Meet the Candidate Night – Somerset Civic Centre – 18 March 2020
Category : General News
Wednesday 18th March 6.30pm
Given the current situation with Coronavirus, we could have an audience or not. All appropriate precautions will be taken on the evening. However, we will be filming the evening and publishing the results on the internet for voters to review.
Questions for meet the candidates
Each candidate will get 90 seconds to “Tell us about yourself and why you should be elected”
I am forth generation to our beautiful region, so I totally understand where we live. I have seen many changes and seen the effects of incorrect decisions. I have 35 years involvement with Local Government, providing me with experience, knowledge and an understanding that is strongly embedded. During this current term, I accomplished a Diploma of Local Government – Elected Members, which has provided me with perspectives about the role and responsibilities of Elected Members. The role and responsibilities include units such as manage conflict, coordinate and facilitate a change process, provide leadership within the council and community, which represents three of the 14 units contained in the Diploma.
I have worked tirelessly with local groups over my life and very humbling was awarded the 2015 Citizen of the Year for our region. Without our volunteers our communities do not operate, so I truly appreciate each and every volunteer.
I have enjoyed the past four years, and working with a progressive team which consist of Councillors and Council staff. I believe our region is about to be rewarded for its current status of many attributes and emerging initiatives. Exciting times ahead for our region, so we need to be on our front foot to take advantage of opportunities.
I seek re-election to continue to build an inspiring regional vision within our team of leaders. There are fresh ideas and initiatives that I would like to explore over the next four years.
Each candidate will be asked three of the following questions. Round one questions will be handed out and responded, then the second round of questions will be handed out.
Answer two questions (90 seconds each question) in two rounds.
1. Council has $60m in the bank, how do you believe this is best used for the people of Somerset Region.
I come from a local government background of once being employed as Manager Finance & Administration in a small rural council where we were challenged at times to deliver an annual balanced budget, so I am very aware of cutting your cloth according to your situation. Therefore, limiting what services were provided to take into account the resources you have. I understand and support that there is good and bad debt and this applies equally to Local Government. There is an attitude that intergenerational debt is a positive debt strategy. I can share that I am aware of Queensland Councils whose financial performance is closely monitored by external bodies. I would suggest that our council’s finances should never be so poorly managed that this scrutiny needed.
There are many positives with having cash reserves. No 1. The interest achieved on the cash investment has over time provided a return to each rate payer by reducing the total rates levied. Therefore, providing and supporting the fact that our region has the cheapest council rates in Queensland. No 2. A very important part of council’s budget is grant revenue, and having cash reserves offers our council to be in a very strong position to obtain grants that can be matched immediately with cash. So, council is already providing cheaper rates and securing important grant money to provide much needed infrastructure. To conclude, and as just one initiative, it would be financially astute to utilise funds to create better tourism opportunities by driving economic development in our towns. This investment would provide the economic stimulus to engage existing businesses and create new businesses. We need to become a destination that is well respected and popular.
2. If elected, what do you want to be famous for in 4 years’ time?
I would like to think that there was broad community support that I was part of a very progressive and vision driven council that achieved success by thinking outside the square. Using innovative theories to achieve this goal. Being strategic in delivery of infrastructure and future development of the region. Well considered decisions and associated planning that will make our region the envy of other local government areas. Two things that define us – Patience when we have nothing and our attitude when we have everything. A legacy that resonates full support from the majority of our region’s residents, and is acknowledged in time to come. To adopt an attitude not to allow the fear of failure to impede progression – JK Dowling sums it up brilliantly – “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” I also enjoy the attitude that it didn’t happen overnight. It happened slowly and painfully over time. But it did eventually happen.
3. How should SRC prepare the community for the effects of climate change
Firstly, our climate has been changing for as long as we have been here. And please remember that we have not been here for all that long. The First Nation Peoples have much more understanding of our Mother Earth and how best to respect it. Obviously, the number of effects caused by climate changes will be dependent on the location of the council area. Coastal councils will have very much different needs and associated planning than our area, being rural. Water security is already a very important matter that needs management with different levels of key stakeholders. Securing and guaranteeing the most basic commodity – water – is becoming a key issue in the challenges that many Queensland Councils are facing. Our Council has joined forces with Lockyer Valley Regional Council to ensure water security for both regions. Council will also continue to bring climate change effects into its Disaster Management administration and associated planning. Council will also be proactive in meeting the changes and collaborating with those most affected in the region. Working through all matters as a collaborative force.
