More work to do…

We have seen the Sunshine Coast emerge from the global economic downturn to really punch above its weight as we strive to deliver a leading regional economy and preserve a lifestyle and natural environment that are the envy of the nation.

But there is much still to do and with growing global and national economic uncertainty, the Sunshine Coast cannot afford to risk losing the momentum that has gathered in the last eight years or the confidence and optimism that is strong across our community.

True Direction – that is my plan

By driving real actions that will deliver tangible and enduring benefits for our community and preserve the lifestyle of our Sunshine Coast.

I have a demonstrated track record in delivering results for our Sunshine Coast. In everything that Council has done during my time as Mayor, we have sought a balance – a synergy – between community, environmental and economic outcomes.

This is consistent with our aspirational vision for the Sunshine Coast: To be Australia’s most sustainable region – healthy, smart, creative.

Getting that balance right remains my focus. Because I firmly believe that this reflects the broader interests and priorities of communities – right across our Sunshine Coast.

Community

The Sunshine Coast is truly the living, breathing embodiment of the ‘Global Intelligent Community’ that we have been internationally recognised as being.

The bedrock of our success as a Global Intelligent Community is just that – our community – the 320,000 people that call our Sunshine Coast home.

The values, commitment, drive, ideas and aspirations that so many in our community bring forth each and every day are what shapes, defines and brings us together.  I see this demonstrated everywhere I go on our Sunshine Coast.

From the volunteers at the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve to the Council staff and volunteers who deliver the Read and Write for Life Program – a program that for three decades, has been leading the way in helping to improve adult literacy in our community.

The common thread in these examples is one of collaboration between our community and our Council. This is at the heart of our Council’s new Community Strategy, which – along with our decision to seek a UNESCO Biosphere designation – are in my view, the two most significant decisions that our Council has made on behalf of our region in the last year.

I am strongly committed to our Community Strategy – which is built on firm social justice principles – equity of access; the efficacy of human dignity; and a level playing field – so everyone can benefit as the region grows.

What is imperative is that our community is the clear beneficiary of that forecast growth.

With this in mind, during the next term of Council, I am committed to –

Making it easier for our community to move around

I will continue to push for the completion of the detailed business case for a mass transit solution. I will advocate for State and Federal Government investment in the preferred public transport solution that will link our suburbs and is in line with what our growing region needs and deserves. I will also work collaboratively with the Federal Members to push for funding for a fast rail solution that will better connect our Sunshine Coast with Brisbane and the rest of South East Queensland.

Drawing a line in the sand when it comes to urban development

In the next term of Council, the Queensland Government will conduct the five-year review of the South East Queensland Regional Plan.  I will be advocating strongly that there be no further expansion of the Urban Footprint in the Sunshine Coast area in the life of the next regional plan.  We need to consolidate development within the existing designated urban areas – and not allow our Hinterland or other vulnerable areas to be exposed to potential urban sprawl.

Keeping our community active and healthy

As I promised in 2016, I will work with my Council colleagues to seek a commitment to invest at least $30 million over the next four-year term to improve Council’s sport, recreation, performance and community facilities.

Valuing our cultural heritage and traditions

Retaining and celebrating the cultural heritage of our Sunshine Coast is vitally important to many people across our community and how we present ourselves as a region.  As I have done since I was first elected in 2012, I will continually pursue opportunities to preserve, promote and celebrate our region’s heritage, including working with our First Nations peoples to identify and support new opportunities to expand the broader community’s awareness and appreciation of the contribution of the Kabi Kabi and Jinibara peoples to the rich tapestry that is our Sunshine Coast.

Prioritising fairness, safety and inclusion

As Mayor, I hold a unique position as the voice of the Sunshine Coast region to other levels of government.  I will continue to play a strong role in advocating to them that they commit the resources and services required to ensure our region is properly equipped to address issues such as domestic violence, homelessness and access to necessary human services, such as child safety and social housing.  I will work collaboratively with human service agencies and community organisations to ensure they have a voice, through me, to advocate to State and Federal governments for the funding and resources they need to service our community.

Providing more opportunities for young people

Even though our region has been fortunate over the last eight years to see the economy grow, business confidence improve significantly, and new jobs be created, youth unemployment still remains unacceptably high. While new employment options will emerge from commitments like the international submarine cable network, the expansion of the Airport and the new city centre, there is a need for more immediate solutions to reduce youth unemployment and the exodus of young people from the region. I pledge that within the first six months of the new term, I will bring together business and community organisations, the education and training sector and youth representatives to determine a suite of practical initiatives that can be deployed quickly to get more young people into employment locally.

