the Southern Downs Regional Council."

The mayor at the time was Ron Bellingham and he said the amalgamation was handled poorly by the state government.

"It was essentially a desktop exercise," he said.

"There was no consultation with local government, we were basically being threatened with amalgamation and the end result was it being imposed on us from above.

"Certainly not autonomous, a child of the state government and it was appallingly handled really."

Mr Bellingham said the process of amalgamation essentially removed all state government funding to local govenrment.

"It was their belief we were now big enough to look after ourselves," he said.

"There was a fairly large impact on smaller councils and a severe impact on their ratepayers.

"In the light of the financial situations imposed, I think de-amalgamation would be extremely challenging.

"To financially survive in the climate that has been created would be nearly impossible."

Mr Bellingham said the original amalgamation of the Warwick, Allora, Glengallan and Rosenthal shires in 1994 was done after a huge amount of public consultation.

"Even so, afterwards Allora wanted out, but lost the public vote," he said.

"Because of the finanical implications.

"Warwick and Stanthorpe are very different places in so many ways, but they complement each other wonderfully."

As for the process of de-amalgamation, Cr Dobie said she hadn't approached the state government for specifics about the process.

"My understanding is there would need to be a referendum across the whole region, and public support for de-amalgamation would need to be replicated across the whole of the Southern Downs not just Stanthorpe," she said.

"Personally I think the community of Stanthorpe would be worse off under de-amalgamation.

"For instance, Stanthorpe like Warwick, has a lot of old infrastructure that will need to be replaced or upgraded in the coming decades.

"Stanthorpe is a very small area and has a very small number of rate payers, so that and major cost issues would need to be seriously considered."

Cr Dobie said in the ten years since amalgamation there had been as much investment in the Stanthorpe area per capita as there had been anywhere else across the region.

"I think another thing that needs to be considered, when they talk about the 'good old days', the local government act was changed in 2009, so what people might remember from before will not be able to be replicated now because the governance of councillors and council staff is quite different.," she said.

"After the 2008 election, the Liberal party did look at those councils in Queensland that wanted to de-amalgamate.

"There were five and four were approved, Stanthorpe put forward their case but were knocked back."

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