Councillor profile

A regular feature this month profiling two Councillors from Tasmania

Mayor Roger Chalk AM, Waratah-Wynyard Council, Tasmania

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

I first entered Local Government in May 1976 at an extraordinary election for the Wynyard Council and moved to the Waratah-Wynyard Council on its formation in 1993. I held the positions of Treasurer for two years and Warden for nine years of the Wynyard Council. I was a member of the Executive Committee of the Municipal Association of Tasmania for ten years, serving four years as President of the Association. I was also Tasmaniaís representative for the Australian Local Government Association and served one year as Vice President of that Association. In 1994 I received an Advance Australia Award for service to Local Government and in 1996 was awarded membership of the Order of Australia.

I retired from Council in 1997 and was subsequently appointed to the Local Government Board of Tasmania which conducted the 1998 review of Tasmanian Local Government. At the April 1999 elections, I rejoined Council, and was elected Mayor at the October 2000 elections and again in 2002.

Q. What are some of the unique features of your area and your community?

The community that I represent is extremely diverse. The main industries are dairying, forestry, vegetable production and mining. We have an area of 3,532 square kilometres, about the same size as the Australian Capital Territory. There is a unique challenge for us in that we have two major centres of population, Somerset and Wynyard, two coastal village resort areas, Boat Harbour and Sisters Beach, a mining town, and a rural township. There is a cheese factory that draws milk from surrounding areas and a tulip farm which has been expanding over the last 15 years and which now grows 18 hectares of tulips annually, mainly for bulb production. They, along with numerous other local farms, have branched out into many other streams of flower production. The tulip farm is one of the largest in Australia and our community has now used the flowering time in mid October as a feature for a tulip festival that runs for 10 days.

Q. What are some of the specific issues your Council and community are currently facing?

Wynyard pioneered Community Services and was one of the first Councils in Tasmania to have a dedicated officer to assist Council in this task. Vincent Industries in Wynyard was also a leader, being the first to establish a recycling business and which now employs some 75 disabled people in a total workforce of 104. Waratah-Wynyardís population is 14,000 and over the last two years, there has been considerable discussion of the feasibility of a voluntary amalgamation of our Council and Burnie City to create a new Council of 33,000 population. We have since decided to remain as a single entity but to work cooperatively with neighbouring Councils and to promote a regional approach. To advance this, we have initiated joint discussions with our neighbours, Burnie City, to explore further the practicability of expanded resource sharing. At this stage we share IT facilities with Burnie, and a regional refuse disposal site with our western neighbour, Circular Head Council.

Q. What are some of the achievements and challenges you have faced, during your time on Council?

Having to overcome the problems of two resort communities without water and sewerage infrastructure has been a major task. Contractors have just commenced constructing a $2.2m sewerage scheme in the village of Boat Harbour Beach, one of the most scenic areas on the north west coast of Tasmania. When pollution problems were identified there two years ago, we were presented with an enormous task to acquire the necessary funding and to undertake all the development and approval work that was necessary to get us to the current position. Boat Harbour will have in excess of 100 connections to the scheme, but the following project at Sisters Beach will have four times that number. We envisage that we will progress immediately with the Sisters Beach project following completion of the Boat Harbour Beach scheme.

Our Council communities have witnessed a shrinking of parts of our industrial base over the last few years, creating a huge youth unemployment problem particularly, and a loss of general confidence within our region. It was therefore great news when Vestas Wind Turbines announced in late 2002 that they would be establishing an assembly plant in Wynyard for production of nacelles (turbines) for sale within Australia. The plant will be in production by mid July and will employ 62 people. The firm has also recently announced that it will be doing a feasibility study into the establishment of a blade factory in Tasmania. Such a plant has the potential to employ up to 350 people, so if we can encourage this development to Wynyard it will heighten the growing confidence evident in our area.

Q. For those wanting to enter into Local Government, particularly Council, what advice can you provide?

The role of a Councillor over my period of time has changed considerably. The expectation and accountability has grown enormously. Local Government plays a much broader role in our communities, particularly in the delivery of people services. If anyone has a desire to be involved in shaping the direction you believe your community should take, then my advice is to become involved in Local Government but donít expect to change the world overnight. A role in Local Government gives as much reward to you as the effort you are prepared to give it.

