Councillor profiles

A regular feature this month profiling two Councillors from Queensland

Mayor Ted Sorensen, Hervey Bay City Council, Queensland

Q. Can you tell us about yourself and how you first got involved in Local Government?

I have a farming background and because I grew up in Hervey Bay, have always had a strong interest in the community and the needs of our area as a whole. I had been interested in Local Government for quite some time, so eight years ago I decided to run for Council. With the support of the people, I have served two terms as Councillor and now as the Mayor. I believe making a positive difference in any community is always achievable with focus, in particular creating new employment opportunities for our community.

Q. Describe your Council and community? What are some of its unique features?

Hervey Bay is one of the region’s fastest growing cities. As growth is moving at a rapid pace, so are the demands on our Council to keep pace with new and exciting projects such as access tourism, information and technology, infrastructure and ecological sustainability – especially in relation to water and effluent re-use. Our Council comprises diverse and specialised personnel from various backgrounds ranging from private enterprise, government and small business. Although Hervey Bay is well known as a retirement destination, we are now seeing an increase in the number of families moving into the area to take advantage of our lifestyle and excellent education facilities, from preschool to university. We have also seen a huge increase in the number of multimillion dollar developments in Hervey Bay, such as the Outrigger Resort. In my opinion, we really do have the best of everything here in the Bay – progressive businesses, growing industries, safe swimming beaches and wonderful fishing, both on commercial and recreational levels. We enjoy a superb climate and of course access to world heritage listed Fraser Island, and the humpback whales.

Q. With Hervey Bay being a major tourist destination, how do you balance tourism, development and growth with environmental management?

Hervey Bay has so many wonderful natural assets, which also carry the responsibility to maintain them, and to plan for sustainable growth. The development of the City of Hervey Bay complements the world heritage values of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Strait. The City is structured around a network of parks and walkways connecting the beach and the foreshore to the city heart and residential areas. Environmental consideration is an essential part of each decision this Council makes. Community experts help us on various committees, and volunteer groups such as Friends of the Foreshore and the Dugong and Seagrass Monitoring Group ensure we balance our economic growth with environmental management. Our involvement in projects such as Clean Beach Challenge, Tidy Towns, Clean Up Australia, Recycling Education and Waterwise, and our development of an effluent re-use scheme help Council and the community to work together to protect our natural resources.

Q. What are some of the challenges and high points you have experienced while in Local Government?

Often it is finding a solution to the challenges that result in the high points of working in Local Government. One of the greatest challenges we face is selling tourism as an industry which creates long term employment opportunities.

Some people have the misconception that tourism employment is short term and all about having fun. Let me assure you working in a successful tourism operation is hard work. But the benefits to the individual and the community are worth it. One of our other ongoing challenges is upgrading our infrastructure to cater for such a fast growing community, especially in relation to water supply and our road network. Some highpoints are winning the 10th National Awards for Innovation in Local Government with Wide Bay Water (now a Corporation of Hervey Bay City Council). Council is a finalist for this award again this year with our Access Hervey Bay Project. Another highlight would have to be watching the growing relationship with our Sister City, Leshan, in the People’s Republic of China. We are now seeing the rewards of our efforts and have just signed a major contract with that city for upgrading their water treatment plant.

Q. What does it take to become a good serving Mayor?

You must listen to the people and make time for the community as a whole, and for individuals’ needs as well. Everyone in our community is important and they all deserve good service. Change is also a vital component for the success of any City. If a City is going to grow and progress it must be open to change.

Q. How would you like to see the future direction of Hervey Bay?

I would like to see us continue to support environmentally friendly industries that create increased employment for Hervey Bay residents and also improve our socio-economic standards. I am pleased to see our university growing and expanding. This gives us a chance to avoid the brain drain that happens when children go to large cities to do tertiary study, as they often stay away and find work. I would like to see Hervey Bay be the sort of city where our children stay because they have a bright future here in the many growing industries, such as tourism, education, health and information technology. I am also proud of the fact that Hervey Bay is committed to being one of the most accessible cities in Australia for people with a disability. I am looking forward to seeing that continue.

Councillor Felicity Farmer, Brisbane City Council, Queensland

Q. Can you tell us about yourself and how you first got involved in Local Government?

I’ve always been one who says that if you want to see something done then you should not only speak up but take action and lobby. I remember many years ago, before I moved from Melbourne to Brisbane, petitioning everyone in my very narrow street for parking to be allowed on both sides despite it being a very narrow passage. In the process I got to know my local Councillor, and about some of the other issues in the neighbourhood. I ended up being invited onto a local Greening Our Streets reference group. It was probably one of a number of formative experiences.

Q. Describe your Council and community. What are some of its features?

I like being part of Brisbane City Council because it’s a progressive team with 50 per cent women. We are confident that people want us to raise the difficult issues for community debate so that we can start to find positive solutions. Being at the centre of the fastest growing region in the country, we have some real challenges, like how we can keep Brisbane, clean and green, while accommodating huge growth in population. We are open to new ways of thinking about things. Right now we are working on how we can facilitate subtropical housing design.

Q. You are from the largest Council in Australia. Apart from its size, what is it that sets your Council apart from the rest?

Our Lord Mayor, Jim Soorley. He has often spoken out loudly on issues that are not traditionally the stuff of Local Government. This has meant that we have worked hard to find ways of working with other levels of government to deal better with problems of drugs, racism, and homelessness. In King George Square we have a plaque that recognises the experiences of Indigenous people from the stolen generation. With all of these strategies we are trying to ensure that everyone feels valued in our city. I think that our size helps us to achieve this impact.

Q. What are some of the challenges and high points you have experienced while in Local Government?

One of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my job has been to work with and listen to young people in our local area. They are saying to me that they feel marginalised when people complain about them ‘just being’ in our parks and shopping centres, assuming they are up to no good. It was great when we got some Council funding for a theatre project to explore the ‘criminalisation of young people’ and their options for responding to this.

Q. What are some of the Local Government issues that are important to you?

Local Government can play an important role in putting challenging community issues on the agenda. In south east Queensland, the Mayors of 18 Local Governments are working on a whole raft of joint projects aimed at managing our booming population. On regional transport, they are looking at the idea of a cordon toll around Brisbane City, the revenue from which would be shared to fund transport infrastructure, including public transport. By working together, we can be more successful in lobbying other spheres of government.

Q. How would you like to see the future direction of Brisbane?

Our Living in Brisbane 2010 vision and plan says it all. But here I’ll highlight that I’d like to see Brisbane position itself as an Asia Pacific city. And, there’s lots of potential to explore multiculturalism at our local level. I really wish that I had learned an Asian language at school so that I could communicate better with more people. The more we can understand each other’s cultural backgrounds, the more we can get to know each other. We are learning that this is a prerequisite to doing any kind of business in the region.