Councillor profiles - Mayor Lyn McLaughlin, Burdekin Shire Council
Water, water, water
With the mighty Burdekin River, the huge reserves of the Burdekin Falls Dam and a massive underground aquifer, which lies just 10 metres below the surface, the Burdekin has plenty of water all year round. This allows Burdekin farmers to produce the biggest and sweetest sugar cane and the region is considered the sugar capital of Australia. The horticultural industry is also thriving with 3400ha dedicated to a wide range of crops. Other industries include beef cattle, aquaculture and manufacturing.
Our location, within close proximity of Townsville, is also pretty special. In less than an hour’s drive residents can access an international airport and port, specialist medical services, hospitals and universities, and watch the NQ Cowboys play at home, while still enjoying all the benefits our rural lifestyle has to offer. The Burdekin is a wonderful place to raise a family and because the size of our Local Government Area is relatively small, it is only 90 minutes from the outskirts of the Shire boundary to the centre.
With over 300 days of sunshine a year and high solar irradiance levels, our Shire also is ideal for large-scale solar farms. This has recently been recognised and the Burdekin is now one of the leading solar energy producing regions in Australia. Of course, we’re also the home of world famous golfer Karrie Webb.
If I had to choose a favourite thing about our Local Government Area it would be the people. We are innovative and industrious with a strong sense of community and public participation. Remarkably, our rural community boasts over 80 volunteer, sport, recreational and community groups and numerous festivals and events are held throughout the year.
Fortunately, over the years, former councils have been progressive and invested in key infrastructure for the benefit of future generations. Our theatre is one of the finest examples of its kind in Australia.
Working with the people
My dad actually served in Local Government for 23 years. Even though I never contemplated going into it myself, a former mayor approached me and asked if I was interested in standing for Council in 1994. I finally put my hand up after seeking advice from my dad. I first ran for Mayor in 2004 and served two terms. In 2012 the community thought I needed four years off. I was re-elected again in 2016.
As for why I got involved, I believe this is the level of government where you can work with people and make decisions to help change lives for the better. Although I am a full-time Mayor these days, I am still involved in the community coaching junior sport and through church activities. I am a primary school teacher by trade and it has been wonderful to watch the Shire’s young people as they grow up into leaders of tomorrow. It’s important to me that we support our young people and provide opportunities for them to engage with sport, the arts and the wider community. We recognise our youth may leave us for further study, work experience and travel, but we know young families are later returning to the Shire to raise their own children.
Throughout my involvement with local government, I have chaired and been a member of numerous committees. In my four years as Chair of the Queensland Local Government Grants Commission, I had the opportunity to visit most of the local government communities throughout the state. This experience gave me some valuable insights into local government.
Challenges and goals
The key challenges facing Council include keeping abreast of government changes and regulations, our minimal population growth, and limited diversity in job opportunities. Our local economy is influenced so much by commodity prices. Council is doing a lot of work around attracting value adding industries to our agricultural base and there are some exciting opportunities for us emerging in this space. For me personally, the biggest challenge is finding the work/life balance.
Our council is currently in the process of developing the first Nature Based Play Space in North Queensland. It will use natural materials like rocks, sand and water in the place of plastic, commercial playground equipment to create opportunities for play. I believe it will bring something different to our region and be a real drawcard for both local families and visitors to our Shire.