Deputy Mayor Alderman Eva Ruzicka, Hobart City Council, Tasmania

Q. Can you tell us about yourself, and how and when you became involved in Local Government?

Being involved in Local Government was a natural step after being part of the grassroots campaigns such as the Franklin Dam. Before readers write me off as a Green, Iím politically independent and will listen to a good idea from anyone. Folks might not know also that these campaigns were and still are peopled from folks across the political spectrum.

In the early nineties I became involved in community issues at the Local Government level, such as local area planning, water quality and saving Hobartís 1800s heritage buildings. In 1998 Hobartís previous Deputy Lord Mayor, Alderman Pru Bonham, convinced me to run one last time with a group of like minded candidates. Iíd decided it was time to get the long running part time university degree finished and get a proper paying job to pay for my old age. The community of Hobart thought otherwise and elected me Alderman, with me scraping in on a range of preference votes that came from across the board. Itís been, and continues to be, one of the most interesting, stimulating and enjoyable periods in my life. In 2002, Pru decided to retire after 12 years in Local Government. I ran for a second term and this time topped the poll as both Alderman and Deputy Lord Mayor. It was very pleasing to see that my support still comes from across the community, and I hope that will continue.

Q. What are some of the unique features of your City and community?

Hobart is one of those places that medical experimenters not only dream of but can work in. Itís a tight little community with a slow turnover of population and really good records. Like a little country town, the white population appears (and often is) related and this makes for some interesting support networks and relationships among the men and women (as well as medical research)! Beginning in the south as a prison in 1803Ė4, Hobart still has a chip on its shoulder about Governor Macquarie deciding that Lieutenant Collins was unable to govern the whole colony sending Patterson off to sort out the north and build up the town of Launceston. Newcomers are flabbergasted to hear that in a little place like Tasmania weíre still split by attitude into three regions. My great hope is that the influx, firstly post war and since the discarding of Australiaís White Immigration policies, will result in Hobart becoming a more outward looking multicultural mix. If Tasmania ever gets one phone book for the whole of the State then we might start to think differently, especially at the Local Government level, about our identity.

Q. What are some of the specific issues Council faces as a capital city Council?

The issues facing Council are very much those facing Tasmania as a whole. Weíre a capital city but effectively a large regional country town at the end of the economic railway. Australia sneezes and Hobart gets economic pneumonia. Hobart is as much an island in its mindset as Tasmania as a whole. Sometimes it is very hard to get people to see outside of where they live, to not be frightened of change or new things. We have increasing poverty across the population. Attempts to revitalise the economy still seem to rely on the mindset of government handouts. Business welfare is more rife than any amount of money used for community welfare programs. Hobart and Tasmania have perhaps more absentee landlords in Melbourne and other places than any other part of Australia.

As such, the most important issue facing Hobart as a capital city Council is to take charge of its own destiny and begin to challenge the attitudes and practices that have underpinned Tasmaniaís development. Council needs to take the long view to insulate business and community against the swings in the economy that have devastated us so many times. One way is to foster partnerships with business to capitalise on Antarctic and heritage tourism opportunities. Hobart doesnít exist on its own and attitudes that prevent working with other local Councils and others on common issues set us back time and again with many lost opportunities.

While the two Bass Strait ferries increase the opportunity for change, there is a pervasive attitude that tourism is going to be the saviour in an economy still prone to cargo cult behaviour. Consequently there is a reluctance to oppose developments for new educational establishments or tourism developments despite obvious negative impacts on the values that make Hobart so special as a place to live.

Q. What have been your major achievements and some of the key challenges you have faced during your time on Council?

Itís been pleasing to be able to effect some small yet far reaching changes to land use and financial planning in Hobart. I donít take the attitude that they have been solely my major achievements. Rather, a lot of Council officers and people in the community helped, and you get nowhere without support around the Council table. If there is a key challenge Iíve faced, its trying to get others to think differently from the way things have always been done. I donít have all the answers and, Lordy, I do get it wrong sometimes like you wouldnít believe, but it would be so nice to sometimes get folks to put personal differences aside when finding ways to sort out Hobartís challenges. Thatís the down side of being a small town. The egos of those who believe in their right to rule as absolute are a real impediment. The up side is, even today, itís still one of the friendliest places in which to visit and live. And for that, I love it. And it would be a great achievement, in the face of Prime Minister Howardís fear mongering, to keep it that way even when Iím no longer an Alderman.