4. Recycling has been on the wish list of many residents for a long time. Recycling would come at a cost to council and therefore ratepayers. How would you sell recycling to the residents of Somerset?
The only way I would sell recycling at all, is when I can see that this service would be the very best option for our region and our environment. Our staff are very proactive with this subject, and provide ongoing relevant and reliable advice. At this stage we are examining best practices and how our council can be included to rectify and protect this very environmentally destructive issue. Waste management and how to sustainably deal with this issue is an ongoing problem. Some ground breaking initiatives have been taken up by Australian Councils, by seeking energy from waste and diverting waste from landfill. Amongst other actions, it is good news that our Council is participating in a regional waste alliance (SEQ West Waste Alliance) with Ipswich, Logan, Lockyer Valley, and Redland Bay councils. I want to see a clean and healthy environment for my granddaughters, so this subject is very dear to me.
At the end of the day the decision will be made which best suits our region, its population and waste generation. There are many layers of financial, environmental and recyclable arguments to be explored and conquered in order to move this matter forward to provide the very best solution to our region. Show me this, and then I will be more than happy to sell recycling to our entire region!
5. What action do you think that Somerset Council should take to get the Brisbane Valley Highway upgraded?
Council is already in constant contact with State Government about this very matter. Council has collected and provided State Government with reliable data that supports it argument that adequate state funding should be budgeted to improve this major highway. Council will continue to collaborate with the State Government about the necessary needs of all users of this highway. The strategy is about lobbying the State Government with irrefutable facts, statistics and data continually until these objectives are understood and incorporated into future planning needs and associated budget provisions.
6. Somerset Regional Council is one of the largest economic entities in the region. What action can they take to improve the Somerset economy?
I value our agricultural inheritance and the economic benefits derived from this local industry. I would like to see successful businesses established in our region, businesses that support the needs of our region. Tourism is an important economic driver, and council is very active in this area. Collaboration with peak industry bodies and outside influences and connections will provide innovative opportunities. I want to see our natural assets respected and to continue to be managed in a sustainable way. And the big-ticket item, is to seek collaboration with other levels of government to promote ourselves as an area just outside of Brisbane for the home of regional services and/or facilities.
Council can provide a very open door and helpful attitude to enquirers who wish to explore setting up conforming businesses in our region. Council can also ensure that its fees and charges are in line with other Council’s, we must present as a welcoming and affordable council to potential enquirers. I would also like to see a very high strategic level of involvement between Councillors and Directors, and with peak industry bodies to explore potential opportunities that can be promoted within our region. Council would benefit from regular networking sessions with our businesses, to explore the negative and positive aspects of business interaction in our region. Open communication and successful collaboration are very important to provide a pathway forward.
7. Tourism is an important contributor to the Somerset economy. What do you think are the most important assets? What strategy do you think Council should employ to promote them?
Our most important assets are our natural assets. We do not own all of the natural assets of course; however, we do need to work very closely with the governing bodies of these facilities. Council needs to be very proactive with the governing bodies to ensure that Council’s needs, wants and aspirations are met for now and well into the future. Red tape and heavily regulated use of these facilities will stifle sustainable development and associated use and potential benefits.
Council has very robust methods in marketing itself. Our staff are very active in all areas of tourism, economic development, and met regularly with peak bodies – RTO’s etc to stay abreast of tourism and economic initiatives and opportunities. Size is against us at times, when we would dearly enjoy taking part in neighbouring council’s marketing initiatives, we simply do not have the numbers to take advantage of regional initiatives.
I attend the quarterly Council of Mayors- Economic Development Committee meetings and these meetings represent all South East Queensland Councils. Agenda items include trade and investments events, regional food and agricultural tourism trail, international business mission, smart regions projects 5G and regional collaborative opportunities.
8. Council used to put out skips for curbside pickup. This cost has been transferred to residents through a voucher system. Taking into account the costs, do you think a curbside pickup similar to other councils would be of benefit to the community?
I am not aware of this occurring under the amalgamated Somerset Regional Council. I have checked with our staff and they have confirmed that this has not occurred in our region since amalgamation. So unfortunately, unable to provide a factual reply.
9. The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail brings in valuable tourism dollars into the region. What would be your plan to increase traffic on the Rail Trail?
A very good question and a very easy question, but unfortunately not that easy to actually enact. Councillors, Council staff, community businesses and members are very proactive with achieving a collective operation and marketing platform for the BVRT. Conversations have been occurring by many bodies over many years. Yes, things move slowly, and especially when there are around four council areas, and multiply community groups and businesses utilizing the asset, which of course is owned and administered by TMR.
