We are asserting our independence: Mayor

Noosa Mayor Clare Stewart

By Alan Lander

Mayor Clare Stewart has hit back at former Noosa mayor Noel Playford’s criticism of increased staff numbers in council.

As reported in last week’s Noosa Today, Mr Playford said the council’s staff cost was “far higher than at any time in the history of Noosa Council”, and he criticised newer councillors for not staying on top of wage bill management.

Mayor Stewart said Mr Playford had done an important job in his time by ensuring fiscal rectitude as the council emerged from de-amalgamation in 2014 to validate its independent stance “and we can be thankful for what he did”.

“But we’re seven years past de-amalgamation,” Cr Stewart said.

“Now we are asserting our independence, and I think all the projects we [currently] have are really highlighting that.”

The mayor said the council was now busier than ever.

“We have so many issues on the go. We have short-term accommodation, the CHAT, the Kin Kin Quarry issue, the river which now has a lot of confidence that we can now get right, we’ve got an active business community which is fantastic.

“So we have so many things we are dealing with other than business-as-usual – and we’re coming out of Covid.”

Mayor Stewart said FTE staff numbers in July 2014 were 344.

“In July 2020 we had 375,” she said.

”That’s basically a 10% increase. And if you look at temporary project people, it was 29 in July 2020 then six months later it was 40 – but a third of those were to implement the Tewantin bypass, the new Noosa Plan and capital works [which is] the biggest ever.

“A lot of those plans have to be implemented and you need staff to implement them.”

Mayor Stewart said staff were working at “capacity”.

“I am proud of staff, as are all the councillors. In my 18 months as mayor, I have repeatedly observed personnel going well beyond expectations,” she said.

“The rising to the challenge and going ‘above and beyond’ was clearly evident during Schoolies Week when many of our staff were literally working around the clock.

The mayor said she found Mr Playford’s suggestion new councillors did not “have a handle” on the details was “regrettable”, and that no figures were being hidden, saying the council website now had more detail for those who chose to look.

“We’ve increased transparency and consultation for our budget process – indeed for all our documents through the instigation of ‘Open Council’ on our website and have increased community engagement through our regular community coffee chats,” she said.

“Let me assure Mr Playford we have a handle on things, and we are a council that brings together experience and fresh eyes.”

Mayor Stewart said while it was true much of the council workforce did not live in the shire, it had as much to do with housing affordability as anything else.

“I am sure many of our staff would prefer to live here if they could but housing affordability for workers is such a big issue for many businesses which operate in our shire, including council. We are not immune to this,” she said.

“Fifty per cent of our staff live outside the area, but who can afford to live in Noosa if you haven’t had a house here for 20 to 30 years?

“We’re in an affordable housing crisis.”

The mayor also said location was not a determinant of someone’s values, in response to Mr Playford’s query on ‘Noosa values’.

“I know I consider inclusiveness, honesty, openness, transparency, kindness, hard work, care for the environment, a clean, healthy lifestyle for our families,” she said.

“You don’t have to live in a particular postcode to epitomise these values.”