As Mayor, my achievable four tiered strategy will deliver better leadership and will ensure:
• Council budgets within its means - services will be prioritised and balanced with spending constraint
• Council delivers excellent customer service through a whole of organisation commitment and a culture that promotes 'ease of doing business'
• I lobby aggressively for a better deal for the region, encouraging the right kind of investment for our future and encouraging job growth - while fortifying my existing relationships with political bodies and government representatives.
• I achieve this regions goals through co-operation, rewarding excellence and celebrating diversity
For further details visit www.peterblundell.com
Born in Stanthorpe in 1962, my career has mainly been in the sheep and cattle industry. In 1992 I was elected Stanthorpe Branch Secretary then President of the National Party. In 1997 I was elected President of the Warwick Electorate Council and chaired Lawrence Springborg's campaign twice. Elected to Council in 1997, I have served as Deputy Mayor twice. Until recently I was chairman of the Queensland Murray Darling Committee, Director of the RGC and I remain representative on GBWT, the Dingo Fence Committee, the Surat Basin CSG Engagement Group and the financial advisory group to the Queensland Water Commission.
- There is a concern about bureaucratic control stifling the power of council. What way is there to stop top management from having so much control? Is the red tape in the planning department stopping development? Does the CEO have too much power?
What needs to change is the culture within the organisation. As Mayor I will prioritise a whole of organisation cultural change that embraces customer service and ease of doing business. The implementation of this strategy will be achieved through the establishment of KPIs for senior management and the establishment of Councillor portfolios to give them more accountability in the implementation of policy. Under the Local Government Act Councillors responsibility is to set the strategic direction of Council but cannot direct staff. The CEO has the responsibility to implement the direction of Council. Only the Mayor can directly instruct the CEO.
- CSG issue. Would you as mayors move to protect the region? Do you see opportunities for this region to benefit from CSG or only dangers?
There are benefits and dangers from the CSG industry and it is essential we understand as much as we can before we make decisions. We need to look at the many opportunities the industry presents for development and job security, while ensuring we protect our agricultural industry and community values. We need to learn the lessons of development in other regions and ensure the negative impacts aren't repeated here. I have spent 2 years on the Surat Basin CSG Engagement Group to address exactly these issues and in that time have seen remarkable improvements in the operation of CSG companies.
- The key to a successful team is its members. Pick your team of eight councillors with a brief explanation of why. Pick your deputy. Who wouldn't you have?
The community will elect the mayor and Councillors and until that occurs it is futile to speculate on who will be sitting at the table in a month's time. The main vision and objectives of most of the Councillor candidates aren't really that different - what I hope to see is a group of individuals willing to work together to achieve this region's goals. Under my Council, teamwork will be rewarded and Councillors will be allowed a larger voice in the media.
- What would be your five specific priorities in your first 100 days after election?
As I said on the night, there is really only one priority for the first 100 days and that is setting the budget. The delay handed to us from the former Labour Government means we have very little time to analyse, review and then approve the 2012/13 budget. Within this process, it will be essential to review the budget process, prioritise core business, deliver services essential to the community and deliver operational efficiencies. In the first 60 days I will also be setting portfolios for Councillors and establishing community reference groups to act as sounding boards for Council decisions.
- How would you support and encourage council and the wider community to shop locally? What do you think about the current shop local campaign? How would you address the issue of Warwick businesses being used for Stanthorpe jobs and vice versa?
The best way for Council to support and encourage shopping locally is to lead by example. While we have a responsibility to deliver value for money we need to ensure local businesses throughout the region have the ability to benefit from Council purchases. The current Shop Local campaigns are a positive start but rely on continued business and community support. I will work with the Chambers of Commerce and a business reference group to maximise Council's local spend in the community. Council needs to consider the holistic effects of its purchasing policy, not only the most economically efficient.
- There is a fear council jobs in the south are being whittled downs by natural attrition and indeed the office could close. What will you do to ensure council jobs still exist in Stanthorpe?
Quite simply, the Stanthorpe office will not close. While some positions may move to ensure efficiency of operations, there is too much core business in the South to consider this being an option. Nor should we ask our community members to drive such significant distances to meet with Council personnel.
- What is your opinion on deamalgamation?
De-amalgamation was thrust upon us and we were forced to swallow a bitter pill. The new government has suggested that if de-amalgamation was an option it would be at our own cost. I believe this cost would be prohibitive and set communities back financially. A significant disadvantage would be our ability to have a voice and lobby effectively as smaller regions. I believe we need to look forward and achieve the best outcome for all our communities and I don't believe de-amalgamation will achieve that. However, if the option is given I will ask the community to direct Council.
- There was an obscene rate rise in last budget. Was it acceptable, what would you do to ensure no more of the same?
