When ‘comms’ crosses the line to become spin

In government at all levels, there’s a blurred line around what is considered a ‘reasonable’ use of taxpayer funded communications teams, and what is simply self-interested politics – campaigning at our expense.

We’ve all seen enough Federal and State Government feel-good ads in which we, the taxpayers, fund party-political spin disguised as “look how hard your government is working for you”. As we approach elections, this trickle becomes a flood.

Here in Noosa, we may be on the same slippery slope. 

“Mayor puts forward solutions for better deal on land valuations”, screamed the Media Release from the Office of the Mayor, after she and Mayor Glen Hartwig – from the Nationals heartland of Gympie – battled the Bruce Highway traffic to meet State Minister Scott Stewart and complain about increased local Land Valuations.

Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwin & Noosa Mayor Clare Stewart

Here is the full list of land valuations in each Queensland Local Government area in recent years.  You will see that Noosa’s increase of 62.3%, while high, is actually well below the top tier increases in other shires like McKinlay (175.9%), Richmond (162.8%), Flinders (153.3%) and Cloncurry (177.8%). 

Noosa and Gympie were also not the only Councils to see new valuations in consecutive years. Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Logan and the Scenic Rim all had the same treatment.

It’s not surprising then that the Minister responsible gave this half-baked Noosa/Gympie delegation short shrift.

On her return, Mayor Stewart said “we put forward a few suggested solutions seeking the process to be reviewed to improve outcomes for councils and the community.”

And “This could involve the state collaborating closer with local councils on decisions to proceed with valuations and taking into account unprecedented situations impacting land valuations.”

Read the full Media Release here.  

In fact, we were none the wiser about precisely what these “solutions” were, why this was all “unprecedented”, or why any of this even matters.  

As Noel Playford recently explained here in Noosa Matters, there is no unbreakable nexus between land valuations and Council rates. As we have seen with our high taxing Council in recent years, they can adjust the rates pretty much as they like.

As we approach the next Local Government election next March, this all has the whiff of campaign politics about it.  While this is not new, some in Noosa are suggesting it’s time Council’s Acting CEO and its Communications Manager began to help unblur that line for the Mayor, and start standing up to the increasingly political use of the Comms team.

To be blunt, if the Mayor – or any other Councillors – feel the need to issue questionable, hyperbolic campaign Media Releases, they should be doing it themselves on their personal social media pages, and ratepayers should not be paying the bill.

For context; when Noosa Council was rebuilt from the ground up in 2014 after de-amalgamation, I advised on and managed the establishment of its communications and consultation structure, including Queensland’s first ‘Citizens jury’ to bolster the community’s voice in Council decisions. Then, as now, there is no simple mechanism to avoid the political misuse of Council Communications other than by scrutiny and challenge from those who don’t like to see the system gamed.


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