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The Council-funded Chamber of Commerce gets its campaign hands dirty

One of the more intriguing participants in the whirlpool of local election politics is the Noosa Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  It’s entered the election fray as a no-holds barred backer of one of the mayoral candidates.

The Chamber’s President Ralph Rogers, well known in local LNP circles, gave a glowing endorsement of Mayoral candidate Ingrid Jackson, who – until just a few weeks ago – sat beside him on the committee as Secretary.

Chamber President Ralph Rogers and former Chamber Secretary Ingrid Jackson

Part of his enthusiastic testimonial went like this; 

“Ingrid has a solid management background, has an amazing understanding of local government and truly believes in honest transparent governance to the benefit of all. 

“We are grateful for her contribution to NCCI this last two years and, whilst we are sad Ingrid is leaving us, we admire her courage and tenacity as she takes on this new challenge.”

Ralph Rogers, Noosa Chamber of Commerce

Back in May 2022, about halfway through the term of this Council, an unusual Council decision was made…one that caused considerable debate at the time.  Council handed the Chamber $30,000 of ratepayer funds so it could ramp up its website and become a stronger voice.  It was unusual in the sense that ratepayer funds provided to groups are usually tied to specific community-benefit projects like tree planting, rather than propping up the organisation itself.  This cash was to go straight to the internal operations of the Chamber to beef up its communications.

Read our Noosa Matters coverage at the time here.

Around this time, the Chamber was discarding any notion of it being politically unaligned.  The Chamber’s President was entering the fray on contentious political issues that appeared to have little to do with representing its members.  

For instance, a Council fault line had opened up over the Noosa River Oyster reef project, supported by the ‘pro-environment’ Councillors but opposed by Mayor Stewart and her allies Councillors Lorentson and Finzel.  

Rogers chimed in with a puzzling Chamber media release attacking the river conservation project.

Among the other signatories was Peregian Family and Friends – the Peregian Springs based lobby group set up by then Noosa LNP President Leigh McCready (a close ally of Jackson) and the little band of (mainly) Sunshine Beach front mansion owners calling themselves the Eastern Beaches Protection Association.

And there were other signs that the Chamber was in all-the-way with the LNP Mayor and her allies, Councillors Lorentson and Finzel.  

These three had been assiduously promoting the idea that when other – male – Councillors disagreed with them, and this was a common occurrence, they were being “bullied” and “intimidated”.  

According to regular female Council observers we’ve spoken to there was zero evidence of bullying of the women Councillors.  Senior staff in Council said they saw no evidence of “bullying” and complaints by the women Councillors to the OIA (Office of Independent Assessor) were dismissed.  

Regardless, a few close political allies were repeating the unsupported claims, including – you guessed it – the Chamber of Commerce President.

Council observers were left scratching their heads at this imaginative version of a routine Council meeting where different viewpoints were expressed.  They wondered aloud whether Rogers had been at the same meeting they had witnessed.  It was simply another robust debate, a contest of ideas.

It was about the time of these two partisan interventions that the now very political Chamber received its promise of $30,000 of ratepayer funds for its ‘communications’.

The political artifice of portraying the Council ‘blokes’ as bullies when they ran a counter argument to the closely-aligned and highly organised women Councillors was not new.

A constant stream of these claims was driven in the previous Wellington Council where Ingrid Jackson regularly found herself arguing a very different point of view from most other Councillors.

For instance, the Wilkie camp this week published this graphic of voting in late 2019 to endorse the new Noosa Plan and make further progress on a Local Law to police the proliferation of Airbnb ‘Party houses’ in Noosa.  Jackson was the sole dissenter.  

One of several male Councillors subjected to the stream of ‘bullying’ complaints, Frank Wilkie, made these comments this week.

Baseless claims of bullying during debate and discussion have been, and are, being dismissed by the OIA, after investigators view recordings of live-streamed meetings and interview staff present. 

These findings uphold the principle that expressing a different point of view during debate or discussion is not bullying. 

Candidates seeking office need to understand that they will encounter people who disagree with them.

Deputy Mayor Frank Wilkie

It’s one of the Ironies of local politics that Ingrid Jackson was a strong advocate for live-stream recordings of Council Meetings.  Today, those recordings stand as testament (along with the dismissal of regular complaints to the OIA) that the bullying claims simply didn’t stack up then, or today.

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    A good record of events and the present situation – exactly as I personally know they are. It was a black day for local affairs when Keith and Ingrid Jackson arrived in Noosa some 10 or so years ago. At least so far in this election we have not had threats of litigation for defamation like we did from the Jacksons and Leigh McCready last time. Threats, not because there was any defamation, just to muzzle any opposition. Disgraceful.

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