So you want to be a councillor?
Mandatory candidate training
By becoming a councillor, or even just running for election, you can make a positive difference to your local community. Queensland’s councils need councillors and mayors that reflect the diversity of our communities.
To run for mayor or councillor at the 2024 quadrennial election or any subsequent by-election, you must complete the So you want to be a Councillor course within six months of the nomination date, regardless of whether you are a sitting mayor or councillor, or whether you have done the course before.
The 2024 local government elections will include elections for mayors and councillors in each of Queensland’s 77 councils.
Election day will be on Saturday, 16 March 2024.
Candidates must declare successful completion of the training on the official nomination form. It is recommended that candidates keep a copy of the mandatory training certificate, which is received upon completion. The reference number on the certificate can be included on the nomination form as proof of completion.
How do I access the training?
For more information, view the So you want to be a councillor FAQs ( 306.3 KB)
Listen to our podcasts
Gain genuine insight into local government political life and the opportunities to represent your community, as we chat with councillors, mayors, and council executives from across Queensland, Australia.
We share a handful of experiences from those who represent our regions, including first nations people, female leaders, those with agricultural backgrounds or with careers in governance. Our host, Rob Hazel, uncovers what the roles within our state’s 77 councils entail, the qualifications required, and the positive impacts of engaging with your local community.
Queensland is seeking candidates of all genders, ages, backgrounds, abilities and experiences who can actively represent the interests and issues within our diverse communities.
Discover how local government works, election campaign requirements, and to access online training modules, candidate fact sheets and resources. Embark on your local government journey now, so that you’re ready for Queensland’s next local government election on 16 March, 2024.
Please share a rating review on your favourite podcast app, to help spread the word among future candidates.
A natural disaster led Rachel Chambers to fall in love with the North Burnett community and subsequently decide to take on a leadership role, despite being new to the region. A self-confessed ‘annoying constituent’, Rachel put up her hand for Mayor despite having no prior experience as a councillor, to the surprise of some in her electorate, because she knew she could make a difference. In a state where only 36.5% of elected representatives are female, discover Rachel's journey from mud army to majority votes in local government.
[Host] Rob Hazel: Welcome to ‘So you want to be a councillor?’ where you'll get a realistic glimpse into what it's like to be elected to represent your community on one of Queensland's 77 councils. There are nearly 600 councillors across Queensland’s 77 councils, but following the last local government elections in 2020; only 36.5% were female, just 13% under the age of 40 and even less identify as First Nations.
Why is there a lack of diversity among those elected to represent the interests of the communities they serve? Is it because those who may wish to run think they don't have the qualifications to do the job? Or is it a lack of understanding about what the role involves and the positive impact working as a councillor can make?
It takes a special person to both serve and represent their community. In this podcast series we'll give you a real life perspective of what it's like to be a councillor by chatting with previous councillors, mayors and council executives.
It's an often misunderstood fact that mayors themselves are also technically councillors and their duties don't end at the close of the business day. But those who take up the honour of the position say they find it worthwhile, after seeing the tangible difference they've been able to make.
So how does someone find themselves in the position of mayor? I'm Rob Hazel and let's jump into the first episode where we catch up with Rachel Chambers, former Mayor of North Burnett Shire and current CEO of Growcom, Queensland's peak fruit and vegetable industry body.
A newcomer to Gayndah and a leading figure in the region's mud army during 2013's flood recovery activity, Rachel says she ran for mayor simply because she fell in love with the North Burnett community and knew she could make a difference. Rachel tells us exactly why she put her hand up to run and how she was able to make a positive impact as an elected representative, despite being both new to the region and local government itself - a situation she describes as having been a great advantage.
Rachel Chambers: My name is Rachel Chambers. For five and a half years I was Mayor of North Burnett Regional Council. Currently I am the CEO of Growcom.
Rob: So you're Mayor of North Burnett Regional Council for five and a half years. How long had you been living in that area before becoming mayor?
Rachel: So I became Mayor at the end of March, 2016 and I moved to Gaynder in the North Burnett on the 29th of January, 2013 so just over three years.
Rob: So you hadn't been in the in the area for very long. What drove you to want to become the mayor of that area?
Rachel: Well if you think back in 2013 what was happening in January was Queensland was being inundated by floods; the North Burnett of course was highly impacted. So my husband's family, his father was the police sergeant there for over 20 years, so I decided that I would just pack up and go and be like one of the mud army and go and help.
Rob: So what did that help entail?
Rachel: Look, never to be one to do things by halves I drove in, I hired an empty industrial shed and pulled trucks off the road, initially, because that was a problem. There was no one getting, you know, out of the roads - they were congested. A lot of the trucks were - had donated goods in it so we started sorting donated goods. Which is a huge issue in any kind of natural disaster, so I came to learn. And then we just sort of did whatever we needed to do at the time.
So we ended up running what we called the ‘Just say yes centre’ so people from the community just came in and if they needed help all they had to do was answer a question and “yes - do you need help?” “yes” and then we'd do whatever we had to do to make their day a bit better.
Rob: At that stage I don't imagine that local politics was really on your mind. What were you doing with yourself?
Rachel: It's a funny thing, politics definitely was never on my agenda, it was on my mother's agenda. So I remember being young in - growing up in Logan City and her chuffing me off to the Logan City Council chambers and I was so bored. I didn't know what she was doing, what she was trying to teach me, I just needed to get out of there. And politics to me hadn't really made an impact to my - into my life until that time so I was a very late adopter into politics.
There's always a reason and the reason was at the time the Mayor and Councillors came into the ‘Just say yes centre’ and said we were detrimentally affecting the economy of the region by doing what we were doing. And I sought to understand that opinion and so I started a dialogue with Council.
Rob: Did that experience give you a bit of an affinity as well for the community there?
Rachel: I fell in love with the community there and then. So it was almost four months, seven days a week, long, long hours and in any kind of disaster response you see the absolute best and some of the worst of humanity. So that's when I fell in love with the entire North Burnett.
Rob: The experience of setting up the ‘Just say yes centre’ and what you were able to accomplish yourself, I'm guessing you were confident to do it? Did you feel that you were able to do something like that?
Rachel: Setting up the centre during a natural disaster, I think you have a great deal of time spent with community, absolutely. But you also deal with government departments. So we dealt with, you know, Department of Health, and public health, and of course the Council, and emergency services, and SES, and QFES and all of those departments as well. So it sort of expanded my eyes as to all the different functional parts of a community and that definitely drove me and helped me out, with my council endeavours.
Rob: So from that from that time you started dialogues with Council. How long was it then, from having this experience during the natural disaster for you to say “you know what? I'm going to run for council.”
Rachel: This is a great story because I don't think there's anyone sitting in their lounge rooms in any council area that says “you know what my council has it 100% right.” So I always say you have to put your life where your mouth is and so for me I started I started questioning council from that time. So I was like “why did you want to shut us down? And why did you come in? And why did you put that particular service there when the community obviously wanted it over here? And how are you making decisions?” and all of those kind of things. So that absolutely stemmed from that first time and it never stopped.
