Councillor Profiles

Councillor Magdi Mikhail, Sutherland Shire Council, New South Wales

Q. How long have you been on Council?

I was elected to Council in March 2004.

Q. Why did you want to become involved in Local Government?

My background has made me not only appreciate, but embrace the privilege that we, as Australians, have in being able to actively participate in the political process and represent our community. In my homeland, Egypt, it would have been, and still would be, very hard for someone like me to get involved, especially given my Coptic Orthodox (Christian) background. Therefore, when given the opportunity, I had to take it up. It is great to be able to contribute to the community and in a small way to the country that has given my family and I so much.

Q. Can you tell us about your Local Government area?

Sutherland Shire Council is the second largest Local Government area in New South Wales after Blacktown City Council. Population wise, it is the fourth largest Council in Australia, with around 215,000 people. The Shire covers around 370 square kilometres, with almost 200 kilometres of magnificent waterways and 11 kilometres of beautiful beaches and coastal areas. Sutherland also comprises a lot of bushland, with approximately 19,000 hectares of Royal National Park area. We have 45 suburbs in total, with a diverse range of multicultural and ethnic communities.

Q. What are the key challenges facing you and your Council?

One of Sutherland Council’s key challenges is developing a viable solution to the pressing water shortage crisis. Our Shire needs an alternative solution in place of the environmentally unsound proposal of the New South Wales Government. The proposed desalination plant, to be constructed in Kurnell, will cost taxpayers $1.9 billion. It will be located in an area that is of significant historical and cultural value in our Shire – something a lot of Sutherland residents are not happy about.

Council also has to meet the demands of providing a broader range of services and facilities to a growing community with the funds available.

Personally, as a Councillor, it is always a challenge to maintain a balance between the demands of Council meetings and functions, with juggling a family and other Church responsibilities. I am an elected member of the general advisory board of the Coptic Orthodox church for New South Wales and the affiliated reigon and am also involved with a few social/charitable clubs. It keeps me busy and I really enjoy it!

Q. What innovative projects is your Council working on?

Sutherland Council has launched many useful projects in the community, with encouraging results. One example is a scheme developed to combat graffiti and vandalism in the area. The scheme encourages residents to report occurrences of vandalism to the police, with a reward of up to $5,000. We have seen a notable decrease of around 25 per cent in the occurrence of vandalism and graffiti in the area.

SSHED (Sutherland Shire Hub for Economic Development) is another initiative. Established in 2003, it is a not for profit business accelerator that aims to stimulate economic development and generate new jobs in the Shire. Since its creation, SSHED has helped 27 businesses launch into the marketplace, with the creation of 100 new jobs.

In 2005, Council was awarded Milestone 4 for its corporate water saving initiatives. It was the first LGA in Australia to receive this award, which was also recognised by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

Currently, Council’s attentions range from beach renourishment, wharves and water quality, to resident concerns with multi unit developments, the maintenance of 603 kilometres of Local Government roads, 103 kilometres of State roads and increasing demands for resident services.

Q. Tell us about a specific success you have had in Local Government.

As Chair of a multi agency traffic committee, I have made a series of improvements to traffic management across our Shire.
I also lobbied the State Government to establish a trail bike police squad to combat many types of illegal activities in the area.

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

Being a good Councillor requires you to be accessible to your constituents and listen to both sides of an argument with an open mind. Basing your decisions on what is in the best interest of the people you represent and realising that honesty and dedication never goes wrong is the best policy.

Councillor May King, Wingecarribee Shire Council, New South Wales

Q. How long have you been on Council?

I was elected to Council in March 2004.

Q. Why did you want to become involved in Local Government?

I wanted to help the community, foster tourism and protect the wonderful heritage items in our Shire. I also wanted to promote the arts and give youth a voice in decision making.

Q. Can you tell us about your Local Government area?

Known as the Southern Highlands, Wingecarribee Shire covers an area of 2,700 square kilometres, which is larger than just about all the Sydney Metropolitan Councils combined. Much of the Shire is located at or above 640 metres above sea level. It is an easy drive to the coast, Sydney and Canberra.

Our current population is estimated at around 42,000 people. We have over 18,700 residential ratepayers, 1,200 businesses, and 1,350 farm ratepayers.  There are large tracts of land that are not urbanised, which adds to infrastructure funding problems that all Councils face, and will face until fair funding is allocated.

For more information about our Shire visit www.wsc.nsw.gov.au

Q. Tell us about a specific success you have had in Local Government.

Council recently dealt with a subdivision application, which had ramifications for a State and Federally listed local heritage item of incredible significance. Joadja shale mining town is in urgent need of conservation works. The current owners of the valley came up with the idea of subdividing a parcel of land at the top of the valley (24 large rural lots) and generously offered to seed $30,000 per block to the conservation of the ghost town. Unfortunately, the Sydney Catchment Authority would only support the subdivision of 10 blocks, which leaves the project in some jeopardy. I am hopeful for a better outcome to protect, preserve and make available for public access one of the most important heritage areas in New South Wales, if not Australia. The final vote from Councillors to support the Development Application was unanimous, and the heritage and tourism value of Joadja valley and its ruins is incalculable.

Q. What are the key challenges facing you and your Council?

The promotion of the Southern Highlands is very high on my agenda.  We have magnificent scenery with rolling green hills, significant, spectacular lookouts, gorges and waterfalls. We also have a burgeoning wine industry, with 15 diverse cellar doors and multi million dollar wineries – some with restaurants attached. Our winemakers are making their presence known, winning many awards.
I would like to see our cellar doors listed as a must see on the Australian tourism calendar.
I publish a boutique magazine about the Southern Highlands, and there is a linked online magazine (see www.southernhighlandfling.com.au)

Q. What innovative projects is your Council working on?

We have had an environment levy for several years, and a great deal has been accomplished with that. Our Resource Recovery Centre has set new benchmarks and won several awards and we have applied to be the Seventh City of the Arts.

I am very keen to see an abandoned bowling club building at Mittagong converted to a community cultural centre, but we need the Attorney-General to approve this use as there is a trust in place that specifies recreational use. The new concept would be mainly recreational but with added, much needed, space for family services and referrals.

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

The ability to get along with fellow Councillors, respect their views and work on achievable compromises. Also being a conduit for the community with their concerns and questions. The triangle between Councillors, staff and the community should interact and flow in a positive, proactive way, creating a team mentality. Interaction with other Councils is also vital. I would like to see an online forum for Councillors to bounce ideas off each other.