Noosa 2024.  Optimistic winners, sour losers as voters reject ‘The Big Election Lie’

There’s a sense of cautious optimism about Noosa after a rancorous election campaign that this end of the Sunshine Coast is becoming infamous for.  Optimism, that is, if you discount some of the bitterness shown by one or two candidates rejected by voters.

The last four years in the life of our Council has bordered on dysfunction as it contended with the onset of Covid, a CEO who took a better offer after just 14-months in the job, a crippling inability to find and retain good senior staff, an ambitious mayor with no Local Government or management knowledge looking for a springboard into State politics…and an increasing ‘politicisation’ of the elected Council.

It was a recipe for a Council that barely limped through those four, long years.

Can this Council turn things around? Many people think it can.

This is the shape of our new Council.  At first glance it appears pretty well balanced; Frank Wilkie -an experienced and measured hand as Mayor with a record of putting residents and the environment first, the return of four sitting Councillors, Amelia Lorentson, Karen Finzel, Brian Stockwell and Tom Wegener, and two newcomers – former police officer Jess Phillips and Nicola Wilson who will bring some much-needed financial and analytical skills to the Councillor’s table.

Most of all there’s hope that Council staff will once again be given a clear direction and mission. A sense of where the good ship Noosa is actually heading.

Frank Wilkie’s victory was an emphatic one with 40 percent of first preference votes, 5,772 votes ahead of Ingrid Jackson and 6,601 ahead of third placed Nick Hluszko. 

There’s no second prize in the race for Mayor.  Local Fitness Centre owner John Morrall took the loss in his stride.  Back in 2008 he starred in the reality TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’.  This time he took Noosa’s prize as The Most Gracious Loser.

Not so the other two in the Mayoral race, Nick Hluszko and former one-term Councillor Ingrid Jackson.

The bitterness from both was palpable.

Ms Jackson complained she’d been “smeared, derided and attacked”, her campaign signage stolen and defaced and volunteers reported being intimidated.  This now familiar ‘victimhood’ narrative was at odds with many volunteers who said the worst behaviour by far – both online and in polling lines – was directed at Wilkie, Wegener and Stockwell. 

The Jacksons have attacked this publication – naturally – and Noosa Today and its veteran journalist Phil Jarratt for daring to write about a version of the campaign that was not always flattering to the Jackson narrative.  The local paper actually did a pretty decent job in difficult circumstances trying to be fair to all candidates in a combative campaign.  It’s not easy running a local paper at times like these.

In defeat, the Jackson rhetoric only got worse.

As the frontrunner, Frank Wilkie achieved 40 per cent of the primary vote, I guess he’ll become mayor knowing that 60 percent of the shire didn’t want him.

Ingrid Jackson

If you apply this logic to Jackson herself, over 76% of voters did not want her in the Mayor’s office.

But, as we all know, voting doesn’t work that way, especially in local government where you’re lucky if half of the voters even recognise your name, let alone have a strong preference for or against you.

Hluszko, one of the architects of the fabrication that there was some sinister threat lurking to lock motor boats out of the Noosa River, was equally bitter.

To me this (the vote) is a clear indication of how divided the community still is. When there is no clear people’s mandate, reuniting and leading the community will be extremely difficult, if at all possible.

Nick Hluszko

And he issued what sounded very much like a threat.

It’s hard to see a great deal of positivity here, especially if he (Wilkie) continues the same policies and management, as has been in the past. I truly worry there will be ongoing problems and even possibly backlash on key issues.

Nick Hluszko

It’s worth noting that in races much tighter than ours, such as the Sunshine Coast Council battle just to our South – there’s been no such rancour or talk of “divided” communities. And of course in 2020, when Mayor Tony Wellington lost by just a few hundred votes to a candidate who outspent him ten-to-one, he delivered the most gracious of concession speeches.

Two candidates we didn’t expect to land ‘below the line’

There were two losses that surprised some observers.  Local tradie and well known recycling and waste management advocate Joe Jurisevic has been on Council since 2014, voting consistently in support of environment and resident-first issues.  This time he fell victim to his own low-key, no corflute, no letterboxing campaign.  If only the personable Joe could have cloned himself to appear at every polling centre, at all times, he may have won.  

