Local Government Legislation (Validation of Rates and Charges) Amendment Bill 2018

by Ted Sorensen
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My speech in Parliament yesterday

(Hervey Bay—LNP) (12.46 pm): I rise to contribute to the debate on the Local Government Legislation (Validation of Rates and Charges) Amendment Bill 2018. This amendment bill seeks to provide retrospective rules to rates and charges issued over a number of financial years by the Fraser Coast Regional Council after a determination by the Supreme Court of Queensland on 6 November 2017 to uphold a decision in the case of Linville Holdings Pty Ltd v Fraser Coast Regional Council.

During the financial years 30 June 2015 to 30 June 2016 and 30 June 2016 and 30 June 2017, the Fraser Coast Regional Council failed to make valid levied rates and charges within its local government area through processes that should have been followed with correctly worded resolutions. Section 107A of the Local Government Act requires a resolution to adopt the council budget and for it to be adopted in accordance with section 91(2) of the Local Government Act 2009. That did not happen.

This amendment bill says that the Fraser Coast Regional Council can validate its rates, charges and levies for all financial years up to and including the financial year ending June 2018. In his introductory speech for this the Minister for Local Government said—

The bill also declares that anything done, or to be done, in relation to the rate or charge is as valid as it would have been or would be if the local government had decided to levy the rate or charge by resolution at the local government’s budget meeting for the financial year.

The amendments are aimed at providing clarity to local governments and to the communities they serve so that local governments can continue to function effectively and with financial certainty in providing essential services.

Someone might think it is not rocket science, but I am not sure everyone is thinking like that. I ask the Minister for Local Government, Mr Stirling Hinchliffe, some really simple questions. Minister, where is the audit report? I know that most probably the answer you will give me will be—

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Pugh): The member will direct all comments through the chair.

Mr SORENSEN: I know what the answer will be: the Auditor-General deals with the financial side, he does not have to worry about the legal side. The Fraser Coast Regional Council spends around $240,000 to audit its books and to make sure that everything is in order. An awful lot of money is paid to the Auditor-General to do this job. For three years nothing happened. We have to look closely at that. Does the Minister for Local Government believe that this type of amendment bill, posturing as a cover‑up, will actually work? The Fraser Coast Regional Council pays the LGAQ about $400,000 a year for training and support of councillors. In its submission the LGAQ says it is—

“assisting councils to ensure future council rating resolutions comply fully with said provisions. The Association is in the process of preparing template best practice rating and budget resolutions which will be made available to all councils and will hold a Ratings Masterclass at a date to be determined in April or May”.

Why has it not done that in the past? This legislation was in in 2009. It is 2018 now. Why is the council paying them $400,000 a year?

Mr Pegg: Because of the court case. Have you read it?

Mr SORENSEN: It was in in 2009. Why have they not done it in the past?

Mr Pegg: It was 2017.

Mr SORENSEN: The Fraser Coast Regional Council is made up of the Labor Party six‑pack and the conservative five‑pack. The Labor Party six‑pack is two solicitors plus a police prosecutor.

A government member: You’ve just got no‑one.

Mr SORENSEN: That is right, we do not have anyone. They control the council. How is it that two lawyers on the council did not pick this up? This goes back three years. It is total incompetence. It is terribly embarrassing. At the end of the day we have the report of Mr Stephen Johnston that states that the previous council was in trouble. The key findings state—

Most staff wished to discuss broader organisational cultural issues. The common theme from these meetings was that there was a ‘culture of control, favouritism, a lack of trust, a fear of reprisal, low morale and a toxic working environment.

It does not matter what the organisation is, it has to have good people, but the good people in this council were sacked.

Ms Grace: Who by?

Mr SORENSEN: The CEO at the time. There should have been warning bells ringing then. There have to be people with the ability and the credentials to carry out this work. The report by the government should have started alarm bells ringing.

Mr Saunders: It was done by the council.

Mr SORENSEN: The final report was done by Stephen Johnston. At the end of the day the warning bells were ringing. I could hear them. At the last election the council had $200 million in the kitty. Where was that in the audit? It still has $170 million and nobody can tell me what it is for. We have high unemployment in our area and the council has $170 million. I will say it again: $170 million in the kitty! Nobody heard the warning bells. This bill has been introduced to cover up total incompetence from the department down. Thank you.

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