(L to R) Whitsunday Regional Council Division 6 councillor Mike Brunker, Division 5 councillor Gary Simpson, Division 2 councillor Al Grundy, Mayor Andrew Willcox, deputy mayor and Division 3 councillor John Collins, Division 1 councillor Jan Clifford and Division 4 councillor Michelle Wright. Picture: Jordan Gilliland
(L to R) Whitsunday Regional Council Division 6 councillor Mike Brunker, Division 5 councillor Gary Simpson, Division 2 councillor Al Grundy, Mayor Andrew Willcox, deputy mayor and Division 3 councillor John Collins, Division 1 councillor Jan Clifford and Division 4 councillor Michelle Wright. Picture: Jordan Gilliland

Council calls for bold changes in future elections

A LONG list of frustrations stemming from the latest election has driven the Whitsunday Regional Council to seek better “value for money” from the Electoral Commission Queensland, including the option to hold elections independently.

Among the issues included was a lack of communication from the ECQ in the lead up to the poll, confusion over polling booths and election material and, a delay in the publication of results.

The letter, which was endorsed by council during their ordinary meeting yesterday, also questioned the value of the ECQ’s services because of the problems that arose during the election.

“Council is unsure of the cost to be billed and do not see value for money for the estimated $236,000 for this service,” the letter read.

“Considering that less than 3000 voters cast their vote in each division, the unexplained delay in counting and distributing preferences is unacceptable, especially when council was trying to provide community leadership; deal with the effects of COVID-19; and expects to pay the ECQ around $236,000 for conducting the elections.

“Council must seek value for money and promote open and effective competition when purchasing, but council does not see these principles when paying for election services from ECQ.”

The letter also indicated the council was “unsure” whether the ECQ would provide a rebate on the election as the seat for mayor and Division 6 were unopposed, resulting in a “reduced scope of the election activity”.

Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Andrew Willcox Picture: Jordan Gilliland
Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Andrew Willcox Picture: Jordan Gilliland

Mayor Andrew Willcox echoed the concerns of the letter, saying concessions should be made to account for the fact less services were required in this year’s election.

“The biggest workload is counting the mayoral vote because the mayor is in all divisions and it was uncontested,” he said.

“Division 6 was also uncontested, so is there something there that we can get (back) because the ratepayers pay for this.

“We’d like to have that taken into consideration and have the process cheaper.”

The council’s letter also floated the idea that future elections could be run independently of the ECQ.

Council recommended that legislation be changed that would allow tenders for the provision of election services.

Cr Willcox said this would mean “independent groups could put their hand up to say they could do it”.

However, among Cr Willcox’s biggest concerns regarding the election was the delay in publishing the results.

“The website just wasn’t updated,” he said.

“The ECQ has got one job to do and that’s run the election, so they need to do that.

“It was very frustrating for the residents of the Whitsundays, the fact they couldn’t get reliable and accurate information.”

The ECQ responded to several of the issues raised in public submissions and accepted the “delay in publishing results on election night is unacceptable”.

“The delay was due to issues with the data feed to the website from results reported from returning officers,” the response said.

“This did not affect the progress or integrity of the count being undertaken in individual councils under the direction of the responsible returning officer or polling booth supervisor.”

The Electoral Commissioner of Queensland Pat Vidgen also responded to a group of complaints collated by the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee regarding the cost of elections.

The ECQ responded to several of the issues raised in public submissions and accepted the “delay in publishing results on election night is unacceptablePhoto: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily
The ECQ responded to several of the issues raised in public submissions and accepted the “delay in publishing results on election night is unacceptablePhoto: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily

In his response, Mr Vidgen stated that councils across the state were made aware of the cost almost a year before the election.

“In April 2019, every local government was formally advised of estimated costs, and an itemisation of actual costs is currently being prepared for each council,” he said.

“The estimated average cost per elector for the local government elections is $8.63. This compares favourably with elections in other jurisdictions, including the 2016 federal election ($18.28 per elector), the 2014 Victorian election ($11.32 per elector) and the 2017 Western Australian election ($11.61 per elector).

Mr Vidgen also addressed calls for independently run elections, saying the ECQ were important in ensuring the integrity of council elections.

“The ECQ has administered local government elections since 2008. This decision was made by the then government on the basis of the need to ensure impartiality, objectivity and transparency in the conduct of local government elections, and to resolve an inherent conflict with council officials conducting elections for their political representatives,” he said.

“At every election since, some local government stakeholders have advocated for a return to locally run elections.

“This view, which the LGAQ again advances, does not accord with views expressed to the ECQ by a great many local governments, which it engaged with during these elections.

“While this is a policy matter for government, it is noted that significant law reform has been required in recent years to address transparency, corruption (real and perceived) and conflict of interest matters identified in the local government sector.

“The ECQ notes that efficiency and effectiveness arguments are proffered to support locally run elections and reference made to the lower cost of elections prior to 2008.

“This does not take into account full end-to-end service delivery costs nor the ECQ’s role as a regulator which continues before, during and after elections.

“On this note, I can confirm to the (Legal Affairs and Community Safety) committee that during the 2020 elections the ECQ was required to investigate a number of matters relating to the conduct of candidates; it is difficult to see how councils themselves could realistically manage this essential part of the electoral system.”


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