The general consensus is that one overarching body should be responsible for the operation and ongoing administration of the asset. Regardless of the pace of this initiative, the establishment of a steering committee is supported by I believe all of the key stakeholders. Council is supporting this formulation by gathering its own stats and data associated with the current use of the trail and which information will be provided to the steering committee and/or TMR.
There are residents who are very unsupportive of the BVRT, however I can only see positive results from this state-owned asset. To ensure its success, the establishment of the steering committee is paramount. Until this occurs, the asset and associated use is not achieving the leverage it should and quite frankly has the ability to achieve on a world platform. I am aware local groups have done a wonderful job; however, it needs much more support and at a higher level. Waiting, Waiting, Waiting!!
10. Town CBD’s form the core of social and economic activity for many communities. What action do you think that council should take to revitalize the town CBD’s?
A very easy question. We need to take notice of other towns that have revitalized themselves, towns that have established who they are and how to promote this. Council has discussed streetscaping and how this should be incorporated over the entire region, and the associated impact on the budget. This has been a very hot topic with Kilcoy businesses and residents since amalgamation, and that was in 2008! Our towns need colour, they need greenery and through planned beautification projects, which will be designed as maintenance free and cost-effective projects, our towns will regain confidence and pride. Visitation will increase as a direct reflection.
There are really great examples to use almost everywhere. When we travelled to America in 2018, we came across many towns that revitalized themselves because they had to. It was evident that there were major economic changes, and some really smart initiatives were found and brought to life to the benefit of the town. Not rocket science, but one that needs serious consideration and commitment for a period of time that will produce the desired outcomes regional wide.
11. Using Fernvale as an example, how would you resolve a new development application that will negative impact/s on existing business’s and /or residents?
When I completed my Diploma of Local Government – Elected Members, the very first remark made to us by our Planning facilitator was that Town Planning produces Winners and Losers – How true! Town planning involves controlling both existing and proposed developments, based on strategic planning and development control played out in the statutory framework including the development assessment or application process. Planning instruments have layers of rules, regulations, conditions, what can occur, what cannot occur etc etc. Depending on the type of development application, there can be many concurrent agencies that are involved with the development application process. They will access the development application and give their opinion and points for approval or reasons for refusal.
It must be remembered that the Town Planning schemes are open for community consultation and review. It must also be remembered that State Government has a great deal of influence over the finished schemes. State Government has greater powers than Local Government.
At the end of the day, and after all of the above has been worked through, as far as my role as Councillor, the best action I can take is to be completely involved with the community and be fully aware of all aspects of the development application. From experience, I must consider all points that are causing community concern, and also actually visit the location of the proposed development to fully understand the application. As most of you will be aware, Council can refuse a development application, however the developer has the right of appeal. If Council’s reasons for refusal are inadequate, there is a good chance that the developer may win the appeal, against council. The Planning and Environmental Court will deliver the decision, and ratepayers ultimately pay the legal costs.
12. Kilcoy Pastoral Company has and continues to expand. This expansion is putting pressure on the housing and other public infrastructure of Kilcoy. What would you see as the council’s role to alleviate the problem?
As far as public infrastructure, there are various governmental and statutory bodies responsible for ensuring they are planning to meet future needs of their specific asset. It is well known that rentals in Kilcoy are extremely hard to find and the rent is not cheap. The success of Kilcoy Global Foods is beneficial to our town and region, however along with success comes challenges. Challenges that can be overcome with due consideration, timely and common-sense approach. I am aware that the provision of adequate and affordable housing is currently being considered by KGF. I am aware of some of the forward planning considerations of the company. I envisage Council and the company working together to overcome identified housing issues.
From my knowledge and through my past employment with Kilcoy Shire Council and the missed opportunity to achieve the Kilcoy By-Pass, or Heavy Vehicle Detour many years ago, we as a Council and community struggle now to raise the priority with State Government – Department of Transport & Main Roads for the need of this heavy vehicle detour to be considered important enough for a funding allocation in the foreseeable future.
Council will continue to lobby State Government in an effort to engage with TMR and to address the list of the future works and associated state wide priority list and funding sources, and seek that the project be given more importance for a faster implementation on their asset management plan.
13. In areas where there are new and/or existing housing developments, how can council improve community connectivity between the different areas?