So I was continually asking questions and I was that really annoying constituent. And I did that up until the next election where I gave myself a long hard look, at myself, and said Rachel you have to put your life where your mouth is; it's time to give this a crack.
Rob: Did you know what you were doing?
Rachel: Yes. So over the years, particularly in the first couple, there was people always saying you didn't know what you were doing did you? [Laughs] How could you? And I would say “look no one knows in its entirety what any job, or any relationship or anything's going to entail; you work that out after the fact.” But did I do my research? Absolutely.
Rob: I'm impressed by the research that you did do. Talk us through - because you seem to me to be a very level-headed and thoughtful person and you wouldn't go into something like council, or running for council, without having thought it through very, very clearly. What was the preparation that you made, individually, to prepare yourself?
Rachel: So I read two years worth of minutes, of every general meeting. And I read the local government legislation which, since then, I have worked out that very few people do. Which is really unfortunate, because as a piece of legislation, it's really easy to read. And I've read far worse pieces of legislation mind you, since. But I think that's fundamental in just - by reading the legislation I knew what was expected of the position and I sort of, you know, that's the rule book - what you can and can't do.
And then by reading the minutes of the council meetings I could understand where council had come from, and I did it for two years for a purpose. So I wanted to see where council had come from, where they were in their decision making in case I popped in. And of course the plan was to pop in as mayor, so I knew I had to sort of understand council from day one.
Rob: You had confidence in yourself. You don't just walk into a position like mayor, you have to be voted into a position like mayor. So how were you able to instill the confidence that you had in yourself, into the community's belief in you?
Rachel: So back in 2016 - oh it's actually 2015, so I resigned from my job in education and then I announced it as a three-month job interview. So that's how I approached it, that I was going to have thousands and thousands of people who decided whether I was worthy of this job. And I approached it like in any other job interview; so I made sure that I did my research, I made sure that I went to understand the communities.
Of course you can't go in, you know, and meet everyone individually, so I focused on groups; so sporting groups or community groups or things like that, to give bang for buck. I mean any election campaign is a hard task and you will always be criticised for not going to speak to that person, or that group, or whatever so you have to have quite a good strategy around it. Mine was get to groups it's going to be better bang for buck and really get to know what their issues are. So don't do any sort of flying visits, spend a few hours with them.
Rob: You'd never been a councillor before so wanting to go straight into the mayoral-ship. [Both laugh]. Was your experience called into question during that election campaign?
Rachel: 100%. 100% and at one town hall meeting a voice from the floor was “what makes you think that you can not do your time as councillor and go straight to mayor?” And of course I said “well the local government legislation says,” because of course I'd read it. And although that may not be the right decision for everyone, I did it because I felt that I couldn't wait for another term in order to achieve the things I had read about in them, in the minutes. The council was - had some financial concerns and it needed some hard decision making and I knew that I was a person capable of doing that. So I needed that leadership position.
Rob: We're not elected yet... question marks over experience, whether - were there other question marks about things that may have surprised you? Were there question marks over your age, at the time?
Rachel: To answer your question a bit backwards, no I wasn't surprised about some questions. Yes they were based on my age and potentially my family situation. So the age thing was “what makes you think that you're old enough for the job?” Once again, “it's the legislation” - everyone should read it. You only have to be 18 and I was decades past that. And the other the one was “you're a mother, do you think this is the right position for you?”
Rob: Was that something that you were asking yourself going into it?
Rachel: I wasn't asking myself as much as asking my family. So this, I knew that I was capable of delivering in this position but my family had to agree to it. So we actually had a big family discussion with immediate family and extended family to say “this is what I'm thinking” and this is months and months out. “This is what I'm thinking - who thinks it's crazy? [Laughs] Who thinks it's a good idea?” Knowing that everyone is going to be elected to council, so it's basically a one in all-in system regardless of who you are. Everyone you touch; your friends, your family become part of your, you know, your role in community. So absolutely it was a family-based decision.
Rob: Prior to election you obviously had thought about it and discussed it with the family. The reality of the job, did it - did it pan out the way that you thought it would?
Rachel: Yeah I would say so. I knew it was going to be a 24 hour, seven day a week position and anyone who doesn't think that is delusional. There's strategies around that so after - and there's some really lovely friendships in local government because everyone is in a similar boat. Other councillors and mayors gave me some really great advice on the outset.
And I remember one such piece of advice saying, “Rachel the people that will bring you down, the people that you will hear from most is about 5% of the population. 95% actually don't care what you do every day. [Laughs] So stop focusing on the 5% and actually just get on and do your job. Things like that helped, but yes the responsibility was never lost on me.
Rob: and it's an interesting one because I think we've got 77 councils in Australia, 77 local government - oh sorry - in Queensland 77 local government areas, all of them are different. They're all unique. For your experience you don't have one primary centre of population, a number of different townships. How challenging was that for you to represent equally and I guess, holistically?
Rachel: Yeah that's actually one of my campaign approaches in that - so North Burnett for anyone who doesn't know is a region that was amalgamated, so six towns into one. And if you can think of the region, it's four hours in any direction that encompasses the whole region. So one of my election, sort of, speeches was about who better to represent the view of everyone in someone who has only been here three years? Who can actually represent everyone equally and without any kind of bias? So that's what I did, I went in and I'd had that flooding experience where I had just loved everyone from around the region and that's exactly how I worked it.
Rob: What would be some of the, I guess, the career highlights isn't there?
Rachel: It's funny in a regional area, of course the financial sustainability and those kind of things; it's a different job to potentially city or coastal mayors. And this is something that we ought to speak about, in that there's a lot of opportunity for other mayors to cut ribbons and do something nice for community. And when they look back they might be, you know, “well we got this centre up” or “we got this” and all that. The North Burnett was much more basic.
I enjoyed lobbying for a number of years to get things like the John Peterson Bridge renewed [laughs] and to get a water treatment plant replaced. Some people are driven to their community in a sort of a one-topic agenda; I've seen that go badly. So for me, yes you have to be driven for your community but it has to be about leaving a legacy; rather than just solving a problem.
One of the best descriptions about what we do came from a lovely lady who used to be a CEO in local government at Wajul Wajul. And Eileen said to me in First Nations, they think about decision making in five generations time. So what will the outcome be in five generations time? And I took away from that something quite special in that I couldn't think what five generations time looked like. So we started talking about what we were working for, were our children's grandchildren and try to frame it in that way. So it was about decision making in the context of leaving a legacy for others.
Rob: That's quite an enormous responsibility isn't it? And that's one of those things, I guess, if you're thinking about putting your hand up to run you've got to take into account; that you're guiding your community for decades to come.
Rachel: It's quite the responsibility and I think too, the other thing that people get a little bit caught up on is, and particularly people who run for mayor, they may think well you're mayor - and I know that certainly community said to me sometimes - “well you're Mayor why didn't you? Why can't you just make the decision? I said “well yes I'm Mayor, I'm the figurehead, however I just get one vote like the rest of the councillors.”
