GREG BARNES SEEKS RE-ELECTION AFTER 23 YEARS AS DIVISION 5 REPRESENTATIVE
Courtesy Bundaberg News-Mail – Courier Mail
After 23 years, division 5 councillor Greg Barnes is driven by the need to restore the public’s trust in council and is making transparency a key election issue.
After 23 years, division 5 councillor Greg Barnes is driven by the need to restore the public’s trust in council to go around again for another term.
One of Bundaberg’s longest-serving councillors, Greg Barnes has on occasion been asked why he is going around one more time as a candidate for division 5 in the 2024 election.
After a storied career with the New South Wales police force, including a stint on a covert surveillance team investigating drug dealers, armed robberies and arsonists, Mr Barnes opened a dive shop in Bargara with his wife Isobel in 1987.
He took his first steps towards local government by establishing the Coral Coast Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, Bargara ANZAC Day dawn service and other longstanding initiatives, and engaging with the pre-amalgamation Burnett Shire Council over improving the Bargara seascape.
Eventually Mr Barnes decided to throw his hat in the ring and ran successfully for Burnett Shire Council in 2000, being re-elected five times over 23 years of service to the Bargara community and Bundaberg region.
When reflecting on why he is seeking a mandate to go around for another four years, Mr Barnes hearkens back to the principles of community service and integrity that led him to join the police force almost 50 years ago.
“I think I’ve probably got a justice neurosis,” he said.
“I don’t like seeing things get done underhanded; I never did when I was in the police force, and I don’t in local government.”
Mr Barnes joked that he was driven by a ‘justice neurosis” to seek re-election after 23 years, much the same motivation that led him to join the police force.
Over the past two terms Mr Barnes said he had seen declining public trust in confidence in council due to a perceived lack of genuine community consultation and engagement around matters of great importance to ratepayers.
“The number one issue that’s arisen over the last two terms is the perceived lack of transparency,” Mr Barnes said.
“And that goes hand in glove with the confidence that the community has in their local government.
“Everything seems to be decided behind closed doors, people aren’t happy.”
Mr Barnes cites the demolition of the Anzac Pool as an instance in which ratepayers were “lied to” by council.
“They were told it wouldn’t be closed until the aquatic centre was open”, he said.
“And then the bulldozers moved in, which coincidentally happened just after the council became aware of an application had been lodged for heritage listing.”
Building community confidence in local government through a renewed commitment to transparency and accountability needed to be one of the primary goals of the next term, Mr Barnes said.
Mr Barnes said there was a declining public confidence in council due to due to a perceived lack of genuine community consultation and engagement around matters of great importance to ratepayers, including the demolition of Anzac Pool.
“People just want open and accountable governance, that’s what it’s all about,” Mr Barnes said.
“In this day and age you’d think it’d be more easily available, rather than being made harder.”
Mr Barnes said cases where ratepayers had been told by council to pay for an RTI request to obtain information such as detailed costings of the aquatic centre project were an absurdity, given the revenue council was deriving from ratepayers’ funds.
“Why should ratepayers have to pay for (council’s financial statements)?,” Mr Barnes asked.
“It’s their money that is being spent.”
A Bargara resident, Mr Barnes has ensured he maintains a high profile in the community by regularly getting out and engaging with the public.
Since a 2014 council satisfaction survey identified discontent with council transparency, Mr Barnes has provided a community consultation desk every Saturday which he said had been “really well received”.
“What I keep saying to the other councillors is that when somebody complains, they’re not your enemy,” Mr Barnes said.