By HARRY CLARKE
NEARLY three months on from the shock resignation of longstanding Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow, sitting councillor Tony Williams has been voted in as the city’s new leader.
Cr Williams, who’s been part of the Rockhampton Regional Council for 14 years, has now been sworn in as mayor after winning 58.76% of the vote after preferences.
The Electoral Commission Queensland declared him the winner some 12 days after residents went to the polls.
“I’m really happy and humbled by the results,” Cr Williams said.
“I think the community has been looking for a steady hand and that’s something that I really put forward in the campaign. It resonated with the community.
“It was a very clean campaign and I’d like to congratulate the other candidates. There was no mud slinging – people just put their best foot forward.
“It was great to see a large number of candidates prepared to put themselves up for public office.”
A snap mayoral by-election had been called when Ms Strelow was embroiled in an alleged misconduct* scandal and resigned last November. It was revealed she’d been gifted a plane ticket in India by mining giant Adani during an international visit in 2017.
The Local Government Act held that in the event a sitting mayor resigned within twelve months of being elected, the mayoral candidate with the second highest number of votes would assume the role.
That poised well known and eccentric local identity Chris “Pineapple” Hooper to become Rockhampton’s mayor, but a controversial, retrospective law amendment by the Palaszczuk Government forced residents back to the polling booths on January 23.
A record 17 candidates nominated, in what became an eventful campaign period that had the Rockhampton region divided over who should be the new leader of its local government.
“Pineapple” managed to secure 12 percent of first preference votes. A strong supporter base rallied behind the self proclaimed “brownie environmentalist”, believing he was unfairly treated by the government’s move to prevent him becoming Rockhampton’s default mayor.
But it quickly became clear the race to the mayor’s office would be between Mr Williams and Russell Claus, an executive director of the neighbouring Livingston Shire Council and formerly of the Rockhampton Regional Council.
The two front runners secured 26 percent and 16 percent of first preference votes respectively.
It’s taken 12 days for the distribution of preferences to be counted, and Cr Williams has emerged victorious with 58.76% of the vote. Mr Claus secured 41.24%.
Cr Williams thanked Rockhampton voters for their support, telling the Caller he would endeavour to provide stable local government as mayor.
“People want to see strong and steady government. Working with our neighbouring council and our state and federal counterparts will be critical,” he said.
“That’s what I want to start with – those friendships, and opening those lines of communication.”
He said his priorities would be to facilitate major infrastructure projects in the Capricorn region as a means of boosting employment.
“The large projects that we have at the moment – like the ring road and the expansion of Shoalwater – they’re all going to come to an end at some point, and we really need to create more long term, sustainable jobs in the region, and that’s really what I want to work with other governments on straight away.”
With $5 million already allocated in the Rockhampton council’s budget for a solar plant feasibility study, Cr Williams said renewable energy projects would be a continued focus.
“What I’d like to do is look at a feasibility study for a large scale solar farm, but also look out reducing our council electricity bill, which is about $6.2 million annually,” he said.
“I’m keen to work with our state and federal governments, as well as private enterprise, to see whether there’s a possibility of setting up a farm to our west. We’ve got plenty of sunshine in the region,” he said.
“Building solar farm close to the networks and the infrastructure really does lend itself to reducing our footprint. Renewable energy is the way forward with that.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated “corruption” scandal instead of misconduct scandal. Country Caller apologises to Ms Strelow.