And I think that's a poorly understood concept in Queensland, in every councillor, which of course includes mayors, around the table gets one vote each. So it actually doesn't matter what, you know, election campaign you had, or what agenda item you're in there, or anything like that. It can get overturned quite easily depending on the numbers. And the other part of the legislation that people don't understand is once it gets overturned, as a councillor you have to support it. So you don't have to personally agree with it, but you've signed up to supporting it, because it is a council decision.
Rob: Looking back now, five and a half years on the job, how would you rate it as an experience in your life? Was it the best experience, was it something you regretted doing?
Rachel: Never ever regretted it. So there was some hard, hard times, there were some beautiful times. It was - it was quite a complete experience, if I could use that word in that. But never ever did I regret it. It gave me such profound life experiences that could never be replicated. Remarkable and probably thus far, the most remarkable experience of my life.
Rob: Thank you Rachel and thanks for listening to ‘So you want to be a councillor?’
[Background music commences]
Rob: On the next episode, we're speaking to Brett de Chastel, a 32-year veteran of local government and self-described ‘local government tragic.’ Brett's claim to fame is having held, in his words, ‘the best job in Australia’ as the CEO for Noosa Shire Council. It's a position he held for eight years. Recently retired as the ‘Local Government Managers Australia’ Queensland President, Brett is currently volunteering with Cherbourg and working with some Cape York Councils, acting as a mentor and continuing his passion for supporting indigenous communities.
Brett de Chastel: It's funny you know, I went through university and a couple of my friends have asked me that same question. And if you'd have asked me - I would have spent my career working in local government originally - I would have laughed.
Rob: If you are feeling inspired to represent your community and considering running for council, go to statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/getelected - there's a link in the show notes.
The Community’s CEO
Back at university, Brett de Chastel would have laughed if anyone predicted he would spend his entire career in government! Now, the self-proclaimed ‘local government tragic’ is struggling to retire, as he continues to mentor indigenous councils. Throughout his tenure as Noosa Council CEO, a job he describes as ’the best in Australia,’ Brett worked with close to 100 councillors and has discovered the key characteristic is being passionate about community. Join us as the former CEO reveals how councils representing today’s community, are also representing the future.
[Host] Rob Hazel: Welcome to 'So you want to be a councillor?' where you'll get a realistic glimpse into what it's like to be elected to represent your community on one of Queensland's 77 councils.
It takes a special person to both serve and represent their community.
That's exactly what the 600 councillors across Queensland's 77 councils do day in and day out. It's a big job, but someone's got to do it.
I'm Rob Hazel, and today I'm speaking with Brett de Chastel, a 32 year veteran of local government, and self-described local government tragic.
Brett's claim to fame is having held, in his words, "the best job in Australia" as the CEO for Noosa Shire Council. It's a position he held for eight years. Brett has been through two amalgamations, and even a de-amalgamation, which he counts as a career highlight. And for a period, even ran his own local government focused consultancy.
Recently retired as the Local Government Managers Australia Queensland President, Brett is currently volunteering with Cherbourg, and working with some Cape York councils acting as a mentor; and continuing his passion for supporting indigenous communities. Brett claims he's desperately trying to retire.
Brett de Chastel: My name is Brett de Chastel. I'm the recently retired CEO of Noosa Shire Council. I held that position for, for about the last eight years. I've been involved in local government in Queensland for over 32 years. And tried to retire at the end of last year, but find that I'm still doing a bit of consulting work and helping out a few councils around Queensland as well.
Rob: What is it about local government, Brett that keeps you coming back?
Brett: It's funny, I went through university and a couple of my friends have asked me that same question. And if you'd have asked me, if I would have spent my career working in local government originally, I would've laughed. But it's the only job I know where you can actually make a difference to the community where you live, and that's a very inspiring thing to do. And you can actually see when you drive around town that I made a difference to this, or I helped with that, or whatever it might be. And that's why people get involved in local government. It's that sense of being able to make a difference to the community that you live in.
Rob: You were there when the council de-amalgamated at the start of 2014. Talk us through that, for you personally.
Brett: Yeah, I think I've been either the luckiest or unluckiest executive in local government in Queensland, 'cause I've actually been through two amalgamations and a de-amalgamation now. So the de-amalgamation in 2014 was a good example of what I call 'local voice,' where community wants to have its local voice and be heard. And it was a great experience, actually setting up a council from scratch. We had a blank piece of paper, and try to work out what an ideal council would look like. And the community had very strong views about that 'cause they'd actually advocated and lobbied to get that back. So that was a great, great time of my career. I really enjoyed it, but a lot of hard work.
Rob: People talk about councillors as being involved with rates, roads, and rubbish, but I think something like the de-amalgamation, is just as important as a sense of community.
Brett: That's right and and I use that term 'local voice' because people, they don't necessarily identify with state or federal governments on issues that affect them on a day-to-day basis. That might certainly be the case for international incidents or State of Origin time, or whatever it might be with other levels of government. But the things that impact on people every day; it's the local parks, it's the ability to get some of the latest books from the library, is the garbage not being picked up every day, the potholes in the roads, it's can my kids find a job? Those are the things that matter to people, and it's the local government that actually has one of the biggest impacts on most of those things.
Rob: As a CEO, what was your role day in and day out in dealing with the elected representatives?
Brett: Yeah, a CEO is there really to provide advice to what I call 'the board'. It, it's called a local government, but in many ways it's similar to a private sector company where you have a board of directors in charge of a very large and complex organisation. And so as the CEO, you're really the conduit between the elected representatives and the organisation, which is doing things on the ground, and also providing advice to the councillors. So, really the role of the CEO is to support the councillors, give, give good advice, and help them achieve what their policy objectives are, both in the short and the long term. And that, that's one of the challenges for councillors, to try and do things in the short-term but not have long-term financial implications, for example.
Rob: In terms of, of being a successful councillor, you need to have that balance of representation and management working in good synergy, I would imagine.
Brett: That's right. And the longer I've been in this business of local government, the more I realise that local government is essentially about relationships. It's the relationship between the council and the community, the relationship between the mayor and the councillors, the relationship between the mayor and the CEO, the relationship between the CEO and their senior management team. The relationship between the councillors and the senior managers as well. If you get those relationships working well, you're going to work through all your problems. You're going to be able to deal with difficult issues, have disagreements, and then at the end of that disagreement, move on to the next issue without holding a grudge. If you don't sustain those relationships, it can be a pretty terrible time for a council to work that through.
Rob: It's got to be pretty tough as well to maintain those relationships. How many councillors have you worked in during your career?
Brett: I Thought about this the other day actually, and I, I think I got to about a hundred over the years. I think I've probably inducted 80 or more where councillors have been elected, and my job has been to help them come into the organisation as a councillor, and talk them through the first couple of months and help them. So yeah, I've seen a fair bit, I've seen some really good councillors, and some really good community mining councillors, and others, through the eyes have been pretty wide open when they've come in as well, they suddenly realise what they've signed up for.
Rob: Well, let's, let's talk about that, because essentially this podcast is about talking to people who are considering becoming councillors. So, through your experience, what do you think makes a really good first time councillor?
