31 January 2024

Council elections to continue in displaced Cape communities

| Lyndon Keane
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Despite the overwhelming damage caused by flooding post-Tropical Cyclone Jasper, local government elections will not be postponed in the devastated Wujual Wujal, Cook and Douglas council areas. Photo: Facebook.

The Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) will stick to the 16 March date to hold council elections in communities severely impacted by last month’s devastating flood event, despite not being able to communicate how it intends to ensure fairness for candidates and voters.

While the makeup of Queensland’s 77 local governments are scheduled to be decided in 47 days, there are concerns infrastructure damage and resident displacement around the Bloomfield Valley and Rossville areas will not allow candidates to effectively campaign, nor guarantee electors easy access to a polling booth.

The three most impacted communities – Wujal Wujal, Degarra and Ayton – are located within separate local government areas, with many residents displaced and unsure when they will be able to return home.

An ECQ spokesperson told the Cape York Weekly the organisation was working with stakeholders “to help support impacted residents to participate in the 2024 local government elections”.

“This includes working through election service delivery arrangements,” the spokesperson said.

Wujal Wujal was the hardest hit of the three areas and, despite community members being unable to return, the ECQ spokesperson said “there are no plans to amend the election timetable for the Wujal Wujal local government election”.

“Over the next few weeks, we will ensure our planned voting services are accessible for residents and communicate those plans to affected residents through various channels,” the spokesperson explained.

Despite the assertions, there are no specifics about what the plan may look like on the ground, with Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council acting chief executive officer John Kelly parroting the ECQ response.

“Our commitment to the wellbeing of those affected by Tropical Cyclone Jasper is unwavering and transcends administrative boundaries,” he told the Cape York Weekly.

“This recovery is a marathon not a sprint, it will take some time. Everyone is working hard to get the Wujal Wujal community back home as soon as possible.

“Council will work with the ECQ to ensure planned voting services are accessible for residents and communicate those plans to affected residents through various communication channels.”

Cook Shire Council mayor Peter Scott, whose local government boundary incorporates Ayton, admitted there were hurdles to delivering an election on 16 March following the flood devastation, but added he believed it could be done.

“While we acknowledge the unique challenges our communities face, we remain committed to ensuring a smooth electoral process,” he said.

“Our priority is to uphold the democratic process while being responsive to the needs and circumstances of our communities.

“At this stage, we don’t believe there’s the need to delay the local government elections.

“We encourage all interested candidates to participate and we are actively exploring measure to facilitate broader community engagement in the process.”

Candidate nominations opened on 29 January, 2024 and close at 12 pm on 13 February, 2024, while voters have until 5 February, 2024, to ensure they are on the electoral roll to have their voice heard.

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