Respecting the liveability of our residential areas

Digital disruption and different approaches for short term accommodation have had a growing impact on the liveability of some areas of our community, with increased instances of ‘party houses’ and the growing trend for existing residential properties to be used for short term accommodation. While in the main, this is a characteristic of popular visitor destinations like the Sunshine Coast, it can also impact on the lifestyle of other members of our community. It will fall to the Council elected in 2020 to develop the next planning scheme for the Sunshine Coast. As part of that process, I will be seeking a full review of all mechanisms available to minimise the impacts of party houses and short-term accommodation in existing residential areas, particularly in our Hinterland communities.

More sealed roads in the Hinterland

In mid-2022, Palisade Investment Partners will provide its final project payment that will enable Council to retire its borrowings for the Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project.  I will be encouraging the next Council to develop and commit from 1 July 2022, to a dedicated annual increase to the current funding to progressively seal many of the 590 kilometres of unsealed local roads on the Sunshine Coast. This will make it safer for residents in our rural areas, reduce dust and noise and improve the connectivity of residents in these areas to the services and facilities they need.

Environment

Under my leadership, our Council has been on its sustainability journey for many years.  Our Council has made it a priority to take real and decisive action to preserve our environment, improve our liveability and better position the region to adapt to the challenges of a changing climate.

In 2017, our Council adopted its Environment and Liveability Strategy, which provides a vision and contemporary approach to delivering a healthy environment and liveable Sunshine Coast in 2041.

In 2017 we also commissioned our Sunshine Coast Solar Farm, making our Council the first local government in mainland Australia to offset more than its entire electricity consumption with energy from a renewable source.

Council is also investing in climate change adaptation by developing a comprehensive Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy, to better understand and plan for current and future impacts of coastal hazards (including sea level rise) and provide innovative management options to make our coastline and communities more resilient.

Our Council has also continued to invest in expanding our conservation estate through land acquisitions, to increase protection, connectivity and resilience of priority habitat areas.  This now covers over 6900 hectares and is understood to be the largest council-owned conservation estate in South East Queensland.

In fact, nearly one-third of the land acquired using our Environment Levy has been purchased in the eight years – in which I have been Mayor – vastly more than under any other Council since the Environment Levy was first introduced in the 1990s.

Our Sunshine Coast hosts the largest Land for Wildlife program in the country and we continue to provide a wide range of community programs to encourage our residents to act sustainably.

Council has set a target to be a zero-net emissions organisation by 2041.

In keeping with being a national leader, when it comes to innovations and environmental sustainability, in June 2019 our Council entered into an Australian-first ‘Blue Carbon Initiative’ with the State Government and Unitywater, covering more than 5000 hectares in our Maroochy River catchment.

In line with a commitment I made in 2015, last year our Council also agreed to proceed with the nomination of our Sunshine Coast as a UNESCO Biosphere – a decision that will help to ensure our community’s focus on sustainability in every sense – and our deep attachment to our natural environment – are reflected in everything that we do in the future.

But we cannot rest on our laurels – there is always more to be done if we are to ensure our natural environment and liveability are not to be compromised.

To this end, I am committed to –

Growing our conservation estate for current and future generations

Nearly one third of the total area of land acquired by Council using the Environment Levy has been purchased since I became Mayor in 2012.   This is a significant investment in the region’s important environmental assets, habitat corridors and in preserving the liveability of our region.  In the next term, I will be seeking the support of Council to increase by a further 10% the total conservation lands acquired using the Environment Levy, with a priority on connecting existing conservation areas and ensuring important fauna movement corridors are preserved.

A Blue Heart that beats strongly

Our Blue Heart, which is an area of more than 5,000 hectares on the Maroochy River floodplain – is designed to provide voluntary, sustainable options for existing private landholders in terms of blue carbon farming and encourage more sustainable land management practices within this important catchment area.  A major priority for me as Mayor in the next term of Council will be to work with the landowners – government and private – to access a major slice of funding from the State Government’s Land Restoration Fund so that we can collectively establish Queensland’s leading carbon farming initiative within the Maroochy River floodplain.

More land for wildlife

Just as Council’s Conservation Estate plays an important role in preserving valuable habitat corridors lands of environmental significance, many private landowners also contribute to preserving our environmental landscape by participating in our Land for Wildlife program.  Last term, we exceeded our target set in 2016 and now have over 1100 private landowners participating in this program and managing their land with conservation objectives in mind.  During the next term of Council, I will work with my Councillor colleagues and staff to grow the number of participants in this nation-leading program to 1300 landowners.

