Councillor profiles – Maurice Collison Mayor of Upper Hunter Regional Council 

Article image - Councillor profiles – Maurice Collison Mayor of Upper Hunter Regional Council 

The Upper Hunter Shire is predominantly rural with a population of around 14,100 and a land area of about 8000 square kilometres, of which a large proportion is National Park and nature reserves. Most of the rural area is used for grazing, dairy farming, horse studs and general farming.

I am looking forward to everyone coming to visit the Upper Hunter again. What makes this area special is the community. Each town has its own character and heritage, which they proudly put on display. Merriwa in the west is well known for its popular Festival of the Fleeces; Murrurundi has one of the largest sheep dog trials in the state and the annual King of the Ranges Stockman’s Challenge; Aberdeen with its rich Scottish heritage has its annual Aberdeen Highland Games; and Scone is renowned for its thoroughbred horse industry and the long running Scone and Upper Hunter
Horse Festival.

Serving the community
I joined Council in 2012 due to a desire to represent the needs of rural people. I related to the issues of isolated rural living and was eager to address the challenges of rural roads and infrastructure. Serving the community has always been a part of my life, with both my grandfather and father serving for many years on Council.

Being a farmer has played a huge role on my time serving as Councillor. It has helped me understand the needs of the rural sector and how local growth and development must be provided with improved access to our towns in order to benefit from the business centres, schools and medical care.
 
Critical partnerships
Council has played a very proactive role in developing partnerships with other levels of government to deliver critical infrastructure. The $137 million New England Highway Bypass of Scone is a great example of all levels of government working together to deliver for the community. I’m excited to see that transformation continue with our upcoming Scone central business district revitalisation.

I am very excited about the upcoming Hunter Warbirds attraction that is currently under construction at Scone Airport. This multi-million-dollar, world class, tourism experience has the potential to be a real drawcard to the region and is a product of Council’s innovative destination management plan. As a region with a small rate payer base, projects such as this, would be impossible without Council’s proactive approach in seeking partnerships with other levels of government, along with support from the business community.

Introducing a new executive team has been a major milestone. In January, we appointed Greg McDonald as General Manager and during his tenure a new executive team has been established with a new Director for Infrastructure recently appointed. During this short period of time Council has seen a significant change in its culture, operations, and strategic direction.

I believe that, through this change, Council has embarked on a new, more aspirational direction. Our recent Development Program and Operational Plan received unprecedented levels of community response, which is a huge endorsement on Council’s refocused priorities and agenda. During this period of change, Council has placed a greater focus on communication, community engagement and accountability.

Rising to the challenge
I am also proud of Council’s agility in responding to community concerns, needs and at times, moments of crisis. Behind the scenes staff have been worked tirelessly, advocating for and supporting the community during COVID-19, planning and facilitating mass-vaccination pop-ups and mass-testing facilities.

I love seeing outcomes for our community. We’ve been successful in getting funding for the airport and saleyard upgrades and a horse arena at White Park, but the impacts of the drought and COVID-19 have meant that we’re not really seeing the full potential of these new assets for our community. I’m looking forward to when these facilities are operating at full capacity again and creating economic benefits for all of our community.

A large portion of my time as Mayor has been during the pandemic. After only recently emerging from a hard drought our community has had to endure the economic and social impacts of COVID-19. Although I am proud of Council’s ability to quickly adapt to these challenges, it is still painful to see the impacts on rural
communities. 

Emerging from the grips of COVID-19 will be a key challenge in the years ahead. As we have proven before, our economy and community is resilient. My focus will be to ensure that we can capitalise on the opportunities of a post COVID economy. I am excited to open up the Upper Hunter and to share our great region with everyone. I look forward to the growth of our tourism economy, with the Hunter Warbirds exhibit playing a leading role in encouraging investment.