The budgeting process needs to change. The mayor and Councillors need to be more proactive at the beginning of the budgeting process to ensure we are the ones setting the acceptable limits for budget changes rather than waiting for the budget request to come through from staff. I believe we can achieve this without reducing the services provided to the community. The rate rise was unacceptable but necessary. In order to continue access to funding the Qld Treasury required us to address our sustainability through increased revenue. This was largely the result of inherited debt at the time of amalgamation.
- What do you think council needs to do to facilitate business and help business growth in the region?
To increase investment we need to make it easier to do business in the region. Council needs to develop a culture of assistance in dealing with existing and proposed business. For good reason Council has a regulatory role, but we need to ensure regulations are necessary, relevant and not inhibitive to business set up costs. Our region is predominantly made up of small business so we must ensure our businesses have the right tools to remain sustainable in a changing retail environment. Business development needs will be assessed by the business reference group and implemented by the interdepartmental working group.
- WIRAC would you privatise. Mowing of sports fields in either end of region?
a. We need to make WIRAC sustainable regardless of whether it is privatised or not. It is an important facility that provides a highly valuable service to the entire Southern Downs. The recommendations from a 2011 review are already being implemented to work towards operational improvements.
b. We need to consult with Sports & Recreation groups across the region to reach efficient agreements that best reflect the diverse needs of these groups. There is a community service obligation to ensure continued diversity of sport and recreation across the region as it is such an important attraction and way of life.
- Tourism. What do you think of the current tourism structure? What is your vision for tourism in the region?
I have always supported and believe strongly in the importance of Local Tourism Organisations. The diversity of our tourism offering shouldn't be diluted by merging marketing activity. Tourism operators need to take ownership, with Council support, of their organisation and this cannot happen through oversized Regional Organisations (RTOs). RTOs have a role at state level to lobby, get a better advertising deal and give operators the right tools to market their product. The RTO has been in flux for too many years, hopefully the new government will move forward so we can start getting butts in beds.
- What parts of the community plan would you implement as a priority? How would you do so? Have you read the community plan?
I have read the plan on a number of occasions. The community plan was developed directly from community guidance and prioritising the projects will again be based on what the community tells us. My policy, particularly the lobbying part of it, is geared to ensuring we as a region get a bigger voice at a state and federal level and how we lobby will be instrumental in achieving the community plan. It will also be important to get community groups talking to each other so we can create a united front and achieve some real outcomes.
- How would you cut the budget? Do you have the economic skills to put together a budget in such a short period of time?
My policy remains clear. I will ensure that:
• I lobby to restore the ability to build up reserves for appropriate capital projects
• The budget process prioritises core business with senior management instructed on acceptable changes
• The services we deliver are essential
• Improved operational efficiency, including an assessment of the use of external consultants
• The 10 year financial forecast reflects community priorities
• Organisational structure reflects core council business
• Council pursues funding opportunities with each budget
• Prior to amalgamation Council was always in surplus
• Successfully managed my own business for 2o years
• Chairman of Audit & Finance for RGC and QMDC
- Which council sporting fields/facilities/complexes within our region should council maintain as part of its community obligations.
It's the old adage of 'give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." I believe we need to work with Sporting and Recreational Groups to assess how we can achieve more efficient and sustainable outcomes while ensuring the continuation of facilities. I will achieve this by offering community groups methods to access funding for improved facilities as well as tools for becoming more financially sustainable. Council has responsibility for Council owned facilities and those assessed as underutilised should be sold to reduce the budget.
- Have you recently been to a Southern Downs Council meeting? If so, what did you learn, if not how do you know what to expect from your job?
Not applicable - of course I have!
- Your biggest achievement in the last four years and biggest mistake.
My biggest individual achievement was ensuring Council took a firm position against 7 Day Trading. I believe this was necessary in order to reflect the majority of the community's opinion on the matter, particularly the view of small business and the cultural values of our community. My biggest mistake was the implementation of the rating advisory group - they were brought to the table too late to contribute as fully as they could have to the process of developing a unified rating policy.
- Why should we vote for you?
I am the only mayoral candidate with the combined vision, experience, integrity and youth to lead a new Council forward. My vision is matched with an achievable action plan to overcome regional challenges and make necessary internal change. My experience and established networks will ensure our new Council can deliver its promises without fumbling to understand legislative constraints. I have continued working through difficult circumstances, always representing the entire region and never promising what I cannot deliver. The Southern Downs is now a much larger and diverse region that requires youth and vitality to lead it.
- Tell us your vision for the region.
My vision for the Southern Downs sees a prosperous region celebrating our diversity; using that diversity to appeal to investors, potential residents and visitors; a community that values and protects our natural beauty and way of life; a community that pursues sustainable growth and offers job opportunities for future generations. It sees a region where Council is a valued part of the community, offering exceptional service and value for money; a Council that people are proud to say represents them and achieves their ideals. We can overcome challenges by working together and punching above our weight to have our voice heard.
* Answers have not been edited.