Brett: That's a good question. I think that the first time councillors the best ones I've seen, are the ones who are prepared to listen, and to listen to alternative points of view. Don't come in with fixed ideas, because inevitably the perceptions when you're running through an election are very different to the reality once you're inside the organisation, and working as a councillor. So the ability to listen, the ability to learn a lot.
I've seen councillors come in on a single issue, and all of a sudden they're having to deal with everything else. They might come in about a, getting a toilet block done in a park or something in their local community. That might have got them enthused to run for council. And they might get that done in the first two years, and then all of a sudden, they're dealing with everything else from garbage contracts through to performing arts centres, or development applications, or economic development policies. You, you've really got to get your head around a lot of different issues when you come in, and you've got to learn a lot.
Rob: Is that what you would say would be the most challenging thing for a new councillor is to come in with their eyes wide open about the entire role?
Brett: Yeah, I think so. The one thing, if I look back over all of the councillors who I've helped to settle into an organisation, or inducted in and helped them move in, the one thing I've heard the most is, "Gosh, there's more to it than I thought." The breadth of issues we deal with as a, as a local government is astonishing to a lot of people who haven't been around local government before.
So if you haven't, if you're thinking about running, one of the things I would suggest you do, is to go and sit in on a few council meetings. Read all the council agendas and see the variety of things that the councillors are being asked to consider. You don't have to be an expert on all those things. You don't have to be a, an engineer, or an accountant, or a town planner. You need to understand some of the principles that those issues arise. But listen to the advice, you've got good senior staff who can normally give good advice as well.
Rob: The Department, on its website has some, some guiding materials as well, which suggests that anyone who is looking to put their hand up for representation, has a, has a look on the Department website.
Brett: That's true. The Department's got some good material there. And the main thing is, even if you're, when you're elected, don't think your training or your knowledge gathering stops there. It can go on for months and years. I always think that it takes at least 12 to 18 months for a new councillor to get their head around all the issues. So there's lots of courses available. It said the Department's got some good information on its website. Local Government Association of Queensland as well, provides good support for councillors. There's a lot of range of material that will really help councillors come to grips with the issues you've got to deal with.
You've got to deal with the budget normally, within three months of getting elected. And that budget, depending on the size of the council, could be much bigger than what you're used to, running your home budget or small business budget or whatever. In my Council's case, it was over a hundred million dollars. And new councillors are coming in, trying to work out how to have input into setting a budget for over a hundred million dollars. Quite a challenge.
Rob: Do you think that that challenge differs though, from council to council, and Brett, depending on the size of the council itself?
Brett: Not, not necessarily. The principles generally tend to be the same, regardless of the size of the council. It's just a few more zeros on the end of some of the, the bigger budgets, but the principles are the same. What can we do for our community? What can our community afford in terms of the level of service that we need to provide? What are they prepared to pay for rates? What's important to my community? So those are, the ability to understand and engage with the community to find out what's important to them, and how to shape a policy response through a budget process, should be the same in every council. Just the scale is a bit different.
Rob: I imagine there's, there's one key characteristic of, of all first time councillors or anyone putting their hand up for election, and that is that they are passionate about their community.
Brett: Correct. And, and people want to make a difference. And if you, if you're there for the community, you're halfway there. And councillors who've been around a long time, that's what drives 'em. That's what continues, why they stand for re-election. They still think they can make a difference to the community. And often, I had one councillor who I worked for, he said, "Brett, I, I want to be able to sit in my rocking chair in 20 years time, and look back and go, Yeah, I made a difference. I made a difference to this community."
Rob: I would also imagine that, as passionate as you are about your community, not everyone sees every issue the same way, and you won't be able to get everything across the line, because there's a, there's a vote on council.
Brett: Correct. There's two things about that. First is that you cannot keep everyone happy on every issue at all times. It's just not possible. And in the same way that some people will vote for you, some people won't vote for you, and they'll have a different view from you about how your community should look. So you've got to recognise that you represent all of the community, not just the people who voted for you. And your decisions have to be in the overall community interest, not just a section of that community. Whether it's a business community, environment group, or sporting organisations that you came out of, because you had that passion about local government. That doesn't matter. You're there to make decisions for the entire community.
And, and you're also right that the second element is, that at the end of the day, you have one vote around the council table. And there'll be other people who have different views from you. And, my experience is that probably 80% or more of the time, votes at the council meetings are unanimous. There's a lot of unanimity about what people think. But sometimes it's not. And sometimes you'll be on the end of a, a six - one vote, or depending on how many councillors you have, or a five - two or whatever it might be. And that's sometimes difficult to accept that your view is only one view. And there's other views out there that are equally legitimate.
The successful councillors are those who go "Well, I lost that one. What's next? Move on." Never make it personal. It's just about the issue. You put forward your points of view, and you move on to the next, the next issue.
Rob: You talk about making the tough decisions, and the need to keep the entire community in mind when you're making those decisions. The bottom line for councils, can be a tough one to, to keep an eye on. How important is it for, for new councillors, and experienced ones as well, to ensure that the budget gets stretched as far as possible for their, for their communities?
Brett: Yeah, one of the things you got to think is that who you represent is not only today's community, but also the future community. And you can make yourself popular by delivering everything now, but doing it by taking away all of the cash reserves, or borrowing or whatever to be able to deliver everything right now. The future community's going to pay for that. They're going to have, inherit a big debt. They're not gonna have the capacity to do things down the track. So really you've gotta get that balance between the short and the long-term as well. And think about the financial sustainability.
In one way, it's almost obligatory for councillors to think to themselves, "am I gonna leave the next council in a better financial position than I found this council?" In other words, they've got to look after the community money. It's not council money, it's community money. And make that go as far as we can. Because if you don't do that, the future community's going to suffer and you'll be responsible for it. It's a, it's a great balancing act.
Rob: It's not all glitz and glory in cutting ribbons. There's a fair bit of pressure there, isn't there?
Brett: There is. And I, I've never got a letter of thanks from anyone when they get their rates notice. It's a, it's a thing that people don't enjoy having to pay rates. So you've got to be careful about using what is essentially a taxation power just to put rates up, and impact on the community. So you can do more things and try and be popular.
One of the hardest things for new councillors to do, is to learn to say no. And it's quite tricky, but ultimately it's, "no, we can't do it now, but we can look at it in three years time when we get through these other projects." Or "no, we can't do it now because of X, Y, and Z, but we can find another way to advocate to try and get that to the community, rather than having council spend its own money on that." So, it's how you explain that to the community is often important as well. People just think there's this magic bucket of council money, but at the end of the day, it's community money. We gotta really look after it.
Rob: I mentioned earlier that the, the councillors and the mayor are the face of the council. They live within the community. They're voted for by their local community, their friends, their family, their streets. I imagine it would be difficult to have any time off within that community as well, even when you just go to the shops.
