The 2016 local government elections gave all Bribie residents an opportunity to sit back and think about questions like:
- What directions are currently being taken by Council and others that will affect Bribie’s future
- What will a future Bribie look like if these directions continue
- What do Bribie Islanders want to see in a future Bribie Island
- Will the directions currently being taken on Bribie lead to a future that Bribie Islanders want
Recently, a number of Bribie Islanders sat down to discuss those questions with noted author and futurist CM Stout. In these discussions it became very obvious very quickly that the approaches being used today to deal with issues on Bribie are not working. They may have worked in the past. But they are not working today. Local government taxes are rising way in excess of the rate of inflation. Cost of living is rising way in excess of the rate of inflation. Property values on Bribie are still below pre-GFC levels in many cases. Youth unemployment is among the highest in Australia. Business conditions are the worst they have been for ages. And Bribie’s built and natural environments are in steep decline.
Clearly, a new vision is required. The status quo is not acceptable as a go-forward position. But who is going to develop and articulate this new vision for Bribie? And what should it contain? Outlined below are some thoughts of those who met recently to discuss these issues. These thoughts are outlined here in the hope they promote some discussion among readers.
The March 19 Local Government elections provided an opportunity for voters in MBRC to elect a new Council. Is that new Council better able to address the future needs of Bribie? What do MBI readers think? Readers’ views are always welcome.
A VISION FOR BRIBIE – SOME THOUGHTS ON THE SUBJECT
Bribie Island is a sand island at the northern end of Moreton Bay that is only held together by the vegetation that has adapted to these conditions. As a result, Bribie’s natural environment is extremely fragile and just the smallest interference with this natural environment can have major consequences. Approximately 50% of Bribie has been set aside as National Park and these areas are home to a most diverse range of flora and fauna many of which are unique to Bribie.
Bribie is home to approximately 18,000 permanent residents who enjoy the many attractions Bribie has to offer including its relaxed lifestyle, its closeness to unspoiled natural areas, its “sense of community”, and its many community groups and facilities that offer a wide range of educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities.
BRIBIE ISLAND IS FACING MANY CHALLENGES
Over the past decade or so there have been many changes on Bribie. The population has increased significantly. There has been a massive increase in the number of visitors to Bribie. And Council has spent a fortune on capital works. But it is difficult to see any positive impact for Bribie Island residents from these changes. The Valuer-General has downgraded property values by 20% – 50% since the GFC. Despite this decline in property values, rates and other taxes have increased way in excess of inflation. Business owners say that business conditions have never been tougher. There are more empty shops on Bribie now than there were 10 years ago. And the health of the natural environment is in steep decline in many places – as shown, for example, by the loss of as much as 100 metres of foreshore south of Woorim due to erosion caused largely by Council’s inappropriate actions.
As a result of these changes, and the flow-on effects they have had, Bribie and its residents face many challenges. The approaches to these challenges that may have been successful in the past are obviously no longer working. The status-quo is not an acceptable way of moving forward. A new vision of how these challenges should be addressed is urgently needed today. These challenges include:
- Community services – Postal code 4507 has the highest average age of any postal code in Australia. There is a special need on Bribie for services for this portion of the population including medical support, government social services, support for those choosing to live at home, and so on. However, support has declined as a result of consolidation of offices by many support providers. In many cases support providers have moved off-island and those in need of support are challenged to be able to access it.
- Public transport – The availability of public transport is abysmal on Bribie. With only a few exceptions, the current public transport serves little or no purpose.
- Employment – There is little permanent employment available on Bribie especially for the young. Unemployment for Under-25’s is among the highest in Australia. Residents, including school leavers, invariably have to leave Bribie to find employment. Tourism is touted as the solution to this issues but so many of the tourists being actively attracted to Bribie by current efforts bring little or no economic benefit or employment
- Decline of fisheries – Fishing is a major part of the attraction of Bribie and a major contributor to Bribie’s economy. However the water quality of Moreton Bay (and Pumicestone Passage in particular) continues to decline and that has brought a decline in fish stocks. Mangroves provide the breeding grounds for virtually all fish species but they are under threat in many places from development and other inappropriate activity. And shellfish, which are a key to the whole food chain, have virtually disappeared from Pumicestone Passage. The current level of fishing is not sustainable over the long term. Something must be done to improve the fish habitat. Control of fish catch numbers is important, but it is not enough to ensure the survival of the fishery.
- Protection of heritage – Bribie is an important area in the history of Australia in both the pre-contact and post-contact periods. What remains of this heritage, such as its important wartime heritage, is in danger of loss from neglect and/or destruction for development
- Protection of natural areas – Much of Bribie is protected by what should be some of the most stringent environmental controls such as the Ramsar Agreement and its accompanying legislation (such as the Conservation of Migratory Species), the legislation protecting National Parks, and the recently signed Single Species Protection Act. But there is little effort by any level of government to uphold this legislation and as a result Bribie’s natural environment is in steep decline.
- Taxes – The amalgamation of CSC, Pine Rivers and Redcliffe was supposed to bring about efficiencies that would result in lower taxes and better services. The creation of Unity Water is another example that was supposed to deliver the same results. But these amalgamations have had the opposite effect. In order to keep general rate increases in line with State Government guidelines, Council has used “back-door” taxes such as special levies and increases in service charges as a way of paying for the increased costs.
SOME PRINCIPLES THAT NEED TO BE FOLLOWED IN ADDRESSING BRIBIE’S CHALLENGES AND CREATING A NEW VISION
Clearly, something is wrong with the direction Bribie is heading. What has worked in the past is not working now. A new vision is needed. In developing this vision, some guiding principles need to be followed including:
- The needs of Bribie ratepayers need to take precedence over those of visitors
- The MBRC Master Plan needs to be upheld and the requests for variances by vested interests need to be reviewed carefully
- Community consultation should be a way of doing business