Councillor profiles - David Menzel President Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley
I was elected to council in October 2017 and became Shire President immediately. We had the services of a fly in/out Commissioner during the year prior to the election and whilst he left me his phone number, he departed immediately following the swearing in ceremony. Joining me were seven other new councillors with no local government experience and one with very limited experience.
With a huge contribution from our incumbent chief executive officer, and support from the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA), many days and nights were spent getting up to speed on both local matters and local government processes and procedures.
I moved to the Kimberley in 1992 with my family, starting our own horticultural farm in 1996. We grow melons and pumpkins, and broadacre irrigated crops. My wife manages the office, the marketing and logistics; we distribute our produce to all corners of Australia.
I chair the Ord Irrigation Cooperative, which holds the water licence for the Ord Stage One farmers and supplies water services.
I sit on the farmer’s cooperative board, ORDCO, and the board of a public unlisted company, Cambridge Gulf Limited, which owns a fuel farm at Wyndham port and operates the port for the WA government; it has joint ventures with the traditional owners of Gove and Weipa, supplying fuel to Rio Tinto.
This may have helped shape my views of how important it is to be engaged across a broad area rather than just my own backyard. Following local government elections last year, the Kimberley has three new shire presidents out of four shires. It has been a great time to establish a cooperative relationship between all four shires, to help in our advocacy across a broad range of issues.
I was fortunate enough to be on the Prime Minister’s advisory board for the white paper on developing northern Australia. This exposed me, at an even deeper level, to the processes involved in getting things done in northern Australia.
It takes 3-5 hours flying time to get to the south from Kununurra, and a country of 25 million, but if we fly 3 hours north we can land in a city of 25 million. The demographics of the globe are rapidly changing, and this makes the future here so exciting. While the south will remain important to us I believe our links with the north are becoming more important.
Australia will likely never have a significantly large population and so will continue to be primarily an exporting nation. Positioning ourselves to have the capacity to meet the demand and generate wealth for our nation is a key goal of mine.
Outside of work the main relaxation involves either an escape to Lake Argyle or up the Ord River in our boat or finding a nice camping spot out bush somewhere. These activities have been integral in maintaining some family time in an otherwise busy schedule.
We have four children, working and studying in Perth and Melbourne. Growing a local community that offers them the chance to return home is an important driver in my decision making process.
A key strength of the Shire is its diverse community and economy. Whilst the town was created to support the irrigated agriculture development of the Ord River Scheme, significant contributions come from tourism, in particular the Bungle Bungle (Purnululu) world heritage site, and abundant water features of the area.
Mining is a significant player, and likely to become larger, given the growing importance of rare earths and other high tech elements. Largely unproven but highly prospective oil and gas reserves under and around the shire are coming closer to market.
The pastoral sector is taking huge steps forward in more intensively managing their herds which will generate more economic activity.
The services sector is a major employer and spender in our community. This area is a key focus of the Shire as we strive to deliver better outcomes to those in need.
The value of the Kimberley’s traditional culture is enormous. As the most intact, and by far the oldest surviving culture on the planet, the community has a responsibility, to help wherever we can in this space. The culture of the Kimberley’s first people provides enormous potential to add value in our community, whether by strengthening its relevance within the indigenous population, or by satisfying the demands of tourism to more deeply explore the culture.
It is exciting to contemplate and strategise the impacts of having Project Sea Dragon, a [large-scale, integrated, land-based prawn] aquaculture project of almost $2 billion, in our midst and, if successful, it will be a massive stimulus to our region.
Equally, having Airbus make the town of Wyndham it’s world base for the HAPS program [Zephyr solar-powered, high-altitude pseudo-satellite] is a little surreal at present. Making them welcome and facilitating their entry into our community is, perhaps, the most exciting thing to occur in my short time as Shire President.