At the other end of the spectrum was Noosa’s most prolific self-publicist, Leigh McCready.  She was rejected as the LNP’s candidate for the seat of Noosa last year, a role eagerly snapped up by departing Mayor Clare Stewart. 

Ms McCready has not shaken off her management role in the Future Noosa Team debacle in 2020, when the Independent Council Election Observer (ICEO) found she was a property developer despite “false and misleading” claims by the group to the contrary. 

The local LNP branch decided to pass, and so too did the voters of Noosa this month – despite a sea of signage and by far the most expensive campaign by a Councillor candidate. No doubt we haven’t seen the last of the very ambitious Ms McCready. 

Our ‘Jess Glasgow’ award for cringeworthy politics goes to …

Named in honour of one of Noosa’s most embarrassingly bad local Councillors, the Jess Glasgow award for cringeworthy politics in this campaign was tightly fought.

Ex Noosa Councillor Jess Glasgow, thrown off ‘The Batchelorette” in 2019

A close runner-up was Mayoral contender Nick Hluszko who did not see any problem with one of his North Shore neighbours, former Deputy Mayor and convicted child sex offender Frank Pardon being one of the official nominators for his candidacy. A breathtaking lapse in judgement from someone who wanted to run our Council.

Another contender was Tourism Noosa and its belligerent attempt to pressure candidates into declaring their support for a continuation of the large ratepayer subsidy paid to prop up their marketing and admin.

But our Glasgow Award goes instead to Hluszko’s fervent supporters, Craig ‘Chicko’ Vella and Andrew McCarthy.

‘Chicko’ Vella (L) Nick Hluszko and Andrew McCarthy (R)

Employing their ‘good ol’ boys’ shtick that goes over well with some who don’t follow local politics too closely, Vella and McCarthy ran “The Big Lie” of this campaign; that those nasty environmentalists were trying to take away their motor boat access to the river.  

No-one really believed this BS, not even the two central purveyors of it, but it fitted the narrative of who they wanted in their Noosa Council.  This became clear, when in mid campaign, they pivoted from the lie that Frank Wilkie and others were trying to lock motor boats out of the river, to the vague claim that “future” councils could still do this somehow if a river Conservation Park was declared.

It was all nonsense, but they found a small but committed group from their Boating and Fishing Alliance to stick How-to-Vote Cards in the faces of as many voters as possible.  But what was this pair really selling?

Good Night Noosa, an STA business or a political front?

This brings us to Vella and McCarthy and their day job.  When these two aren’t busy trying to stack Noosa Council they run a little business called Good Night Noosa, established in 2022 to profit from the explosion of Short Term Accommodation businesses in Noosa. 

In essence, they act for absentee property investors – mostly interstate or in Brisbane.  For a fee, they provide a contact point when frustrated neighbours complain about STA party houses via a 24-hour hotline required by Council’s local laws.  In other words, these two have a significant vested interest in Council policy, and in having as many STA investors on their books as possible.

Now, it could be pure coincidence that the candidates they and their group gave material support to were known as being relatively ‘soft’ on STA. (The one exception was Jess Phillips who they supported even though she had no stated public position on STAs)  

Andrew McCarthy with Cr Karen Finzel (L) and Cr Amelia Lorentson (R)

Each of the Councillors they attacked with fabricated stories was known to be ‘tough’ on STA control and policing, specifically Mayor-elect Wilkie and Councillors Wegener and Stockwell.

Coincidence? Or is this a business profiting on Council decisions using a ‘boating’ group to advance its aims?  

Either way, these two good ‘ol boys win our inaugural Glasgow Cringeworthy Crown.  Congratulations gentlemen.

What’s next for Noosa Council?

You can almost hear the sigh of relief amongst some Council staff at the prospect of a new Mayor and, hopefully, a more collaborative Council.

Senior staffers remember when, not so long ago, planners and academics from around the world used to call them asking what was the secret to Noosa being such a balanced, environmentally-protected place with a Council in tune with those aspirations.  

Those calls have stopped.  

It’s too early, but there’s hope this new Council can restore some balance, some civility, and an agreed course that puts residents and the environment – once again – at the front of their decision making process.  

Maybe, once again, this Council can help the world notice that Noosa is different.

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    Thanks to all at Noosa Matters for consistent and accurate reporting on this election. The result is a good one given the efforts of “the dark side” and Noosa will be a better place to live thanks to you.

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