Brett: That's right. And I think that's particularly the case in some of the smaller communities where councillors are elected. You might have been 'Sally, the person who works in the news agency,' or 'Bill, the local builder who got elected onto council.' All of a sudden, you're now 'Sally the Councillor,' or 'Bill the, Bill the Councillor.' So if you were out on a Friday afternoon, and having a beer at the pub, or wherever you're, at the footy on a Saturday morning, people want to come up and talk to you about council stuff, and you can't turn off. You've got to work out how to manage that. You've got to work out whether you want to talk to people at that time, in your own private family time, or whether you want to put some boundaries around it. Say, "Look, I'm just on with my family at the moment. Can we catch up on Monday?" Or whatever it might be. But you do need to recognise that you're in the public face 24/7, and they see you as a member of the council at all times, regardless of whether you think you're a private citizen.
Representative democracy is where I vote for you, and you're going to make the decisions on my behalf. And the trend now, in participatory democracy is, I vote for you, I want you to ask me what I think on some key decisions that affect me, but you still get to vote on my behalf. So it's the level of which you need to communicate with your constituency about key decisions that are going to be made. You can't do that on every single decision. So part of the judgement for an elected representative is to say, "when do I need to engage with the community? How do I take the pulse on issues?" Because most people only get in touch when there's a problem.
You won't get all the parents, and people who are running around, taking their kids to footy training and things like that or, or whatever it might be. They're just too busy living life. And sometimes it's the squeaky wheels. I call them 'the survey of one on Facebook,' who will start to try and influence the decisions for elected representatives.
So how do you make sure you can actually understand what the whole of your community's after? And just living, and talking to people, and taking the pulse on issues is important so you can understand what decisions you're going to be making on their behalf. It's a really, really critical part of, of the role. And there's some tools around this.
And again, when you get elected, your professional staff will be able to give advice about some of the models that are out there, what's called the IAP2 model, which is a participatory, or a community engagement type model to work out when you just need to tell the committee what you're doing. For example, "we're gonna come down your street next Thursday, and we're gonna be doing, resealing or pothole repairs," whatever it might be. People just need to be aware of that so they can get your car in and out. It's not a something up for discussion.
Whereas, developing an economic development strategy for the next 10 years, that may be something where you need to have a deeper dive with broad section of the community, the business section, tourism, whatever it might be, and, and get their views about what, whether your thinking is on the right track or not. So it really depends on the, the topic and the level you need to engage with.
Rob: Well, looking at the future, what's the future hold for you?
Brett: I'm a, a local government tragic. So I tried to retire, but I'm still out there helping. I do volunteer work now at Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council. Go out there once a week and do a bit of mentoring and support for them. They're a terrific little council, helping them out. And a few others around the place as well. Wajul Wajul Aboriginal Shire Council up on Cape York.
So I really enjoy just seeing how I can help people try and make their community better, and getting good governance and good decision making around that. It's just part of that journey.
Rob: And good decision making and good governance really has an impact on those local communities, doesn't it?
Brett: That's right. Some places say, "Oh, we don't have enough money to do things." If you have good governance, and then good decision making, eventually you'll have enough money to do things, because you, you'll have a plan, you'll have a financial plan, you'll have a plan for other things.
So, it sounds a little bit bureaucratic, but the planning and getting everything in place, actually works. And getting good governance in place actually works. I've never seen a successful council without having good governance, but I've seen a lot of bad ones that don't have it.
Rob: And if you had one key piece of advice for future aspiring councillors what would it be?
Brett: Stick your hand up. It is a great honour to represent your community, but go in with your eyes open. It's not as easy as it looks if you haven't been involved in the local government before.
Enjoy the journey, learn as much as you can, listen and get good advice. But at the end of the day, no matter how complex, and how difficult the decision is, always come back to that one test, "what's best for this community?" If you make that decision, you'll probably make the right decision.
Rob: Brett de Chastel, thank you very much for your time and your experience.
Brett: Thank you.
Rob: Thanks for listening to, 'So you want to be a councillor?'
[Background music commences]
During the next episode, we'll be chatting with Bill Shannon, former Mayor with the Cassowary Coast Regional Council for two terms from 2008 to 2016. Bill shares how his life as a self-described community man, put him in the right place at the right time, as he says, “to run the show properly.”
Bill Shannon: They will say, fair enough, they actually respect you for taking a stand on something in the interest of fairness.
Rob: If you're feeling inspired to represent your community, and considering running for council, go to statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/getelected
There's a link in the show notes. If you like today's episode or any of our other episodes, please give us a rating review in your podcast app.
Chair of Cyclones
Former Mayor of the Cassowary Coast, Bill Shannon, found there was a greater array of opportunities to contribute to community, in a regional area, as opposed to the city. The multi-committee member facilitated cyclone management, which gained international recognition for best practice! With a background spanning both economics and agriculture, Bill urges people with diverse experience to engage in local government; ‘what really matters is your connection to the community.’
[Host] Rob Hazel: Welcome to 'So you want to be a councillor?' where you'll get a realistic glimpse into what it's like to be elected to represent your community on one of Queensland's 77 councils.
It takes a special person to both serve and represent their community. That's exactly what the 600 councillors across Queensland's 77 councils do, day in and day out. It's a big job, but someone's got to do it.
It's an often misunderstood fact that mayors themselves are technically councillors as well and their duties don't end at the close of business. But those who take up the honour of the position say they find it worthwhile after seeing the tangible difference they've been able to make.
So how does someone find themselves in the position of mayor? I'm Rob Hazel, and in this episode, we catch up with Bill Shannon, former Mayor of the Cassowary Coast Regional Council. Bill shares how his life as a self-described community man, put him in the right place at the right time, as he says, "in order to run the show properly".
A longstanding member of just about every community committee in existence, Bill reflects on his time in office, and passes on advice for other community-oriented people looking to make a real difference. But most of all, through his participation in this podcast, Bill says he hopes to inspire others to put their hands up to run for council.
Bill Shannon: My name is Bill Shannon. I was Mayor of the Cassowary Coast Regional Council on its formation in 2008, until 2016. Two terms.
Rob: Bill, what was your background leading into that first stint in 2008?
Bill: Well, my background is as a chartered accountant and an economist. But what I've been doing more recently was primary production, and working in the sugar industry as well. So I've been across both sides of commerce, if you like, in cities, and those sorts of occupations, and really enjoy being in the regions, and the opportunity to do things that people in the country - people in the cities can't do; such as have an interaction with animals and plants and the like.
Rob: What drove you to sort of move away from them, the private sector then, and look for, I guess, election in local government?
Bill: Well, I've always been interested in community affairs, and I've never been a member of a political party, but always interested in community. And I've been on the board, for example, of Terrain NRM, the natural resource body, I've been on the Local Marine Advisory Committee to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. I was involved as an Inaugural Chairman of the Mission Beach Community Association. So it's the opportunity in a small community to contribute across a number of different ways, is quite different to being in a city where local community matters a lot less.
Rob: Was there some sort of impetus that said, I'm gonna run for council?
Bill: Well, there was. That's a very interesting question, Rob, because there'd been a merger of Johnstone and Cardwell Shires. Johnstone had had an administrator appointed, so it had more than its fair share of troubles. Cardwell was a slightly smaller Shire.
I lived in Mission Beach, which is virtually on the border. Mission Beach was split between those two councils, and that was always a cause of anxiety in Mission Beach because it was split between two council areas, yet it's only one place, really.
