High Achievers - Brett Walsh Chief Operating Officer, Barcaldine Regional Council
In his role as Chief Operating Officer at Barcaldine Regional Council, Brett Walsh combines his expert accounting skills with a passion for community development.
The Barcaldine area spans five distinct communities in central Queensland – Alpha, Jericho, Barcaldine, Aramac and Muttaburra (which is notable for being the geographic centre of the state). Mr Walsh joined Council in 2008, shortly after amalgamations, but he has strong roots in the area: “I was born in Barcaldine and went to school here prior to going to university in Brisbane and then working in other parts of Queensland.”
After university, he worked as a chartered accountant in private practice and gained some insight into council operations. “I was a local government auditor and contractor during that time so really understood local government finance.”
When the position was advertised for Barcaldine Executive Manager, he made the leap.
Barcaldine Mayor Rob Chandler nominated Mr Walsh as a LG Focus ‘High Achiever’, describing him as ‘a strong leader’ and noting his success in attracting grants for the community.
The Mayor also praised his “community service outside of council … you always see him out and about at events”.
Mr Walsh said he is committed to ensuring local infrastructure keeps pace with community need and he has been involved with numerous key renewal projects.
“As part of my role I prepare the annual financial statements and the annual budget, but am also involved in community infrastructure projects.
“Rural communities throughout Australia are losing population as people move to the coast; communities must renew and reinvent themselves to help stem this flow.
“A major part of that renewal is the replacement of aging infrastructure and the construction of new infrastructure to make our communities more livable.
“As anyone who works in rural communities knows, all new infrastructure is dependent upon grant funding supported by enthusiastic volunteers.”
One success he has been involved with is the reopening of the Barcaldine Radio Theatre, the old local cinema, which was originally opened in 1926, but closed around 1985.
“A group of volunteers including myself decided to reopen the theatre and in November 1995 after much fundraising we reopened the doors,” Mr Walsh said.
“Over the years we have obtained numerous grants including from Barcaldine Regional Council to assist with the ongoing renovations to the building and equipment. The theatre continues to operate today with 100 per cent volunteer labour.”
At Council, he has carried through this interest in preserving important community history.
“When I joined Council the heritage-listed Tree of Knowledge [200-year-old ghost gum representative of the birth of the Labor party] had been poisoned and been removed for preservation.
“I was heavily involved in the management of the funding and construction of the Tree of Knowledge Memorial which dominates the main street and was the catalyst for the revival of tourism in Barcaldine.”
In 2011, Council purchased the historic old Globe Hotel to create a visitor information centre, library and art gallery.
The restoration of the hotel was completed this year and Mr Walsh said it was a proud moment: “The result is a fantastic new community building which complements the Tree. I am most proud of this project.”
Earlier this year, Council adopted a new organisational structure and Mr Walsh took up the newly created position of Chief Operating Officer, in which he will confront new tests.
“Even though amalgamation occurred nine years ago, there a number of legacy issues that have not been resolved,” Mr Walsh said.
“The new COO position will allow me to tackle those challenges.”
Another challenge is human resource management, he said: “There are a large number of long-term staff members who are resistant to change.”
In the new role, he said, his main goal is to “develop a best practice model for governance and finance across the whole of Council. I am a great believer in continuous improvement so will probably never achieve this goal as there will always be a better way to do something.”
There are a number of projects in the pipeline: “Council has a number of infrastructure projects that I am working on including Muttaburrasaurus Interpretation Centre, Aramac Swimming Pool redevelopment, turfing of Barcaldine Racecourse and construction of the Barcaldine Recreation Park. There is plenty to keep me busy.”