What were your first impressions of this organisation?
I see conflicting interests and I think there is a need for a strong coordinated effort from all departments to focus on the same sorts of outcomes.
For example, some people are focussed on the environment and protecting certain areas; then there are people looking for opportunities to approve job- creating projects.
So, it’s about finding a balance and ensuring that across the whole organisation there’s a team approach, not an “us” and “them” between the councillors and the staff.
You’re the first mayor of the Sunshine Coast with a strong corporate background. How will that help define your role as mayor of this Council?
Ultimately the mayor’s key responsibility is to unite the team, and I have certainly had a lot of experience in building and developing teams, not only as a corporate chief executive but as a sportsman and community participant.
But from a corporate perspective I think ratepayers want to know that their money is being well spent, because ultimately, if it’s being spent efficiently they’re not going to have to endure unnecessarily large rate increases.
Do you see your role as being an entrepreneur, and being out there spruiking the Sunshine Coast?
Absolutely. Part of the mayor’ s role is to be seen as the number one salesman for your region, whether that’s selling the benefits to the tourism sector, the business sector, the industry sector or the government sector. I think my background in media will be beneficial to me and to the people I represent.
There is the perception that you were supported by the LNP in your campaign. Does that mean you can expect a better working relationship with the Newman LNP state government than Bob Abott had with the previous Labor government?
I will just correct that notion about the level of support from the LNP. At the end of the day everyone turns up to the polling booth on a local government election either blue, red or green in terms of their political flavour.
That doesn’t prevent those very same people respecting local government as being non-political. I think there were people across the political spectrum who supported my candidacy because they believed I was the best person for the job.
As for my relationship with the state government, I anticipate it will be really strong, not so much because of political leanings but rather that I am very open to the opportunities that exist.
The rider on that is the state government has 78 seats across Queensland which they have to satisfy, and $80 billion worth of debt. They have made it clear there isn’t a lot of money available, so we are going to have to think very creatively and be tactical about the things we do to get the right result for our region.
In terms of development, there have been suggestions you would support the loosening of height restrictions, allowing up to 20 storey developments, and that you would be prepared to sell the Sunshine Coast Airport.
I have never advocated 20 storeys. In fact, I said in my campaign policy that I would leave height levels exactly as they are. The one exception is for an international standard hotel that I understand we will desperately need if we are to truly capitalise on the investment in an entertainment, convention and exhibition centre.
I do think we’ll see the emergence , during the next term of Council, local area planning for areas around the Coast that clearly need re-development and re- generation. It’s an economic question as to when does re-developing existing sites become more attractive to the developer, to the community and to the Council in terms of the overall cost, as opposed to developing green field sites.
As for selling the airport expansion, there’s a $200 million price ticket on the east-west runway and the Council doesn’t have that to spend on behalf of ratepayers. It’s not something we would want sitting on our balance sheet so, we need to find funding for it through the federal government, which appears unlikely. My preferred option is through the private sector via long-term leases if they can find an economic appetite to invest to get the development done and get a return.
The traditional sources of employment have been through tourism, construction and retail and you have said that jobs is your main area of concern, how will that differ under Mark Jamieson’s rule?
Already we are seeing a structural change in the economic base of the Coast where now the number one job provider is the health, medical and wellbeing sector. That will probably continue given what we know is in the pipeline, given that we will have an ageing population who will be attracted here.
I think education is another key area for job growth. If we can have more university students educated here and in particular international English language students, there are great opportunities in a tourism / education sense. There are currently about 2000 English language students on the Coast, that could be 20,000. And for every seven, a new job in teaching or admin is created.
There’s potential for sport and recreation in terms of events. With our tremendous natural resources and infrastructure we should be focussed on being the sports and eventing capital of regional Australia.
How do you see social and economic contributions of the Hinterland as a component of the Sunshine Coast region?
I see the people of the hinterland as great contributors to our community, particularly in the way that they have developed their own communities and niches from an economic point of view. But I don’t see a lot of opportunities for industrial development along our range area at all.
Clearly, tourism is very important and farming is important; it will become more important as people become more concerned about where their food is coming from.
You have acknowledged there is waste and duplication inside Council’s administration and residents will be looking to see how you deal with that. How much is it a priority?
I said in my campaign that I didn’t have a slash and burn mentality. But I believe from a human resources point of view that the best plan is to have the right people, with the right skills at the right place at the right time. And I have already reiterated that policy to senior managers here. Another platform of my campaign was to conduct an organisational review to carefully see that we have the right amount of resource focussed in the right areas to get the right outcomes.
Is this where the corporate Mark Jamieson comes into play… making tough decisions?
Well I have had to make plenty of tough decisions in the past, coming from the newspaper industry which has been under enormous pressure, particularly from the digital sector.
But in the end the focus was always on maintaining the profitability and performance of the business and preserving the majority of the jobs. I don’t think that’s changed significantly over the years although perhaps the public sector doesn’t have as sharp an eye on that, but it will certainly be an area that I will be focussed on.
From a business perspective I will certainly be doing whatever I can to make business more efficient and more innovative in meeting the challenges of the future. And I am confident in discussions I have had with the Premier that he will be looking to free up the local government act, to allow mayors and councillors to do what people expect of them.