So when there was this creation of a new council, there's an opportunity, I thought, and to raise the plane a bit if you like, to do things a bit differently and a bit better, and I was, I guess, through my background, well-placed to give it a go. And fortunately, the voters thought so, so I was able to win in both the north and in the south. So it was a good start, but there was a lot to do.
There was a huge backlog of infrastructure that hadn't been kept up. There was the issues to do with an administrator in Johnstone. So it was, in fact, the main reason I wanted to do it, to be honest, was to play a part in this really important time of change.
Rob: It is a unique situation when we're talking about all the amalgamations in 2008, and coming in as a first term Mayor, trying to pull different communities together, and be united as one. Even with your background prior to election, this must have been new territory for you?
Bill: Well, it was, it was new territory, but I think that's probably an advantage. Local government is... you don't have to have experience in it to be able to make a contribution to it. In fact, it's very interesting in that way, because what really matters is your connection to the community. And I was well known through the rural industry. I was well known in financial circles, well enough known in the community at large, through various means, such as, like I mentioned, the Marine Park Authority or the Terrain NRM. So that's what really matters. So, if you have that breadth of background, you've really got a huge start.
Rob: Well, obviously it was a good fit for you with your background, but I think it's still uncharted waters moving into a job like that. Did you find it easy? Did you find it difficult?
Bill: It was easy in some ways and difficult in others. I mean, the easy part was the issues you were facing weren't difficult. The hard part, I guess, is getting used to your time not being your own. You meet a lot of people, you move in very different circles to what you might have done before, in fact, it comes at a cost to your personal life; because your old friends or your family friends, you have less time to see them. But on the other side of that, you're meeting all sorts of people and doing really interesting work. So it was both good and bad in that regard. But I would certainly say absolutely that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, because it's a wonderful area to work in and to make a contribution for the betterment of the whole community.
And the hard part, I guess, the hard part is really to do with having to be fair, having to rely on a value system. You'll have friends come along and ask you whether they could do this or that, and you might say, look, I'd love to help you, and I think that's a great idea, but I can't help you without helping everybody else in exactly the same situation. So we've got to change the rules, and there's a process for that, or that it won't work for whatever reason. So you've really got to be quite tough with people. But when you explain it to them, and they, you know, they might want something simple, you know, dispensation from fixing up a road or something. But you can't have favourites. And when you explain it to people, I can tell you, they will say, "fair enough". They actually respect you for taking a stand on something in the interest of fairness.
Rob: Is that the hardest part of the job, Bill? I was having a think before about political representatives at a state or a federal level, where they're not at the grassroots. Certainly they might live within their electorates, certainly within their state, but as a mayor, or as a councillor, your neighbours are the people who voted for you. Your family and friends are the people who voted for you. And every decision that you make, impacts your street, where you live, your neighbourhood, where you live. So I would imagine then that those tough calls are made even tougher because they're people that you know.
Bill: That's exactly right. In fact, you can even have to make a decision that's in your own disinterest. And a classic case of that was when a bridge was falling down, which is very near to where I live. To be perfectly honest, from where I live, I would've been happier if the bridge fell down and stayed down. There'd be less through-traffic, and I might have very occasionally, a slightly longer road to drive to get somewhere. But in fact, the overall interest of the whole community is to have that bridge repaired and fixed, which is what we did, even though, from my own personal point of view, I would've honestly preferred to have it not there at all.
Rob: Your time as a Councillor, as a Mayor, is it something that you'd recommend?
Bill: Very much so. I would recommend people look to contribute in local government as a mayor or as a councillor. Both rewarding, slightly different roles, but very rewarding, and a wonderful chance to make a difference in your own local community.
Rob: When you say there's a difference between mayors and councillors, I can imagine that that's doubly so in councils where there are divisions too.
Bill: Yes, that's true, because that's the other thing, that councillors often think they've got to represent what it is that their particular division wants. That isn't the case. They must act in the best interest of the council as a whole. But they come to the council in the knowledge that they've got particular experience and backgrounds in those divisions, so that difference isn't always appreciated. Or in fact, it's not only sometimes not appreciated by the community, who think the local councillor must always do what it is that the local community want. And that isn't the way it works.
Your requirement is to act in the best interest of the whole council, but bring to bear the view of the local area. And that may well change the view of other councillors and that's where you want good, strong local councillors who can push for the interest of that individual council. But when a decision is made, a bit like a political party, or a bit like a government, when the local government makes a decision, that is the decision that all councillors must support, regardless of their voting against it in the first place, for example.
Rob: And suddenly it dawned on me, you were the Mayor of Cassowary Coast when Cyclone Yasi hit in 2011.
Bill: When Yasi hit, yes, I was there for Yasi, and I was there for most of the clean-up for Larry. So I've had two clean-ups and one cyclone, and I could talk about cyclones forever. But I think it was very flattering to have people from the US on the East Coast, southern part of the East Coast of America, Carolina, and towards Florida, come over and want to talk to me, because they, with their American accents, were telling me that they've assessed what we do in Queensland as being at world's best practice. That we could have a major cyclone, no lives lost, and things go relatively well. And that is true - there was enormous trauma and individuals suffered terribly, I'm not belittling that, but I am saying that there were no lives lost.
And I am saying that if your house was built after 1986, when the Queensland Building Code changed, and the house was built properly by the builder, a Category 5 cyclone will not knock it over. A tree might, if it falls on it. But the building, if it's built to standard, and the Queensland standards are very, very high, it will ride out a cyclone, fine. That doesn't mean, as I said, a tree doesn't fall on it, or there's a missile that goes through a window, but I'm talking about the wind and the forces that are exerted. And that's a pretty big deal, to have a code in your country, that can give that level of security to people who live there.
Rob: When you look back on your two terms as Mayor, what are some of the real highlights for you, and you can walk away proud, that you achieved that?
Bill: I think the key to that was because there were so many initial problems; I remember talking to the Premier at the time, and saying, you know, how difficult it is, and she said that "if you run the show properly," and there was reasons why she would say that, with the administrator having been appointed and what have you, she said, "if you run the show properly, we will help you." Now we did run it properly and she did help us, and in those two terms, got virtually all of the backlog of infrastructure sorted. So the two things, setting the rules about how we operate in place, that was a highlight. And setting the wheels in motion to get a lot of that work done, was another highlight. And then, in fact, that's one of the reasons why I didn't do a third term.
Life's full of chapters, you know, another chapter can come up, and that's always been how I've thought. So it was all of the things, or virtually all the things that I wanted to do, had been able to be achieved, so it was time to do other things at the time.
Rob: Put yourself into a position of someone who's looking at potentially getting into local government in the 2024 election; how important do you think it would be for them to get an understanding, particularly around things like legislation, and meeting agendas and rules, that sort of thing? How important would it be for them to get on the department's website, and have a look at some of those rules, and guiding principles that are there for them to see?
Bill: Oh, extremely important to do that. I mean, I did it myself. I read it all very, very closely and the legislation, and went to the various sessions that were held beforehand. But, in a sense, I don't know that I learnt a huge amount, because I had been a company secretary of a major listed public company, so I knew a bit about meetings and meeting procedures, and the like. But the importance of that for anyone who's looking to stand for local government, is very high.