Council can lead, but cannot make identified needs happen unless the community wish for the same. The town planning scheme provides for sustainable planning, and council ultimately has the right to question housing developments that may not be conducive to the identified areas. Through town planning schemes, certain facilities can be positioned that will encourage community connectivity. Once again, any development application must have reasonable and relevant grounds for refusal. In saying this, Council can impose conditions of the development application that it considers necessary to meet community expectation and functionality.
Council has employed staff that work specifically in the area of social wellbeing of our communities. The staff are very much in tune with each community and its specific needs. There are various ways that council can obtain the necessary information that will assist to make informed choices and decisions based around community need and expectation.
The residential structure of housing estates will ultimately offer the acceptance of each other and the livability of each area. We are aware that estates that have a high proportion of rentals do not always provide the environment for ongoing harmony. Council can be very quickly brought into matters that are based more so around a civil matter. At times it is frustrating for all concerned when council needs to enact Local Laws and provisions under the planning scheme to rectify practices that are not approved or sit outside council’s regulations, and mainly due to the process and procedures that must be followed and of course the time taken to do this legally.
14. Taking into account the complex jurisdictions, how could Twin Bridges and Savages Crossing be improved as a tourist attraction?
Management of Twin Bridges, Savages Crossing and Lowood bend:
Council continues to work with key stakeholders to manage reserves in Somerset, particularly Twin Bridges, Savages Crossing and Lowood Bend. Council does this to curb anti-social behaviour and protect waterways. Council is working at a strategic level with other Government Departments about the future management of the areas. Council is also funding a project with Seqwater and the Resilient Rivers Initiative through an external consultant to investigate sustainable recreational solutions at Hills Reserve and Savages Crossing. Consultants employed to work through the many identified issues of these areas will provide a report that will offer methods to overcome the many issues identified at these public areas. There are many jurisdictions and many layers to work through in a very collaborative process. There will also be budgetary provisions and it is envisaged that the learnings from project will be transferable to other recreational sites.
15. As a Somerset Councilor, you are a Councilor for the whole of Somerset. How would you ensure that you are a representative for the whole community?
Very easy, it is called getting out and making yourself known, and taking a real interest in each community. As Councillors we receive invitations to attend various events and meetings, so by accepting these invitations we get to know our communities. We learn what makes them tick, what are the main issues, how do we overcome these identified issues? I would encourage more groups to invite Councillors along to their functions and or meetings, this is a very powerful way to keep Councillors informed as to what is happening in their own back yard.
I cannot stress more importantly that by attending various community events and meetings, one achieves a real sense of community and provides an empowerment to make accurate decisions around that particular community. Councillors are then performing on what they know, in preference to hear say. I enjoy the ability to represent any constituent, anywhere in the region. I also appreciate that an issue in the north may be experienced in the south, so providing a real connectivity based around the same issue and best way to deal with it. I also appreciate the fact that I can bounce any of these issues off my fellow Councillors to obtain a wider perspective of the matter.
16. Do you believe tourism would be enhanced by more fully profiling the region’s rich indigenous history? If so, how can the region’s rich indigenous history be bought more to light and profiled so both residents and visitors / tourists have the opportunity to more fully understand and appreciate that history.
Yes, I agree that tourism would be enhanced by more fully profiling the region’s rich indigenous history, and you don’t have to look far afield to actually witness this happening and happening extremely well. At the last Tourism and Economic Development Committee Meeting, I gave a brief presentation around cultural tourism. This would be a perfect platform to provide by visual and audio recordings, the history of our indigenous peoples.
This initiative would also help to recognise the importance of our indigenous culture and values. There is a great deal of learning that can be achieved by approaching this style of tourism. Other areas have provided this with a great deal of success and interest, we need not attempt this alone, but with support and knowledge from others.
There is always funding opportunities to assist with providing necessary budgets to assist this project to come to fruition. The project could include hard print and electronic records being made available through council’s resources. The silent benefit from this type of project would be the possibility of building bridges with our indigenous peoples, perhaps our youth would embrace this and then carry on with this positive attitude and approach.
17. Council seems to be encouraging people to plant trees on their own land. What will you do to ensure council also plants trees that improve the environment and tree scape in our towns so they present well to travellers and visitors. Entry and exits to town….around sporting ovals etc.
If this an identified initiative that has wide community support, then obviously council needs to provide the policy and procedures to commence this initiative. The initiative would then be taken up in the budgetary preparations. I am aware that this type of tree plantings was discussed under Kilcoy Shire Council by local residents and unfortunately the idea never developed to a point to make it a reality. At that stage it was envisaged to provide the trees on the eastern approach to Kilcoy. Obviously, as part of the planning process we need to ensure that the correct trees are planted.
