10/07/2020 - 15:59

Regional authorities seek unique edge

10/07/2020 - 15:59

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While major projects have boosted some parts of the state, many regional councils face challenges, including economic diversification, unemployment and environmental sustainability.

Boab trees in the Kimberley. Photo: Tourism WA

Shire of Pingelly president William Mulroney has a vision to develop the Wheatbelt community of about 1,200.

“We’re trying to attract new businesses, we look for the type of businesses with manufacturing focus,” Mr Mulroney told Business News

“We also want … a good hub for the community.”

Mr Mulroney has been involved in local government for more than three decades, initially in operational roles and then as a councillor.

Pingelly is predominantly a sheep and grain farming region, with economic activity in the township underpinned by farmers’ spending.

The town is also ageing, with nearly half the population close to (or above) retirement age.

Mr Mulroney’s plan focuses on tourism, manufacturing, and appropriate aged care.

“We’re in the process of developing a new industrial area,” he said.

That would need state government support, Mr Mulroney said, and the shire was negotiating for a hay ‘manufacturing’ plant to be built in the area.

Pingelly township is just less than two hours’ drive south-east of Perth, and Mr Mulroney is an advocate for the potential of tourism.

“I have got a dream; I don’t know if it’ll come to fruition, but we’re working on it,” he said.

The main element is to build a museum focused on the area’s social and farming history, which could be an attraction for travellers.

Mr Mulroney also hoped to secure government support for short-stay accommodation in the town to enable it to host conferences.

It would follow what he said was the shire’s biggest-ever development: a $9 million recreation and cultural centre opened in late 2018.

The largest timber construction in Western Australia in decades, the centre forms part of a sports and entertainment precinct.

The shire chipped in about $3 million, with $4 million from the federal government and $1 million from Lotterywest.

“It’s a marvellous building,” Mr Mulroney said.

“The precinct supports tennis, basketball, hockey, football, cricket and bowls.”

The shire’s plans include construction of a lifestyle village and potential caravan park across from the cultural centre.

There are hopes for the recreation centre to attract Australian Campervan and Motorhome Club rallies, state-level tennis tournaments, and West Australian Football League games.

Up in the state’s northernmost reaches, Shire of Derby-West Kimberley president Geoff Haerewa said spending discipline was essential in a jurisdiction such as his, with a small rates base spead across a wide geographical area.

“When it comes to us, we carefully watch every dollar that comes in,” Mr Haerewa told Business News.

While some councils in the state’s north collected a lot of revenue from major projects, Derby-West Kimberley had a tighter grip on funds.

About five years ago, the shire went through a difficult period during which about half the people in the major centre, Derby, moved away after a number of mine closures.

But Mr Haerewa is passionate about creating jobs in the region, where unemployment has recently reached as high as 32 per cent.

The former businessman stepped out of retirement in 2017 to take on the job of shire president.

Mr Haerewa said he was working to attract investment into West Kimberley and support job creation, which was a competitive exercise given the needs of other regional centres.

“We have a big glowing light next to us called Broome,” he said.

Mr Haerewa said the shire was seeking to collaborate with local Aboriginal corporations and the Shire of Broome to secure private investors for economic development.

“If Derby grows, Broome grows naturally,” he said.

“A lot of the tourist attractions that Broome services are within our shire.”

In addition to tourism, West Kimberley has potential for resources development.

That could include onshore oil and gas in the Canning Basin, and potential mining projects.

“I encourage anything that will create jobs, within reason of course,” Mr Haerewa said.

“I want to generate jobs and close the gap of our unemployment figures.

“It’s a challenge, a challenge I want to take on.

“We don’t have the mega dollars the Pilbara has.”

Sustainable growth

Shire of Chittering chief executive Matthew Gilfellon told Business News the community tried to maintain a balanced approach to growth.

Conservation, protecting nature, and the area’s lifestyle were all important parts of this outlook.

“Being a peri-urban shire, it’s quite an interesting mix,” Mr Gilfellon said.

“The northern half of our shire is still doing broadacre farming.

“We want to keep it that way.”

Chittering has benefitted from some big recent projects, including the Northlink extension to Tonkin Highway, the Infrastructure Australia-supported Great Northern Highway bypass project, and a new industrial park at Muchea.

Mr Gilfellon said industry had developed in an ad hoc way in the area for about 20 years.

“It’s a bit of an environmentally sensitive area, people enjoying their country living lifestyle,” he said.

The industrial park was an effort to bring all the industry into one area, which can be more easily managed.

Consultation with stakeholders was important when deciding how to proceed with economic development, Mr Gilfellon added.

“Ultimately, that comes down to conversation with the community,” he said.

“People really enjoy that country lifestyle.

“Most people have five or 10 acres, it’s quite spread out.

“A lot of the houses, the land is relatively cheap compared to Perth … you can buy your little slice of paradise.

“People here are living their ideal lifestyle … it’s important we try and keep that.”

Mr Mulroney said the $275 million Great Northern Highway Bindoon bypass, which he supported, was an example of the costs and benefits of big projects for smaller communities.

When completed, he said, the bypass would mean road trains from the Pilbara, which currently stopped to decouple trailers 180 kilometres north of Bindoon at Wubin, would be able to travel to Muchea (30km south) without the need to stop.

While the big rigs driving through small towns brought noise and safety issues, their absence would deliver a commercial downside, Mr Gilfellon said.

“The trucks coming through are a safety problem in town in Bindoon … but also bring traffic for our businesses,” he said.

“Potentially that traffic will get lost with the bypass.”

Mr Gilfellon said the shire could solve that by encouraging more development in town, given moving the highway would bring a benefit of relieving spatial restriction on development.

One local government to benefit from a strong mining base is the Shire of East Pilbara.

Chief executive officer Jeremy Edwards said the shire had strong support from BHP, which operated the Mt Whaleback mine near the town of Newman.

Mr Edwards said BHP had recently supported a roll-out of CCTV cameras, an extended youth program, and upgraded the town’s shopping centre (owned by BHP).

There were more than $30 billion of projects under consideration or planning in the shire, Mr Edwards said, led by a renewable energy hub intended to export energy into Asia.

Mr Edwards said the shire was focused on ensuring employment and economic opportunities benefitted the local area rather than flowing elsewhere in the state.

“As mining takes on more technological techniques, that impacts jobs,” he said.

Part of the strategy is creating a new general industrial zone, in addition to existing light industrial areas.

That would service freight and logistics businesses, Mr Edwards said.

The shire was also prioritising red tape reduction, with personnel devoted to help project proponents navigate processes.

In common with the theme across many local governments, tourism had potential for economic diversification, Mr Edwards said.

“You’re not going to come to Newman and stay two weeks, but you might stay a few nights on your way to Karijini or Broome.”  

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