As Queenslanders weigh up the necessity for polling tomorrow amid the massive disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, InQueensland has spoken to three former mayors who are coming out of retirement with unbridled enthusiasm in a bid to widen the field for voters.
All three agree they don’t expect an easy gallop to the finish line, and are thankful voters in their jurisdictions will have choice in order to install the best candidate possible based on merit.
InQueensland spoke to Robbie Dare who is standing for mayor of Diamantina Shire, Robert Loughnan who is aiming for the top job at Maranoa Regional Council and John Brent, who hopes to prevail in the Scenic Rim.
Their reflections come against a backdrop of plummeting candidate numbers, as previously reported by InQueensland, and community interest that has been swamped by coronavirus anxiety.
Dare, who quit politics in 2012 due to ill health after eight years as mayor of the far western Queensland region, said his love of the district and its people had forced a change of heart.
On his retirement eight years ago, Dare vowed he would never make a comeback, citing the high demands of local government across a sprawling area like Diamantina, which takes in such iconic outback towns such as Birdsville, Bedourie and Betoota, had taken too large a toll.
He moved to Toowoomba to run a horse and cattle stud, but will return to his home base of Bedourie in his challenge to usurp incumbent Geoff Morton and rebuff challenger Michael Dunne.
“Attending to some of the little things, stuff that can be fixed in half a day makes a huge difference to how people feel about their communities and this is where local government can play such an important role,” Dare said.
“I’m talking about things like replacing old signs and making sure the lights on the town’s tennis court work. Little things maybe, but together they add up and mean a lot to the people who live there.”
If Loughnan succeeds on Saturday he will have devoted more than a quarter of a century to government at the grassroots in the Maranoa region from its largest centre at Roma.
Serving two terms as mayor in a 22-year local government career, Loughnan was ousted in 2016 by current mayor Tyson Golder.
Loughnan, who failed to win LNP pre-selection for the State seat of Warrego in 2014, had a tilt at the seat in 2017 for Katter’s Australia Party, ultimately won by current sitting LNP member Anne Leahy.
Despite his long track record, he concedes he’s the underdog in this contest, but has enjoyed the campaign to put forward his vision for the region.
“I hadn’t given a lot of thought to returning to local government over the last four years,” Loughnan said. “I’d spent some time travelling overseas and running my property through what was probably the worst two years of my life managing things through drought.
“But when the time for nominations drew closer more and more people asked me to consider it and I thought it was important to give voters another option.
“There are very few rural candidates standing in this election and I suspect the drought may have something to do with that.”
At the time of his loss to Scenic Rim incumbent Greg Christensen in 2016, John Brent was south east Queensland’s longest serving mayor, having led Boonah Shire since 1994 and then the newly amalgamated Boonah and Beaudesert councils from 2008.
At the time of his departure he declared that retirement wasn’t an option. He’s made good on that promise by returning to this year’s mayoral race, which also includes a wide field of five candidates for the top job.
“I have a deeply rooted belief in my community and understanding of the best way forward for the community that I’ve served for more than 40 years,” Brent said.
“It’s been my passion and my life and I’ve seen the power of local government change people’s lives for the better as long as leaders are focused on growing job opportunities and connecting with their residents with empathy and are prepared to listen to them and be their champion.”
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