The Queensland government will change local government election laws retrospectively after the Rockhampton mayor’s unexpected resignation resulted in a succession crisis.
Margaret Strelow stood down after 16-and-a-half years as mayor on Monday after the Council Conduct Tribunal found her guilty of misconduct.
The CCT ruled that she had failed to declare a $1600 trip to an Adani solar plant in Mumbai in 2017.
Anti-Adani activist Chris “Pineapple” Hooper is set to take over as mayor despite receiving just over 30 per cent of the vote to Strelow’s 69 per cent in the mayoral election in March.
Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe will amend laws to allow for a by-election once the new state parliament is sworn in.
“Any vacancies to any mayoral or councillor positions that have recently arisen will need to be filled through a by-election,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This will ensure communities can have a proper vote to determine who represents them.”
Hooper intends to take the job if the government doesn’t change the electoral laws.
“Yeah, no, I’ll take it,” he told reporters.
He said climate change was a priority for him rather than boosting the economy after the pandemic.
Hooper said COVID-19 had encouraged more work from home and a better work-life balance for many people, which he is keen to maintain.
“Some people thought: ‘Well, I’ll get out of the big city and go and live in a country town, and just take it easy and run a little coffee shop, and I can still do me da la da’, you know,” he said.
“And so I think … some people got it, but what they’re trying to do is just get everyone back in and get this economy going so we can pay our whopping debt off.”
Local Government Association of Queensland chief executive Greg Hallam earlier called for the runner-up laws, which he labelled “undemocratic”, to be urgently overturned.
“In council elections past, runner-up candidates have polled in the single digits,” he said.
“A by-election is the best way to ensure the candidates to fill these vacancies have the support of the people they will represent.”
Opposition local government spokeswoman Ann Leahy said Rockhampton’s succession crisis was due to Labor rushing the laws through the parliament earlier this year.
“Voters should decide on who will represent them as mayor in an election – it should not be who comes second or third,” she said.
After the India trip Strelow and Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill announced their councils would fund a $30 million airport for Adani’s Carmichael coalmine.
In return Adani, now known as Bravus in Australia, guaranteed that a majority of FIFO miners and construction workers would come from those cities.
Strelow refuted the CCT’s finding, saying she acted in accordance with her own conscience and on the advice of Department of Local Government officials.
She said her India trip was in an official capacity and the itinerary was drawn up by the premier.
“My refusal to agree that I may have been compromised in some way by the visit is a matter of personal integrity for me,” she wrote on Facebook on Monday night.
“And I cannot with a clear conscience agree that a reasonable person would believe I might have been.”
Strelow said it had been an honour to serve as mayor and she had left the council in a better shape financially than it was when she started.
“I return immediately to private life and ask media to respect my wishes for time to come to terms with this decision and its implications for myself and those I love,” she wrote.