Rob: Not everyone's gonna have your background, Bill. So if you're looking at just people who may have very ordinary backgrounds, who are thinking about getting into local government, what are some of the things that you would tell them about either encouraging them, or maybe saying it might not be for you.
Bill: Yeah, that's a very interesting concept, because there are a lot of people that get into local government, who really don't have a clue. Or you might ask them about various decisions to do with the budgeting process or the rate setting, and the like, and they will say, "oh, that's not my area. I don't know anything about that. I just rely on the staff." Well, that answer is not good enough. You must know what it is that you're deciding and why, and you must be asking questions. So you come in it with an open mind, do apply... Not anything more than average intelligence to issues, but you must apply yourself to the issues, and you must understand the context in which they're made. And that, for some people, that's pretty difficult, actually.
But overall, it isn't a high bar, so don't be put off by the fact that people don't have a particular background that might make it easier for them. See it as not overly difficult, and also it is a huge opportunity to make a difference for your community.
And it's also extremely interesting, you know, not a whole lot of people will be able to say that they've met, you know, governor generals and governors and premiers and state ministers and federal ministers, and get to know them sometimes pretty well. So that in itself is, you know, interesting, to have those people cross your path.
Rob: You've got to have a passion for community too, I would imagine. And an understanding that the decisions that you make when you're on council can have a real impact for, you know, decades to come.
Bill: But I wanna be very positive about it, because that's why I had no hesitation in saying I'd be part of this, because we want and need to get really good people in local government, and one of the ways to do that is to explain what's involved and to encourage good people to give it a go.
[Background music commences]
Rob: Thanks very much Bill, and thanks for listening to 'So you want to be a councillor?'
Next time, we chat with Deniece Geia, who is currently enjoying her second term as a Councillor with the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council. A well-respected and popular figurehead, Deniece has been tirelessly advocating for her community and previously held multiple positions within council, including as Deputy CEO and Acting CEO.
Deniece Geia: And I was the only female and that was very challenging with four male councillors.
Rob: If you're feeling inspired to represent your community and considering running for council, go to statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/getelected There's a link in the show notes. If you liked today's episode or any of our other episodes, please give us a rating review in your podcast app.
Grandmother of an Island Home
Deniece Geia has been advocating for her community for almost two decades both as an elected Councillor and a Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council executive. She believes self-care is essential for balancing public life, with her role as a grandmother to 16 children! In a state where less than 13% of councillors identify as First Nations people; Deniece engages with elders, mothers and young people in meaningful ways, such as yarning circles. She encourages females to enter politics, ‘because women have the strength.’
[Host] Rob Hazel: Welcome to 'So you want to be a councillor?' where you'll get a realistic glimpse into what it's like to be elected to represent your community on one of Queensland's 77 councils.
It takes a special person to both serve and represent their community. That's exactly what the councillors on Queensland's 77 councils do day in and day out. It's a big job, but someone's got to do it.
I'm Rob Hazel and in this episode we have the privilege of catching up with Councillor Deniece Geia, who has been actively involved in representing and tirelessly advocating for her community on Palm Island. Deniece is a grandmother of 16 and has been a Councillor for two terms, with the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council; and has also held roles within Council including as Deputy CEO and Acting CEO. She tells us how she's managing to balance both her roles as Councillor and as Coordinator of the Palm Island Community Justice Group, along with family life.
Deniece Geia: Hi, I'm Deniece Geia. I'm the Councillor with the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council and this is my second term in local government.
Rob: Deniece, you worked inside council as a council employee for about 13 years before deciding to put your hand up to become an elected representative. Tell us a little bit about that time in your career.
Deniece: It was a good time and I managed to gain a position as a Deputy CEO and then I also then was put in the position of the Acting CEO; when there was some issues around the current CEO just leaving the Island and basically leaving the administration. So I stepped up to that and it was challenging. I really found the workload to be huge and you really needed to understand and know your legislations, especially the Act. But I thoroughly enjoyed my time within the administration and with council.
And then 2010, I resigned and I wanted to just have some time away 'cause I'd done 13 years with council. Then I thought that I'd come back and run for the council elections.
And in 2016 I honestly did not believe that I would get elected. I was able to be voted in by my people and I was the only female and that was very challenging with four male councillors.
Rob: There was a real transition then, you were clearly having a long and successful career working for the council and during a period of transition; but what was it Deniece that prompted you to actually run for council after that time?
Deniece: I guess after 13 years sitting within council and seeing how the organisation travelled and walking away after those 13 years and being on the outside for three years looking in, I could see that there were still those gaps in services and there was things that still needed to improve within council; infrastructure, capital works programs, we needed to have more decent parks and gardens and the roads needed fixing.
So you see - I tend to realise that there's a shift in my thinking and in the way I operated as a community person. 'Cause when I was employed by the council, I was very defensive of the council obviously. And in my role as you know as Acting CEO you don't want to fail. You want to be seen as a good guy. So I was very defensive and I would make that very loud and clear.
But since walking away from that position and that role and a very senior role within the community. I made a lot of enemies by the way, lots of enemies, but it's - I found it was very lonely at the top and I needed to get out. I needed to just have this time out. I've done what I've had to do. But then looking back towards council and looking in from the outside and seeing that. "Gee, Deniece. That pearl's been there all that time, and you didn't even see it." Anyway, I needed, I felt that I still had some positives to give my people. I had to recharge my batteries and refocus my thinking, grow up a little bit more and realise that I still can get some skin in the game and have a go at local government as a councillor.
Rob: There's a few points to touch on there, Deniece. Firstly, I guess the surprise with being elected. After having worked in the council how do you then prepare for such a different role? How do you, how do you make that transition and make it successfully? How do you prepare yourself to be a councillor?
Deniece: That came when we were informed as candidates that we needed to do some training and I thought, oh my goodness we are the most trained people on the planet. But anyway, I'll go along with the training but I know everything anyway 'cause I work there and I know how the council operates. So I came in a little bit of a - bull headed and thought that I knew better and I knew more than everyone else because I had been given that upper hand of being on, employed by the council.
But through the local government department there was an opportunity for councillors to conduct, attend some training and participate in that training. And it was, you had to do the training before you could actually run for council. I had to make some changes around the... And understand the conflicts of interest and those material personal interests and the separation of powers that things have changed. Like it's really changed now. You know when you're on the inside and you're telling elected councillors, you're advising them, now these are the changes, this is a new legislation now.
But when you're in that position and you're giving that and you're making a stand and then when now I found that I was on the other end, on the receiver's end. I'm being told that, "if you want to be on the council you have to make sure that you understand." So I, there was a shift for me but I had to learn that, gee, this is really serious business.
Rob: Mum of three, you're a grandmother to 16.
Deniece: Yes I am.
Rob: You've got a lot on your plate there and I know you're also involved in the Palm Island Community Justice Group. How do you manage to achieve a work-life balance?
