Councillor profiles - Graeme Lehmann Mayor of Somerset Regional Council
Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city in your rear-view mirror and hitting the open road you’ll be in Somerset within an hour. With green pastures, rolling hills, native rain forests, expansive lakes and trickling creeks, it’s no surprise people are flocking to our shire.
Just west of Brisbane, Somerset is the fastest growing local government area in South East Queensland. The region is home to around 25,000 people and is expected to grow to an estimated 34,500 by 2031.
Breathe in the fresh country air of more than 5000 square km of the state’s most beautiful countryside, stopping to enjoy real country hospitality in one of the major townships: Esk, Fernvale, Kilcoy, Lowood or Toogoolawah.
Somerset, brimming with native flora and fauna, has strong agricultural, heritage, tourism and environmental value.
Lakes Somerset and Wivenhoe, the key water catchments for South East Queensland, are the heart of the region. So imperative are the lakes to the region that Somerset Regional Council’s logo represents these two impressive bodies of water.
My family are seventh generation farmers from Somerset. I have a deeply engrained love of this region and the community. With a bit of support from my family and extended family I became a councillor in 1994. After ten years I was elected Mayor and have proudly served in local government for over two decades. I became involved to make a difference and represent the values of residents.
I owned and operated a mechanical repair service station in the region for 40 years with my wife, Judy, and our three daughters. I have now changed direction and have moved to a farm, raising cattle, growing hay and restoring vintage cars and tractors.
I enjoy being the drummer in a local band called Play ‘n’ Up, as well as spending time with my grandchildren on the farm. Cars have always played a part in my life. I used to race super sedans across Australia for many years, and I still tinker with any engine I can get my hands on.
Council has a continued focus on delivering our vision of affordable rates and effective services. Every year presents new challenges to keep costs down – the new state waste levy for example comes in on 1 July 2019.
Another challenge is keeping up with infrastructure requirements in a growing community with both rural and urban expectations competing for limited resources. Add also the challenge of ensuring state and federal governments keep up with our infrastructure needs and service requirements such as policing, schools, hospitals and transport connectivity. Ongoing issues for our region are creating sustainable employment opportunities and at the other end of the spectrum, servicing and caring for an ageing population.
I believe that Council operates as a team, and any successes are a team effort involving myself, my councillors and council officers. Due to careful management and progressive thinking, we are a financially sound Council. We’ve been very successful in securing grant funding for our region, which has ensured rates revenue targets service delivery while infrastructure assets and upgrades are funded from other levels of government.
Grants enabled us to complete a section of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, Australia’s longest recreational rail trail, 80 percent of which passes through our region. We restored a dilapidated packing shed, once home to a Nestlé condensed milk factory, and transformed it into an award winning contemporary art gallery. We’ve replaced almost all our timber bridges with concrete structures – a huge achievement – supporting our rural industries and improving connectivity.
It is great to see Council making a difference in resident’s lives and providing a lifestyle that we can all enjoy today and in the future. Council will always assist community groups that are helping themselves or residents who take the initiative to come up with ideas for social inclusion.
Often Council is criticised for the responsibilities of other levels of government. It’s important that residents understand we are essentially spending their money to improve their community and Council needs to be financially switched on to deliver projects that benefit the wider population and the region as a whole. It is a fine balancing act and all-important projects take time. It all comes down to good governance.
For Somerset, lifestyle is the destination. It is important to me to maintain that rural feel and atmosphere. I want to keep Council in a strong financial position and provide affordable services to the community.
I would like to develop tourism within the region; we’re an accessible tourism destination that’s a stone’s throw from the city.
It is vital to continue to maintain good working relationships with Council staff and the community because without that understanding and appreciation, services and expectations would not be met.