20 March 2020, By Stephanie Zillman
When Amy Glade moved back to Australia in 1986 after years of working abroad for the World Bank, she chose Capalaba in Redlands City, southeast of Brisbane, for the koalas.
- Local council elections will have less staff manning polls due to COVID-19
- Key issues in Redlands city include congestion, road infrastructure, public transport, Toondah Harbour and the environment
- Residents fear not enough is being done to conserve koala habitats
“What attracted me wasn’t the house, it’s a pretty ordinary house. It was that the trees were full of koalas,” Ms Glade said.
But that was then, and times have changed.
“Sometimes I ask God why did he send me here; to watch all of the local wildlife disappear?”
The koala population in the Redlands once numbered in the thousands, but is now thought to be as low as a few hundred.
Ms Glade said after decades of lobbying successive Redlands councils to limit development and do more to protect the natural environment, she had grown despondent about having a say on local issues.
“It’s a waste of time to go to council to speak up, because the decisions have already been made, and everything is a done deal,” Ms Glade said.
“You don’t stand a chance. The decisions are made, and the public, the ratepayers, taxpayers – they’re not heard.”
Mayor confident of re-election
The incumbent mayor of Redlands City, Karen Williams rejected the suggestion she, or her council, had not listened to the concerns of locals.
As Redlands City goes to the polls on March 28, Ms Williams said she believed her record as mayor for the past eight years would see her re-elected.
“Government is complex,” she said.
“There are decisions we have to make that are not always clear and obvious to people based on the information that’s before you.
“I’m certainly committed to making sure we can be more transparent, as transparent as possible.”
Ms Williams said the region is under pressure from the State Government to help house people for south-east Queensland’s projected population growth.
She said there were ways they were trying to do better for the local koala population, like setting up a local clinic for rehabilitating injured wildlife.
However, Ms Williams said she blamed the State Government for not protecting enough of the area under the act.
Coastal lifestyle under threat
Some of issues that matter to locals going into the poll are plain — congested roads lined with “watch for wildlife” signs for example.
Others are less tangible, and relate to a perception the “coastal lifestyle” of Redlands is being eroded by too many people, and too much development.
“It’s interesting that people have this, I guess assertion that growth is far greater than it ever has been, [but] if you look back over previous administrations, in fact the growth over my time has been less than many mayors before me,” Ms Williams said.
She said the State Government did not invest in new roads and she often unfairly bore the brunt of the community’s anger about the issue.
“Obviously the lack of infrastructure delivery, particularly by the state, exacerbates that lifestyle issue and there will be no-one out there who says I haven’t been banging the table about fixing our roads, our public transport, and our duplication of the railway.”
No public transport to famed winery
A major tourism destination in the Redlands is Sirromet Winery, and its General Manager Rod Hill said with up to 300,000 tourists visiting the venue every year, high-quality roads and public transport were essential.
“I think one of the big opportunities for the region is to improve public transport,” he said.
“There is no public bus service that even runs down Mount Cotton Road.
“Yet if you look at traffic numbers, it’s probably one of the busiest roads in the region.”
Mr Hill said Sirromet had a “good relationship” with the council but it was impossible to grow tourism in the region without improved infrastructure.
“You have the ability to get the right infrastructure in place, to service a market in a sustainable way that is long lasting and beneficial to the region,” he said.
Opposition campaigning on ‘overdevelopment’
At the height of opposition over the Toondah Harbour development plans, locals set up a community group called Redlands2030 to scrutinise and pressure council.
In the leadup to the election, the group organised two open forum sessions with council and mayoral candidates.
“It gives the people a chance to listen to what the candidates have to say, I think that’s more important than just watching Facebook ads for a couple of minutes,” Secretary Chris Walker said.
“It’s about trying to get people out of their houses, into a hall, eyeball the candidate, listen to what they have to say and use that information to help make a better decision.”
Mr Walker said the group believed there remained considerable opposition to the plans for Toondah Harbour, as well as an apartment development in Moreton Bay, and that the council had not responded to the concerns.
Claire Richardson was one of the other mayoral candidates to speak at one of the forums.
The comments that raised the most applause were around trust and transparency in council, and also her opposition to the Moreton Bay apartment development.
“The issue of ethics and transparency is something that’s been of concern to the community for sometime,” Ms Richardson said.
“There is a general concern that the community has been excluded from some of the planning processes and decisions that have been taken by council.”