20 March 2024

Letter from the Editor: Bloodbath election result sends unmissable message to council leaders

| Lyndon Keane
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Cape York and the Torres Strait are incredibly stunning parts of Queensland, but they have been brutal to incumbent council members at the 16 March local government elections, with only one sitting mayor likely to stay put. Photo: Lyndon Keane.

Cape York and the Torres Strait boast some of the most stunning landscapes on the planet, but it’s fair to say the region was transformed into a ballot box bloodbath at the council elections on 16 March.

Of the 14 local governments within the Cape York Weekly coverage footprint, five – Weipa Town Authority, Cook Shire, Douglas Shire, Mapoon and Pormpuraaw – knew they would have new chairs and mayors in place come Sunday morning by virtue of retirements, while one – Torres Strait Island Regional Council – will have to wait until 23 March to see which way the cards fall after horrible weather put the kibosh on mobile polling efforts last week. At the time of penning this missive, it looks like only one of the remaining eight councils will return the incumbent mayor to the chamber as communities wait on Electoral Commission of Queensland declarations.

It’s a catastrophic outcome for the remaining seven mayors and many of their high-profile councillors, with preliminary vote counts suggesting dozens may be cast into involuntary political obscurity over the coming days.

READ ALSO Election count set to decimate Cape and Torres mayoral ranks

The results are at odds with the picturesque backgrounds the political battles are being fought on, but candidates – both successful and those currently licking wounds and applying electoral antiseptic – need to take a moment to listen to what the outcome means in terms of a clear, albeit ugly, message from voters.

It’s a mixed bag for vanquished incumbents, with some genuinely allowed to be a bit miffed with the lack of elector support after four mostly strong years in council leadership. Others had no right to be re-elected, with ego, self-interest, and a complete disregard for statutory process and responsibility violently pushing authentic leadership and advocacy into public service bushland somewhere along the way. Strangely enough, the aforementioned ego often smears Vaseline over the lens of political self-reflection, so it’s unlikely many of the outgoing cohort will reach any election summary other than castigating voters for getting it wrong and denying them another four years on the gravy train.

A major change in the council chamber also has the historical tendency to trigger strip-outs in executive line-ups, so you can bet your bottom dollar there are more than a few nervous chief executive officers around the traps hanging on a final declaration. It’s an even better bet a few have already started discreetly removing personal items from their offices and plotting a Plan B after realising their performance – or lack thereof – will no longer be protected by friendly faces and personal relationships on the other side of the boardroom table.

Whoever said local government wasn’t a blood sport?

READ ALSO Letter from the Editor: Campaign mudslinging needs to go, not become the Political Olympics’ latest sport

Democracy isn’t a perfect system and voters don’t always get it right, but Cape York and Torres Strait councils are setting themselves up for failure if the new-look elected representatives don’t heed the screams of unsatisfaction that appear to have driven the 16 March result, not just locally, but across the state. Some extremely visible, big-name council leaders look like they will be forced to hand back their mayoral robes in the wash-up from Saturday, with the trend suggesting voters have simply had enough with inadequate representation from those entrusted to do just that.

It takes a certain personality type to stand up and risk scrutiny and public failure in the name of making their community a stronger, more vibrant place. Congratulations to those who are celebrating election success, and commiserations to those incumbents who have been pummelled to political defeat through no real fault of their own.

For our new Cape York and Torres Strait mayors and councillors, I respectfully offer one piece of advice: listen, learn and lead. In that order.

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