- Thursday 23 February 2017
Communities look to their local councils to display two qualities: confidence in their political and economic direction and responsibility in the way they manage their finances.
As the #GOQLD campaign has shown, a key driver of jobs growth in regional areas is local government. Good councils never lose sight of the value of taking the right opportunities to drive investment in the future of their communities. They have a direct interest in ensuring their part of the world remains an attractive place to live, work and play.
It is no accident that the Palaszczuk Government has looked to local councils to ensure its $200 million Works for Queensland program gets the biggest bang for the buck in terms of job creation and regional economic growth. Local governments are good, efficient employers with a track record of delivering projects and services that have a lasting and positive impact on the community.
Here’s another reason: Queensland’s 77 councils employ nearly 40,000 people – more than the state’s top three publicly-listed companies combined – and manage assets worth more than $100 billion in total. Yet their focus remains solely on improving the wellbeing of their local communities.
That makes them especially conscious of the pitfalls that come with failing to look ahead.
When you look at the themes of the #GOQLD campaign – how best to empower the state’s regions to safeguard its globalised, export-driven economy – there is a no place for anyone who believes the future lies in keeping the status quo.
That is why councils are at the cutting edge of advances such as geothermal power and other renewable energy projects, and why they are anxious to break down barriers to new markets and investment opportunities overseas
Have a look at a map and you can see the potential that can be unlocked for a state with the bulk of its population so close to the emerging markets of Asia.
The development of regional transport and telecommunication hubs is the most efficient way of further opening up Queensland to the world.
It is an argument so compelling that even the distant and remote Barcoo and Diamantina shires used it to win federal and state government support for a $16.5 million rollout of fibre optic cable to allow that part of Queensland to reap the benefits of connectivity with the rest of the world.
However, that success was not easy.
It took several years of lobbying to convince Canberra that no one has a monopoly on good ideas and that fibre optic is productive infrastructure no matter if it is laid in the capital cities or the Outback.
This is the challenge that the #GOQLD campaign has described so starkly. Getting the infrastructure pipeline pumping in regional Queensland is one of the biggest barriers to the nation’s future growth.
Throughout this state’s history, Queensland’s mayors have proven themselves an innovative and optimistic lot. They have pushed the ideas and come up with the seed capital that have produced some of the state’s most transformational and job-generating projects.
Think solar farms, light rail on the Gold Coast, the Inner City Bypass and Legacy Way tunnel in Brisbane, generating power using the hot water from the Great Artesian Basin, tourism infrastructure on indigenous Palm Island and, more recently, the $250 million Townsville stadium, Toowoomba’s second range crossing, heavy rail to Redcliffe and a new university at the old Petrie Paper Mill site.
All of them started with a question every good local council asks itself every day: How can we make our local community better?
Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson is President of the Local Government Association of Queensland. This column first appeared in the Courier-Mail on February 23, 2017