Councillor profiles

A regular feature, this month we feature two Councillors from Queensland.

Councillor Donna Neilson, Cooloola Shire Council, Queensland

Q. How long have you been on Council?

I have been a Councillor on Cooloola Shire Council for eleven and a half years.

Q. Can you tell us about your Shire?

Cooloola Shire is situated in south east Queensland and has an area of 3,000 square kilometres. Gympie, an old goldmining city, is the main commercial centre. It has a number of original buildings that have been immaculately restored and are in use today. The Shire stretches from Rainbow Beach (the gateway to World Heritage listed Fraser Island), and Tin Can Bay on the coast, inland to the picturesque and productive Mary Valley.

Agricultural and timber industries, tourism and gold mining dominate the Shire’s economy. The Nestlé coffee manufacturing plant and a number of other major industries provide employment for a significant number of local families. More than 35,000 residents enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, while being only two hours from Brisbane and 50 minutes from Noosa.

Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in Local Government?

Juggling residents’ increasing demands against limited funds is one of the major challenges facing today’s Councillors. Keeping rates at an affordable level while providing an expanded number of services can be difficult.

Q. What are important issues to you?

The maintenance and upgrading of our rural roads will continue to be an issue which deserves our attention and requires considerable funding. Providing necessary infrastructure is costly and we must be cognisant of the ratepayers’ ability to pay. Despite the size of the Shire, we have a relatively low rate base as 40 per cent of the Shire is either State Forest or National Park and as such, non rateable land.

Q. What are some of the key issues facing your Council area?

We need to manage and plan for the inevitable growth of our Shire to ensure that the lifestyle we currently enjoy is maintained. Development must be economically and environmentally sustainable. Water supply and storage are high on our list of priorities as we recognise the need to provide water to an increasing number of consumers.

While the National Highway through Gympie is not a Council responsibility, its upgrading is of concern to locals and tourists. The stretch of the Bruce Highway from Cooroy to Gympie has been acknowledged as one of the most dangerous roads in Queensland. It has claimed far too many lives and needs urgent attention.

The deregulation of the dairy industry has had an impact on the viability of some local farms and the long term effect is yet to be seen. The South East Queensland Regional Forest Agreement also has implications for Cooloola Shire.

Q. What are the key aspects of being a good Councillor?

A good Councillor must be a good listener and have a genuine interest in the community. You have to be able to think on your feet, but be prepared to seek and accept advice where appropriate. Having the vision to understand the implications of your decisions is also important. Councillors must be realistic about the commitments they make and not bow to pressure from minority groups whose views may be quite different from those of the majority of residents.

There will always be some hard decisions and councillors have to be honest enough, and brave enough, to say ‘No’ when that is the appropriate answer. Your ability to communicate and justify your decisions are usually well regarded by residents, and a sense of humour can be a useful attribute.

Deputy Mayor Bryan Galvin, Pine Rivers Shire Council, Queensland

Q. How long have you been on Council?

I have been on the Council just over 11 years. I was first elected in 1994 as Councillor and Deputy Mayor in 2000.

Q. Can you tell us about your Shire?

Pine Rivers Shire Council is one of the fastest growing Shires in Australia. Last year it had a growth rate of five per cent and this year it has a growth rate of four per cent. It has a mixture of urban and rural lifestyles. The total area of the Shire is 767 square kilometres and the current population is approximately 143,000 people.

Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in Local Government?

The two big challenges from my perspective in Local Government is managing the pressures of growth whilst at the same time maintaining the lifestyle residents of Pine Rivers value. The second big challenge is ensuring that Pine Rivers Shire as an organisation is an efficient well run organisation able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This means working more efficiently and developing effective financial models and plans.

Q. What are the important issues to you?

The important issue for me is that we manage this growth so that we project the environmental values of the Shire, protect the lifestyle of the residents and ensure the growth adds to our environmental lifestyle and values rather than to detract from them.

Q. What are some of the issues facing your Council area?

The key issue is the provision of infrastructure. Council is well placed to provide the water, sewerage and other aspects of infrastructure and local road infrastructure. The concern is that the State and Federal Governments are not providing sufficient transport infrastructure in particular for this area.

Q. What are the key aspects of being a good Councillor?

The central role of a Councillor is to represent the residents of an area. In Pine Rivers Shire Council we have electoral divisions. Councillors are therefore required to represent the interests of that division and the community of Pine Rivers as a whole. There is a key role of the Council to represent those issues in the context of their responsibilities as set out in the Local Government Act. Being honest and accountable, being diligent to the obligations of the role and promoting the work of the Shire Council are important. However the key role of representing the individual residents and the Shire as a whole, and balancing that representation, is paramount.