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Bushfire hero mayor facing shock election defeat

Statewide

One of Queensland’s most experienced mayors, praised last year for his cool head in a raging bushfire crisis, is in the fight of his political career as counting goes down to the wire in Livingstone Shire outside Rockhampton.

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Bill Ludwig, who was hailed a hero for his leadership when bushland at Bungundarra and Yeppoon was burning out of control last summer, was trailing contender Andy Ireland by more than 800 votes with more than 75 per cent of the vote tallied.

Livingstone Shire is among dozens of local councils still awaiting the final outcome from Queensland Local Government elections that closed across the state at 6pm on Saturday.

With the state in the grip of a coronavirus pandemic that has tightened restrictions on people’s movement and raised alerts on infection transmission, unprecedented numbers of postal ballots were lodged by voters reluctant to gather at polling booths in person at this year’s election.

For that reason, some council results may not be declared for some weeks, with postal votes not required to be returned until April 10.

Based on early trends from tallies lodged with the Electoral Commission over the weekend and into today, Queensland voters appear to have overwhelmingly endorsed the status quo, returning a majority of incumbents on comfortable margins.

Not even a six-figure donation from billionaire Clive Palmer to former State of Origin great Greg Dowling in the Townsville mayoral race could stop a surge of support for incumbent Jenny Hill, who romped home on 49.67 per cent of the vote at the close of counting on Sunday.

Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam said voters had backed incumbent mayors in the major regional centres including Cairns, Townsville, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Fraser Coast, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast.

“So far we have 36 incumbent mayors returned including 14 who were re-elected unopposed,” Hallam said, based on LGAQ analysis of initial results.

“At least 26 new mayors will also be elected, according to the early vote.”

Returning and newly-elected mayors will tomorrow be briefed on their crucial role in managing the local response to the unfolding pandemic and economic crisis.

One of the reasons the Palaszczuk government persevered with Saturday’s elections, despite calls for people to stay home, was the need to have mayors in place to respond to the state disaster declared on March 22.

Government officials will brief the mayors on the disaster tomorrow. Already, libraries and various businesses have been closed, access to parks and beaches restricted, and some councils have been considering acting unilaterally to keep residents safe.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner was elected in his own right on Saturday and has vowed to update the council budget and keep council operating throughout the crisis. Schrinner, the LNP incumbent, defeated Labor challenger Patrick Condren, in the most high-profile electoral contest in south-east Queensland. At a ward level there was a surge in support for the Greens, albeit not enough to affect the LNP’s control of the chamber.

Of the newly elected mayors, seven are councillors stepping up to the top job and three are former mayors or councillors, including former Diamantina Mayor Robbie Dare and former Charters Towers Mayor Frank Beveridge, who both are predicted to win.

Former Logan City councillor Darren Power is on track to lead the council out of administration.

Hallam said at least 12 sitting rural, remote and Indigenous mayors look to be behind on the early vote, in councils including the Southern Downs, Balonne, Murweh, Diamantina, Gympie, Cassowary Coast, Charters Towers, Aurukun, Napranum, Hope Vale, Kowanyama and Cherbourg.

He said a further 22 contests were at this stage too close to call.

“On current trends this would see a quarter of incumbent mayors turn over, potentially the lowest rate in the last two decades,” he said.

“This mirrors research conducted by the LGAQ in the lead-up to the elections which showed community satisfaction and trust in local councils was on the increase.”

While the Ludwig-Ireland tussle may be an unexpected battle, other central Queensland mayors have been safely returned, spearheaded by Margaret Strelow at Rockhampton who claimed 68.4 per cent of the vote from her only rival Chris Hooper.

The other three mayors in the central Queensland region, Banana’s Nev Ferrier, Isaac’s Anne Baker and Central Highlands’ Kerry Hayes were all elected unopposed when nominations closed in February.

In the state’s southeast, former mayor of Scenic Rim John Brent is unlikely to eject sitting mayor Greg Christensen. As of Monday, with 71 per cent of the vote counted, Christensen had received 33.3 per cent of the primary count, with Brent on 25.09 and Tom Sharp on 24.93.

Minor contenders Virginia Price and Christopher Summer had about 15 per cent of the vote between them.

Brent acknowledged to InQueensland that it would be tough for either he or Sharp to win, especially if Sharp preferences were to flow to Christensen as they did in 2016.

Sitting mayor of Maranoa Tyson Golder won’t require any preferences, having secured a whopping 68.24 per cent of the primary vote from contender Rob Loughnan, a former mayor of the western Queensland region who could only muster 19 per cent of the vote. Third challenger David Schefe had 12.7 per cent of the vote with 51 per cent of the ballots counted on Monday.

Hallam thanked Queensland voters for turning out in the numbers they did to have their say in what he described as extraordinary circumstances.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate held his post, as did Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson and Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio, while Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington and Redlands Mayor Karen Williams are still ahead on latest counting.

Elsewhere in the south-east, new mayors have also been elected in Ipswich (Teresa Harding) and Logan (Darren Power) – two councils mired by corruption controversies last term – however the result in Moreton is still too close to call.

The South East Queensland Council of Mayors will hold its first meeting on May 1. That will see every elected local council leader except Tate, who removed the Gold Coast from the organisation, meet to discuss future plans for the region.

“There are a number of serious considerations for the SEQ Mayors,” said the organisation’s CEO, Scott Smith.

“At the top of that list is looking at how councils can support residents and businesses through this challenging time, and exploring whether an SEQ City Deal and the potential SEQ 2032 Olympic proposal are mechanisms to drive long-term economic recovery for the south-east and Queensland as a whole.”

With Sean Parnell

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