Councillor profiles - Mayor Jo Armstrong Ararat Rural City Council
Ararat Rural City has a population of over 11,000 and is situated 200km west of Melbourne on the Western Highway connecting the region to Adelaide. A major regional service centre in Victoria’s mid-west with excellent passenger and rail freight connections, Ararat sits at an important road junction with the Pyrenees Highway connecting the north-west of our state to the port of Portland in the south.
Ararat Rural City is the gateway to the world-renowned Grampians Region and is characterised by huge horizons, spectacular mountain scapes and a vibrant sense of community health and wellbeing. Our several small rural townships each have a strong sense of identity.
Ararat is Australia’s only city founded by Chinese, in the 1850s. Thousands of immigrants arrived on the Victorian goldfields on foot from Robe, South Australia, thereby avoiding the discriminatory ‘certain immigrant’ poll tax charged by Victoria at ports of arrival.
Water is the new gold
Our local economy is underpinned by agriculture, food and wine production, advanced manufacturing, construction, healthcare and tourism experiences. Over 400 people are employed at the Hopkins Creek Correctional Centre and an associated Security and Emergency Services Group training complex.
Mineral exploration continues across the Stavely Arc – but our next ‘gold rush’ is the imminent connection to the East Grampians Rural Water Pipeline with works scheduled to commence in 2020. Water security is the single-biggest opportunity for our agribusiness sector to capitalise on being ‘clean and green’. We can diversify, intensify, value-add to our food and fibre production, grow future wine exports, and expand the supply chain – opportunities abound and all within the footprint of our municipality.
Ararat Rural City Council this year committed to a record spend on our capital works program and is tackling the challenge of asset renewal head-on. Our Council Plan strives to recognise the practical need of deserving ratepayers and match that responsibly with capacity and sustainability.
Ararat is agitating for change in local government funding methodology. We encourage federal and state governments to address the inequity of existing grant allocation mechanisms and revenue-raising opportunities as they apply to small rural councils in comparison with large regional and metropolitan councils. We have been heavy lifters long enough!
Supported by community
I am a novice mayor, and this is my first term as a councillor, but I am well-supported by our community, my peers, and the organisation. My decision to stand as a candidate in 2016 stemmed from the value I place on community building, accountability, and relevant and sustainable goal setting. My resolve to serve is strengthened by ongoing encouragement from our community to overcome extraordinary challenges faced early in our council term.
I work on our family farm growing fine Merino wool, fat lambs, and rotating no-till broadacre crops of canola, wheat and barley. We have a strong focus on preserving pasture to maintain a fodder reserve for hard times.
Being a small business owner in the field of primary production equips me with a sound knowledge of resource management, capital works planning, budgeting and managing deficit and surplus due to the increasingly variable cycles of risk and opportunity that is familiar to all of us with a strategic understanding of climate change and the land.
Encouraging others to stand
One of my goals for this final year of our term is to encourage members of our community to consider civic service and nominate as candidates for the local government election in October 2020. We have many people with the capability and capacity to serve Ararat Rural City well – and it is up to all of us to identify and encourage prospective candidates who can bring sound decision making and business management skills into our chamber.
In early December our council celebrated the inaugural East Grampians Business Awards to much acclaim, with special guest Hon Adem Somyurek, Minister for Local Government, and Small Business, attending. It is evident that Ararat Rural City has contributed to greater optimism across our community with more people trusting that better outcomes will be delivered more quickly. I am excited that residents, business and industry are gaining confidence and we have a renewed sense that, together, with hard work, we can
get stuff done.