TWO high profile local mayors will vie to be president of the Local Government Association of Tasmania when the incumbent retires in June this year. Derwent Valley Mayor Michelle Dracoulis and Brighton Mayor Leigh Gray have both put up their hand for the role which has been held for two terms by West Tamar Mayor Christina Holmdahl. At this stage it’s not known if other mayors will stand for the presidency.
If either Mrs Dracoulis or Mr Gray wins it will see the region squarely in the spotlight. Both mayors were soundly endorsed with strong votes at last October’s local council elections. Mr Gray has been on council for 17 years, and the last two as mayor and Mrs Dracoulis has been on council for just under a year.
Derwent Valley Mayor Michelle Dracoulis
Brighton Mayor Leigh Gray
Mrs Dracoulis said she was committed to ensuring genuine need and community sentiment was addressed. “As a state we are often consumed with big-ticket, large scale issues and projects which can arouse all manner of emotion and responses,’’ Mrs Dracoulis said.
“My interest and advocacy is consumed in the grassroots level of representation – are our communities happy and healthy? “Do they have access to the basic Australian rights of healthcare, housing and adequate infrastructure?
“Can the people of Tasmania access an education that is outcome focused and builds the tools of resilience, innovation, respect of self and pride in identity?’’
She also outlined her position on the thorny issue of council amalgamations, which will be the subject of a report to the State Government later this year. In short, she does not think one shape fits all. “Amalgamation is a word that comes up often. It is a concept that delights some and terrifies others,’’ she said.
“To many regional Tasmanians the idea of joining with a council area that has a larger rate base is very attractive, with the assumption that this rate base will automatically flow-on to address the outlying region’s most pressing needs.
“In a blue-sky scenario this would be the case, but in practice council budgets are designed and delivered to the areas of highest need ie: that with the greatest population. “There is precedent nationwide of costly amalgamations followed by costly de-amalgamations which have done little more than to leave a bad taste in the mouth of all who were involved.
“That is not to say I am anti-amalgamation. In instances where councils have the same geography or a shared regional identity or in instances where councils are not able to sustain and deliver due to financial constraints, even after prudent financial management and advice, I support amalgamation wholeheartedly.
“It is important to recognise the difference between a budget deficit and a budget that is unsustainable.’’
She said there were multiple councils across Tasmania that were operating effectively with a deficit due to loans, climate impact or a blow-out of construction costs vs original funding predictions – indeed our own State Government currently has an estimated net operating deficit of $474.6 million for 2022-23.
These deficits need to be addressed and managed but are not in themselves a reason for amalgamation. “I believe the Local Government review will present a raft of recommendations, but within these recommendations will be scope for careful assessment and investigation as to the pros and cons of amalgamation for every council area affected.
“It is of the highest importance that our state’s councillors participate in both the review and the application of its outcomes – as the level of government closest to the people we are both their greatest advocates and their last line of defence.
Mr Gray confirmed to the Gazette he would be standing.