Councillor profiles

This month we are profiling two councillors from Tasmania.

Councillor Rosemary Armitage, Launceston City Council, Tasmania

Q. How long have you been on Council and what attracted you to the role?

I became involved in Local Government six years ago because I was upset, angry and concerned that we, the ratepayers, were being left out of important decisions. I believed the only way to improve matters was to join Council and ensure more community consultation.

Q. Tell us about your Local Government area.

With around 65,000 people, Launceston City Council controls 1,405 square kilometres of Tasmania and is the largest Council in the State in terms of population and revenue. The Council manages over 900 hectares of parks and recreational areas with over 27,000 trees (not including bushland). My favourite local attractions are Cataract Gorge and our wonderful parks.

Q. What makes your council area special or different?

The people, and Launceston has a special feel. The people are friendly to visitors and locals alike, and our CBD is compact and inviting.

Q. Do you have another job and how does it contributes to your role/views as a councillor?

I am the Legislative Council Member for Launceston, elected in May 2011, replacing the retiring Hon. Don Wing. I am also the Executive Officer of the Northern Division of the Tasmania Branch of the Australian Medical Association, a position I have held for the past 13 years, which gives me an insight into health issues, which is of special concern to me, particularly our Launceston General Hospital. These positions keep me well informed and well briefed on a wide range of issues, many of which are relevant to my local government area.

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

There are many challenges, and I believe the key challenges are planning and the rating system. Keeping rates affordable, while at the same time sustaining a revenue base that enables us to meet our commitments as a council, is always a challenge.

Q. Why do you think females are still under represented in leadership positions and mayoral roles and do you think being female made your journey more challenging?

I believe there are more females now in leadership positions and mayoral roles and I don't believe being female made my journey more challenging. I believe females have an empathy with people and are able to relate in a more relaxed manner, which possibly made the journey easier.

Q. What is the most difficult part of your role?

Pleasing everyone. Obviously, whatever decision you make, half the people are unhappy with it. You just have to do what you believe is right without fear or favour.

Q. What innovative projects or policies is your Council working on?

Council is currently implementing a new economic development strategy, inclusive of community representation. This will enable the community to have a stronger voice when it comes to development of our city. We have also commissioned a Retail Audit and Activity Strategy Report that incorporates criteria for evaluation of major retail developments within our city.

Q. What issues are important to you?

I consider all issues equally important, but I do have a personal interest in matters dealing with health and wellbeing of our citizens.

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

It is my belief that all successes are a combination of decisions made by the Aldermen sitting at the table, and although I have had input into issues that I have been really pleased to have a voice on, I am just one Alderman that made it happen.

Q. What has been your greatest achievement on Council?

Having been elected Deputy Mayor was a humbling experience, as well as coming within three votes of being elected Mayor of Launceston.

Q. What is the best advice you have received?

Two pieces of advice. The first from the late MHA Sue Napier – "never ask a question unless you already know the answer" – and from previous MHA Frank Madill regarding the media – "if you don't say it, they can't use it".

Q. What is the most satisfying part of being a Councillor?

Being able to make a difference and help people, whether it be an elderly pensioner with a query, or a developer with a planning issue. All are equally important.

Q. How do you hope your presence in Local Government will impact your community?

It is my hope that people will view my time as a Councillor as positive, and my contribution to the City as valuable. Everyone has something to offer, and if my time on Council can encourage others to come forward, then it has been worthwhile.

Barry Easther OAM Mayor West Tamar Council, Tasmania

Q. How long have you been on Council and what attracted you to the role?

I was elected in March 1983 to Beaconsfield Municipal Council, which became West Tamar Council in 1993 when amalgamations across Tasmania reduced council numbers from 46 to 29. It had never been one of my long-term plans to be elected as a Local Government Councillor but when approached I gave the matter serious consideration and decided that it could be interesting.

Q. Why did you become involved in Local Government?

I was approached by the local branch of the Farmers and Graziers Association. I had started taking an interest in politics but never with the desire to stand for State or Federal parliament. I was quite enthused by the approach to stand for a seat on the local Council, especially when the group advised that they would work hard to see me elected. I suppose they saw me as a person interested in the local area, as I had become involved in the community through the school Parents and Friends Association, the Rotary Club, the Exeter Show Society and church activities.

Q. Tell us about your Local Government area?

The West Tamar Municipality covers some 700 square kilometres running north from the city of Launceston to Bass Strait, and bounded by the Tamar River to the East and Frankford to the West. We have a population of around 22,500 and a growth rate averaging just over 1 per cent per annum. Roughly half of our population live in the urban residential areas in the southern part of the municipality, with the balance living in the rural areas and small townships in the northern part.

We see the West Tamar as a very desirable place to live, work and visit but our residents mostly commute to work in Launceston or the industrial area at Bell Bay, near George Town on the eastern side of the Tamar River.

Once an apple and pear growing area, the Tamar Valley has in recent years become well-known and respected for the many vineyards producing exceptionally fine cool climate wines. Being part of the Tamar Valley Wine Route, it is a very popular tourist destination.

Q. What makes your council area special or different?

I believe the lifestyle offered in our area is something very special. I see this being appreciated more and more, not only by those who have moved recently but increasingly by those of us who have lived in the area for some time. Our council is of a size that enables us to provide high quality services and respond to matters without delay. We are not a large bureaucratic organisation but one that has developed a caring and responsive attitude with a close and successful relationship with our community.

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

Like most councils around the country, we face the ever-challenging issue of there being greater needs than our finances will allow. That said, West Tamar Council rates highly in all aspects of our business.

A key challenge is for us to deal with the pressure being brought on Local Government by 'self interest' groups calling for amalgamations – calls that are being made without identifying what the problem is, and by using unbalanced and questionable research. We therefore need to continually monitor and review our performance and service delivery to ensure that we are operating as efficiently as possible.

Q. What things should local government be focussing on for the next decade?

It is a well-used phrase that Local Government is the closest sphere of government to the people. Therefore, I believe we should be striving to continue providing high quality services to our communities in the most efficient manner possible. To achieve this, we need to ensure that our Councils are financially sustainable well into the future. It would be helpful to establish just what services are best provided by Local Government but it is a little difficult to get State Governments to the starting line!

Q. Council amalgamations have been in the news of late. How do you see them working?

As I have indicated earlier, Local Government is receiving a great deal of pressure from 'self interest' groups with an orchestrated campaign. The amalgamation call is being made on very flimsy and questionable research, some of which is being used quite out of context. I believe those calling for amalgamation think that by changing a few boundary lines on a map and creating bigger areas and fewer councils, Local Government will suddenly become more efficient and everyone will, by some miracle, be paying less rates. Not a very well thought out scenario and no thought at all given to communities!

Local Government reform can occur by Councils working together in regions to establish if there are ways of providing services more efficiently. The result of such conversations might be an amalgamation of Councils or there may be other methods employed to achieve efficiencies. Time will tell!