A message from CEO Gerard José

Published on 05 March 2015

CEO Gerard JoséFirstly I want to thank everyone who has made my family and I feel so welcome to this community.  We have really begun to put down some strong roots and have been lucky enough to meet wonderful people who have made our outback-change a fantastic and rewarding experience to date.

In my first days as CEO, I said I would spend time listening to staff, the community and other organisations about what it means to live in the Mildura Rural City Council area, what you love about this region and what you see as our key strengths and our areas for improvement.  I believe at the end of 20 weeks there are still a lot more conversations to have and a lot more listening to do before I can fully appreciate the opportunities for this community and region to grow.

I have really enjoyed getting out, particularly visiting the Millewa and Mallee Track, and also townships such as Red Cliffs and Merbein.  The infrastructure and services maintained by Council over such as wide area really is immense and the challenge we face in meeting the expectations of our smaller communities and vibrant city cannot be understated.

This region is full of very creative, resilient, talented, passionate people who care deeply about all members of the community, the quality of life and how we can develop sustainable futures for all.

Financial sustainability is a key issue, particularly for Councils like ours where we have a relatively small capacity to raise rates in comparison with the amount of money needed to keep our communities functioning.  I will say Council has worked hard in this area but we are facing very uncertain times. 

Our region has large numbers of people on fixed and low incomes, which means the capacity to pay rates, taxes, user fees and meet the basics of life is challenging. The possible introduction of rate-capping, reductions in indexation of Financial Assistance Grants and service agreements, along with the cancellation or reduction of funding to other key programs are certainly of concern and could lead to some tough decisions in relation to the number of services we offer.

The fact is that as a community, we cannot rely on State or Federal grants and Council cannot stand alone and continue to absorb costs which are being moved from one level of government to another. There does need to be very detailed discussions about the roles of the three spheres of government, and access to appropriate levels of resourcing to fulfil them.

One thing I really want to see Council commit to further is building thoughtful community-based leadership.  There are so many strong, motivated and positive people in our community, with amazing ideas and capacity to lead change.  I think with a little more support from us, these people can develop or refine the skills to make a difference to the wider community as a whole.  

As Council, we do not have the resources to lead every community project.  I want to find ways to strengthen and partner with others to grow ‘change capacity’ back and within the community. We need to work with interested people and to hold conversations about the many possible futures available in our region. If we can imagine new futures, we can then plan to achieve those dreams.

Organisationally, another area I hope to see a greater focus on is our overall community engagement and customer service.  Our staff do a fantastic job but there are areas where we can make experiences with Council better and make improvements.  How can we streamline our processes while still meeting our obligations under legislation?  How can we ensure you are consulted with and understand our decision making processes better?  What are the best ways to communicate with you and how can we ensure you get relevant information, through appropriate channels and in a timely manner? 

Our staff provide great services and are very proud of working in and making a difference to the quality of life for our communities. We need to remember staff and Councillors are passionate about being part of the community and also want our future to be strong and creative.

One thing I am very proud of is Council’s global social conscience. 

It’s amazing to see how proactive Council is in terms of our work with wonderful community organisations to raise awareness about issues that can affect the whole community. From our commitment to becoming a White Ribbon accredited workplace and stamping out violence against women; to our stance against racism with the Racism It Stops with Me campaign and our work on with Reconciliation Action, Access and Inclusion, Community Safety, Emergency Management, Health and Wellbeing plans just to name a few, Council is confronting and tackling issues which can damage the fabric of our community.  Again, we cannot make a difference by ourselves, but with amazing partnerships with other groups we will see real social change results in the future.

An area that I am passionate about is creating a sense of future for all, but particularly for our young people. Too many young people feel the future is bleak, are disengaged from education, employment, sport, arts and have emotional and physical health challenges. We need to be a community that focuses more on the positive and reduces or ceases the constant unfounded criticism about our region in general. This breeds distrust of each other, of community organisations and impacts greatly on our ability to see a positive future.

My plans for the future will see a focus on major and micro economic, social, cultural and environmental change that can tap into the sense of purpose, future and creativity that really define the people of this area. The communities of this region comprise many wonderful cultures and heritage and together make for an amazingly vibrant, diverse, caring and inclusive society. 

The key to any changes will start with my first Mildura Rural City Council operational and budget process, which is vital to any Local Government planning.  This is where Council can focus our financial resources into the projects, programs and services that will make the greatest difference to our community. 

Budget time isn’t just about the dollars and cents, it’s about looking at our strategic goals, at our vision and investing in what is actually needed.  Then, with support and guidance from our Councillors, Council will make innovative, cost effective and resource responsible decisions. 

Will all decisions be welcome?  Probably not. Having different points of view is healthy as long as we are willing to listen and understand. But we will be making a concerted effort to make sure all residents, ratepayers and community members have an opportunity to be informed and involved in this decision making process.  And it is our responsibility to make sure the reasons behind decisions are communicated clearly and to the relevant stakeholders.

Once again, thank you to everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting thus far.  This is a great place to live, work and visit, and I’m sure, with a little cooperation, collaboration and  willingness to listen, understand and appreciate our different points of view, we can continue to grow the whole community.

Gerard José, Chief Executive Officer