Ex-MP calls for council audit

Bundaberg Mayor-elect Mal Forman says he will personally go through the council’s financial position.
Bundaberg Mayor-elect Mal Forman says he will personally go through the council’s financial position. Max Fleet BUNMAL

A FORMER federal MP has called for a change of culture and an independent audit of Bundaberg Regional Council, saying it will go broke if it keeps on its current tack.

Brian Courtice, a former Member for Hinkler who sat on the House of Representatives standing committee for finance and public administration from 1987-1993, believes the council pays too high a proportion revenue in wages and has too many administrative staff compared to field workers.

According to the 2010/11 annual report, the council's 888-strong workforce costs $60.63 million to maintain, which represents 46% of the authority's $131.38 million in revenue.

"Sixty million dollars (in wages) is far too expensive for the council to run properly," Mr Courtice said.

"The main focus should be on fixing roads, but that can't be done if you're spending that amount of money on wages.

"It's not sustainable."

He was also scathing about the spread of those 888 employees, with 404 classified as administrative staff and 484 as depot and field staff.

Mr Courtice said that ratio could not be maintained when other service industries operated on ratios of between five and 10 field staff to every one administrative worker.

"The administration itself has had a blowout in bureaucracy and there need to be cutbacks," he said.

"The council should be like a sleek destroyer with a battle-hardened crew; at the moment it looks like the Titanic being run by a bunch of drunken sailors."

Mr Courtice has challenged Mayor-elect Mal Forman to "change the culture of the council and council administration".

"I'm still passionate about the district, and Bundaberg's future is more important than the sensitivities of a few bureaucrats," he said.

"The only way to fix the situation is to firstly recognise that it's broken. A line should be drawn in the sand once the new mayor is signed in.

"(An audit) may cost up to $1 million but unless we do that and get things back on track, we'll go broke."

Mr Forman told the NewsMail he would not rule out an independent audit of the council's finances.

"I believe that's an option we could use, but initially I'm going through it myself," he said.

But he said job cuts were not on his agenda.

"I do believe our staff is our greatest asset, but we will have to keep things under review," he said.

"I won't look at reducing staff levels until we've exhausted all levels of efficiencies.

"I want to bring the best out of the workforce by improving productivity and efficiency."

Mr Forman said he would also look closely at the ratio of administrative to field workers.

Mr Courtice said one way forward was for the council to court "big industry" to the region.

"In my time I've seen three sugar mills, the Burnett Sawmill, Wide Bay Bricks and Humes Pipes all closed down," he said.

"Skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled jobs just aren't there. We need meaningful jobs in industry.

"When a company comes to town, we need to welcome them. Things won't happen unless you physically go out there and get it."

Mr Forman agreed.

"I'll be working very hard to bring new industry to the region, particularly from Gladstone and other mining areas," he said.

"We will need to release more heavy industrial land for manufacturing industries along the Bruce Hwy, especially around Gin Gin and Childers.

"We will increase and improve the application process by reducing red tape."

The NewsMail tried repeatedly to contact council CEO Peter Byrne, but he was unavailable for comment.

The numbers

$60.63M paid out in wages and benefits

$131.38M revenue

888 workers, 404 of whom are administrative

Topics:  audit bundaberg regional council

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