Deniece: My day starts at 5:30 in the morning just every day, even on weekends. I start at 5:30 and I know that I prepare myself mentally for my part-time role as a Community Justice Group Coordinator. And from 8:30 to 12:30 my focus is on my job as a Coordinator. I'm very disciplined and structured and well organised when it comes to planning my days or planning my weeks. I make sure that I would, anybody wants to meet with me or have some discussions with me around the bridge down the road or the horses that keep running onto the airstrip, I'm happy to have those conversations, but I'll give them a time of after one o'clock.
I make it quite clear whenever I attend community meetings or inter-agency meetings or some woman's yarning circle that the Community Justice Group has been invited to, where the topic of the council will come up and there'll be, there'll be someone complaining about the water doesn't taste nice or the garbage man didn't come and pick up my rubbish today. Those little things do arise sometimes and that all eyes are on me but I make it quite clear that I'm sitting here as the committee desk script Coordinator but I'm happy to pass on your - here's the phone number for the CEO, you can give him a call. And I do carry around those little business cards for the CEO because I want to make it clear 'cause I understand that there are people that still have needs that aren't shut off just because, you know, Deniece Geia's got a structured plan of her, weekly planner. And I respect that, I respect my constituents, but once I get home at five o'clock today, of a day, I'm then in my garden, with my dogs and then my grandchildren will come. One has just come into the Zoom meeting with me right now 'cause the school bus dropped her off here.
Rob: How difficult is it for you to just switch off?
Deniece: It can be very difficult. I'll be honest with you. It is difficult, especially living in a discrete community such as Palm Island where we don't have a 24 hour medical centre or a 24 hour shop that we could go to where we are. Our services are very limited. We don't have a functioning, we don't even have a bank on the island. We have a post office that opens when they feel like opening. I've also learnt to not beat myself down because I couldn't get that horse stopping to run across the road. I'll always tell myself that "it is what it is." That's my go-to saying that gets me and reminds me that, Deniece, you can't change everything. I can't change the world. I can't change people's thinking and I tell myself that we have to look after ourselves and self-care and that's where I get my strength and my confidence from my grandchildren. And just being at home in my garden and just enjoying the quietness.
But I still get the phone call at eight o'clock at night or you know, I'll get a phone call on the weekend about some council business and I'm fine to follow that up, but I won't go and try and get the shovel and dig the trench for them.
Rob: I've heard that you've also managed to put up a nice fence for yourself too.
Deniece: Yes. [Laughs] I did that some time ago because I wanted to just have that separation. I wanted to be able to come home and in the privacy of my own house and just relax. We lock our gates for that purpose, the big gates, and just to let people know that, oh the gates are closed so we'll come and see you tomorrow or something. I don't look, don't get me wrong I still get them messages on social media and I'll get a private message if somebody wants to know if they've got court next week Tuesday and... Or somebody will message me. Just the other night a young girl wanted to get a application for a birth certificate. So these little, these things do come but it's how I manage them and I'm not going to go out there and try and save the world. We need to remind our people that there's a, that codependency on others needs to stop. We have to stand up ourselves as individuals. We can help each other, we can support each other and can make sure that, you know, your needs are being met.
But at the end of the day it's about also self-care. I love my walks along the beach in the afternoon. Go for my swim with my grandchildren. They're just getting out in the outdoors. That's how I bring in the balance of work life, my home life and my recreational activities as well.
Rob: I imagine you are prioritising a lot better than you did when you first were elected as councillor. It must have been very difficult if you're watching kids and grandchildren growing up and trying to juggle the responsibilities as a mother and a grandmother as well.
Deniece: Oh, absolutely. You know, when you first get into somewhere you think, "Oh, that's it." You're roll up your sleeve and you're just going to get in there and we're going to fix all the pot holes and we're going to fix that, cut that tree down and we're going to remove that old building and oh yeah, oh, don't worry. I had my wishlist and I had a thousand things to do but I found being on council that it doesn't work like that. We prioritise with our plannings, with our operational plans, our corporate plans and working through that process of that governance outside. Because I also learned too the mistake that when you go on campaign, when you're campaigning and you got your corflutes out and you "vote for me 'cause I'm going to fix up the education system." Well getting elected then I realised, "Oh, I shot myself on the foot there." I realised that no you can't really go that, carry on like that Deniece.
But working with the education system, working with the department, working with the schools working with the local P&C, that's what I enjoy. And I realise that, okay, it's just, Rome was not built in a day, take a step back, breathe, get your support groups, get your Elders together. and I had to come in, in the second term with a strategy. I had to stay, in this term now that I'm currently in, I had to refocus what didn't I achieve much or do much last term and what can I achieve this term?
I've come up with a strategy around focusing more on community engagement, getting the support of the Elders, young people, especially young mothers, talking that one-on-one, the yarning circles, getting their ideas, trashing out ideas around “what colour do you think that building should be?” And that one-on-one consultation with community I found was more benefiting, more productive and more meaningful. And I valued that and I believe my people appreciated that rather than just sitting in the office, making the decision without talking to those that put us in that office.
Rob: What would you say are some of your greatest achievements as a councillor?
Deniece: I would say some of the greatest achievements of not just myself as an individual councillor, but as a team with the developments of the retail precinct, the new infrastructure, the new suburbs, the amount of new houses, over 24 new houses that we've constructed and now young people are actually living in and enjoying. And being a part of those successes. The foreshore redevelopment area where all the tidal surges now can only come so far because we've got this lovely, beautiful foreshore development. There's a footpath there, a concrete footpath. There's solar lit lights where you can just enjoy your afternoon walks. There are now, there's a skate park, there's basketball courts. Just being in a team and being a part of that, looking at that development and that infrastructure.
Rob: What can women bring to politics from your perspective? Deniece: You could agree to disagree on something but yet we still come back and have that cup of tea or sit there and still have that yarn about something else. Women have the influence. I believe it was my strength in influencing in a positive way to get my colleagues, male colleagues to support women's sports. We had the netball complex, that structure built, and we're going to open it in the next couple of months but getting our men to listen and understand women, in even in politics, just women talking about politics.
I think being an Aboriginal community such as Palm Island it's always been the men that ran this community. When you look at the history, when you look at the honour board of our forefathers and all those councillors that have gone before me when even I was a kid, a lot of them were all the men in those roles as the chairmen of the day. I would say to women in Queensland, if you are ever wanting to run for local government, I'd say go for it. I would encourage you 'cause women have the strength, and we think differently to how men think and we're more passionate, I find.
Rob: Deniece, as a First Nations woman what advice would you be giving to anyone who is considering coming in and running for council?
Deniece: One of the important advice that I would be sharing and giving to any woman and especially First Nations women is when you put your hand up and you nominate for council, always start with taking your family with you on the journey. It's important and that's something that I've learned. I've learned to, this second term around, to take my family on this journey with me so that I've got the support and the love and care of my family as well.
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Rob: Thanks, Deniece. And thanks for listening to 'So you want to be a councillor?' If you are feeling inspired to represent your community and considering running for council go to statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/getelected. There's a link in the show notes. If you like today's episode or any of our other episodes, please give us a rating review in your podcast app.
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Last updated: 22 Feb 2024