The regions are angry ahead of today's local government elections

Independent candidate Bill Waterhouse at the Majors Creek pub. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Independent candidate Bill Waterhouse at the Majors Creek pub. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The traditional mantra of local government has been roads, rates and rubbish.

But that has morphed into roads, rates and representation for today's local government election as residents in outlying areas of the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council area say they are sick of being treated as the poor cousin to their city counterparts.

And the rates part of the equation will loom large for the incoming council, with its staff recommending rate hikes of almost 30 per cent over the next three years to cover increasing debt.

Big-ticket items such as the new $74 million council chambers in Queanbeyan stick in the craw of residents in the bush areas who'd just like their road fixed.

Greens candidate Katrina Willis in Bungendore. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Greens candidate Katrina Willis in Bungendore. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"The big issue is roads, roads and roads," said Greens lead candidate Katrina Willis, during a visit to Bungendore this week.

"And also representation. There is a feeling that Queanbeyan has been getting all the attention and money because most of the councillors are from Queanbeyan."

Queanbeyan City Council and Palerang Council, which takes in places such as Bungendore, Braidwood, Captains Flat, Majors Creek and Hoskinstown, merged in 2016 but ongoing dissatisfaction with the arrangement could be expressed in the ballot box today.

Seventy-seven candidates are vying for 11 places on the council, with only two of the current councillors expected to be re-elected - current deputy mayor Michele Biscotti and Kenrick Winchester - both being touted as contenders for mayor, the position being voted on by the new council in January.

 Carly Young of Braidwood with children Poppy Mathie, 4, and Taj Mathie, 1. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Carly Young of Braidwood with children Poppy Mathie, 4, and Taj Mathie, 1. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Six current councillors are not contesting the election, including long-standing mayor Tim Overall, who has for many years commanded a voting bloc on the council.

Former Wollongong teacher Bill Waterhouse, a resident of Majors Creek for 20 years, is standing as an ungrouped Independent, seeing today's election as a real opportunity for change and a chance to secure a place at the table for the smaller communities in Queanbeyan-Palerang.

"I haven't stood for anything before. It was just time," he said.

"The way the amalgamation worked, Palerang was absorbed into a big town and they've forgotten about the little places.

"We want to put the regional back into the QPRC because it's been dropped."

Lynne Magus, Trudi Tritschler and Marilynne Darrock in Bungendore. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Lynne Magus, Trudi Tritschler and Marilynne Darrock in Bungendore. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Mr Waterhouse is likely to benefit from an administrative bungle that could have seen a member of the iconic group The Seekers elected to the council.

The Seekers founding member and guitarist Keith Potger, now a resident of Braidwood, is listed with the Group E Independent candidates, led by Braidwood chef Karuna Bajracharya.

The group initially had six candidates, which would have put them boxed above the line on the ballot paper. But when one member was ruled ineligible to run, the group went back below the line, with their chances of being elected made even tougher.

Mr Bajracharya said the group wanted to withdraw from the election, but the ballot paper had already been printed.

With none of the group expecting to be elected, they were now endorsing Mr Waterhouse.

"Bill is one of the good guys," Mr Bajracharya said.

"I would say he's the polar opposite of the people we see in most levels of government in Australia - self-serving, in someone's pocket, with an agenda. Bill is definitely not that. He will look at things objectively."

Mr Potger has declined to be interviewed, preferring to "keep a low profile" in the wake of the bungle. Mr Bajracharya said the popular musician had quickly become an asset to Braidwood - ("He really wants to be part of the community") - and the group had not abandoned all hope of one day sitting on the council. "Maybe we'll try again in a few years," he said.

Young-gun councillor Kenrick Winchester, who lives in the burgeoning community of Googong, has assembled an eclectic group of Independent candidates, from local butcher Peter Lindbeck to the man behind the Victor the Viking mascot, Tony Wood.

But he expects possibly only himself and No.2 on the Group F ticket, Bungendore's Edwina Webster, to be elected to the new council.

A councillor since the amalgamation, Mr Winchester said he sympathised with the disenchantment being felt in the former Palerang Council regions. He said there had been some wins for the outlying areas such as the upgraded Braidwood playground, but agreed there had been "examples where I don't believe council has listened to the community".

Mr Winchester said that included the siting of the new Bungendore High School, an issue which has split the town, with some opposed to it taking up space on a much-used oval.

"It's a mess and a real hot-button issue for the election," the Greens' Katrina Willis said.

Queanbeyan's new $74 million "civic and cultural precinct" is regularly brought up as an example of excess. "You could build two high schools for that," Mr Waterhouse said.

Mr Winchester said he "absolutely" supported the new council building, saying staff working out of up to 11 separate buildings across Queanbeyan was "inefficient and unsustainable". But he agreed the building had "morphed that many times" and might have fall victim to "project creep".

"The new council will need to make some tough decisions regarding the funding of the new head office," he said.

Many people weren't interested in the election ("It's only local government," one woman said).

Braidwood mum Carly Young deferred to her mother Trish Young, a resident of the town since 1965, who was feeling increasingly disenchanted with how heritage issues were being dealt with in the town. "There seems to be no rules, it's just whatever the person at the time decides," Mrs Young said.

Others felt a little more hopeful.

CWA ladies Lynne Magus, Trudi Tritschler and Marilynne Darrock were lunching in Bungendore this week and looking forward to a new-look council, saying roads, the high school site and council transparency were big issues for them.

"We need a council more aware of rural areas, rather than just Queanbeyan," Mrs Magus said

And it wouldn't be an election in 2021 without some COVID precautions. Voters will have to wear a mask and were encouraged to bring their own pen.

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This story The regions are angry ahead of today's local government elections first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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