I would support such an initiative as a very worthy one. I would also think that this would complement any CBD beautification project, and should form part of the overall project. Council is currently working with overall landscaping master plan for the Toogoolawah Condensery. This master plan will provide future strategic plantings and which has been achieved by broad community consultation. Once this project is completed, it will reflect as a win win situation – for community and council. It will provide a legacy that will increase visitation and provide a natural setting to a very beautiful landmark.
18. Lantana and weeds are an issue. What will you do to ensure council is more effective in the management of weeds and lantana on roadsides and on council land?
This matter is already being addressed, and was done almost twelve months ago. An additional annual levy of $10 was introduced in the rates and charges which was specifically raised to fund the employment of personnel to undertake the removal of lantana in strategic areas. Council will work with adjoining landowners to work toward removing the lantana and reduce the risk of the weed regrowing.
State Government offers the weed classification to council, and this particular weed is at a level that council does not have the authority to instruct landowners to control its growth. It is illegal to sell the plant, but I have been told that lantana is being sold at flea markets. The other negative fact around the treatment of lantana is that State Government, and due to its classification does not recognise it as a weed of significance, and will not treat the weed. That is why you will notice the highways and any state-controlled road will have an abundance of healthy flowering lantana bushes.
This is so destructive, and it completely takes over the landscape and the availability of grazing for animals, and not to mention the noxiousness of this weed to animals. So, you can clearly see our frustrations, and the real effect on our country by this backward attitude to weed control. It is a very serious problem, and one we all need to address, sooner rather than later.
19. Do you believe council should pay an active role in building the technical and practical capabilities of its field workforce? Do you believe council should utilize the capabilities of its internal workforce before engaging external parties to do field work?
From my involvement with Local Government and knowing all that I do about this subject, my reply is a huge YES. I am happy to report that this is actually what is occurring in our region. I have seen the pros and cons of employing outside parties. I have seen the affects of employing contractors in preference to keeping the work in house. Obviously, my comment is not an overarching comment, there will always be a need to hire contractors, but I do believe this will be for specific works. Keeping our workforce trained and engaged is the most important human resource objective. The old saying but if I train them up, they will leave. I prefer to think that if you treat your employees well, you will end up with trained, engaged and happy staff. This premise is then displayed each and every day in their working life and in their roles.
A human resource message which we should all live by is very simply put – Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.
20. Leadership is what we are looking to vote for! It is what we expect form our representatives. Research shows many organisations are “over managed” and “under led”! What do you see as the difference between ‘management” and “leadership” in your role as a councillor?
Leaders help themselves and others to do the right things. They set direction, build an inspiring vision, and create something new. Leadership is about mapping out where you need to go to win as a team or an organisation; and it is dynamic, exciting, and inspiring. Yet while leaders set the direction, they must also use management skills to guide their people to the right destination, in a smooth and efficient way.
Leaders are people who do the right thing; manager are people who do things right.
I also think that leaders adopt an attitude not to allow the fear of failure to impede progression – JK Dowling sums it up brilliantly – “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” I also enjoy the attitude that it didn’t happen overnight. It happened slowly and painfully over time. But it did eventually happen.
21. Are you prepared to be unpopular with your fellow councillors (or of different opinion) if you believe a different course of action or priority needs championing? Can you give us an example of a time you acted courageously on an issue regardless of what others thought?
This has happened, and more than once and very basically the matter I am about to share was around the spending of funds to stage a major event. For various reasons, and after giving a great deal of thought and research with regard to this matter, I came to the conclusion that there were better and smarter alternatives to spend this section of our events budget. I still believe that we have used the spending power of this budget item in other event involvement with a much better outcome.
22. Do you want to be Deputy Mayor? If not why not? If so, why would you be good for this position?
I know that I have the experience, knowledge, passion and drive to be considered for this role. I am very aware that the northern residents are comfortable with the fact we have a southern councillor as our Mayor, and having a Deputy Mayor who is from the north is very a very balanced outcome. This has worked well for the last two terms.
Having said this, I am aware there would be other Councillors who would also put their hands up for this position. Obviously, the Mayor needs to be completely comfortable with this very important decision. There is also provision within the Local Government Act to change the role of Deputy Mayor during the term.
Questions from the audience (if we have one).