Safer connectivity for our wildlife

As our region grows and that growth is accommodated within the Urban Footprint, it is critical that we ensure our wildlife can maintain safe access to natural habitat areas.  While it is heartbreaking to see our native animals injured or killed by motor vehicles, bushfires or by introduced species, we can certainly be doing more to minimise the risks to native fauna as they move about.  While Council is continuing to complete its Fauna Movement Study, I will be proposing to Council to consider the introduction of a new program in the next budget that is specifically designed to improve and install more fauna movement infrastructure in major hotspots identified in and around the local road network.  I will also continue to advocate strongly to the Queensland Government to work with Council to install appropriate fauna movement infrastructure in key areas of the State-controlled road network where there are many instances of recorded injuries and fatalities for local fauna.

Continuing our real actions on climate change

Since 2012, our Council have been on a very clear sustainability journey and over that time, we have implemented an extensive array of real actions to further strengthen the region’s response to climate change.  From being the first government in mainland Australia to offset more than 100% of its electricity consumption with energy from our solar farm to our exciting Blue Heart partnership.

A major priority for me as Mayor over the course of the next year will be to oversee the completion of Our Resilient Coast: Our Future, a long-term strategy which will provide help to manage the impacts of coastal hazards, including erosion of our beaches, and short or long-term seawater inundation of land along the coastline.  This will provide a suite of actions to inform a proactive plan for the long-term management of our coast, reduce the impacts of coastal hazards on our coast and communities, and enhance the resilience of our coastline. This work is vital for a coastal community like our own and essential to providing greater confidence and certainty for our community in our efforts to respond to the impacts of a changing climate.

Entrenching our Inter-urban break

In the 2017 South East Queensland Regional Plan, through my advocacy efforts as a member of the SEQ Regional Planning Committee, I was able to help convince the State Government to clearly identify on the map of SEQ, the extent of our inter-urban break.  While this is a positive step forward, it is not enough and will not guarantee the extent of the inter-urban break is not reduced in the future.  As Mayor, I will be pushing the Queensland Government for statutory recognition and protection of the existing inter-urban break, so that it cannot easily be eroded by future governments or councils.

Establishing our Sunshine Coast biosphere reserve

In 2015, I committed to examining the feasibility of seeking a UNESCO Biosphere designation for the Sunshine Coast.  On 24 October 2019, our Council unanimously agreed to progress a biosphere nomination for our Sunshine Coast.  Subject to receiving the support of the State and Federal governments, I will work with my Councillor colleagues and our community to secure the Biosphere designation from UNESCO.  I will also support the development of a community-focussed governance model to ensure our Sunshine Coast Biosphere reserve becomes an exemplar of people and nature in harmony which embeds the values of our community in our long-term planning as our region continues to grow over the next 20 years.

Improving the health of our waterways

Our waterways are a defining feature of our coastal and hinterland landscapes. However, they cannot be taken for granted and we must remain ever vigilant to improve their health as our region continues to grow and accommodate more people.  This is one of the reasons why I have vehemently opposed the development of Halls Creek, given the unacceptable impacts it would have on the Pumicestone Passage.  Under the Council which I have led, we have continued to see improvements in the health of our waterways, with the Pumicestone Passage moving up to an “A minus” rating and improvements being noted in the health of both the Mooloolah and Maroochy River catchments.  But this continues to be an area where more work needs to be done and I am committed to working with our community to see that this occurs.  To this end, I will be encouraging my Council colleagues to increase our investment in our catchment management activities to further improve the health ratings of our waterways. I will also be advocating for a robust and enduring governance model for the management of our river systems as part of the proposed South East Queensland City Deal.

Safety of our community comes first in managing our parks and gardens

Our parks and gardens are highly valued by our community and I want to ensure this continues to be the case.  While every effort is made by Council to ensure these community assets are maintained in a safe and healthy manner, there remains a continuing community concern around the use of weed control chemicals containing glyphosate (eg. Round Up).  I will be pushing my Council colleagues to support a phase out of the use of chemical products containing glyphosate in all of our parks, gardens and outdoor sport and recreation facilities by the end of 2024.

Economy

Since I was first elected as Mayor in 2012, the council has worked hard to reshape and rebuild our region’s economy so it is stronger, more resilient, better connected to global markets and responsive to the demands of the digital century.

Our efforts have borne fruit and today our region’s economy is in considerably better shape.  Through the efforts of our council we have demonstrated the value of having a clear 20-year blueprint for our economy, and we have been able to engender confidence, optimism and investment – essential ingredients in generating jobs, economic resilience and prosperity.

This remains a core focus for me – building a strong, robust economy that is responsive to the demands of the 21st century and provides opportunities for our community.

Thanks to our efforts, the Sunshine Coast is experiencing –

  • strong average annual economic growth of just over 4% – a full percentage point higher than the nation’s economic growth rate
  • the creation of over 23,000 new employment opportunities since our Regional Economic Development Strategy commenced in September 2013 – a rate of new jobs growth that also exceeds the national average
  • continuing high levels of business confidence beyond that of other regions
  • more than $12.5 billion in major public and private investment – either underway or in the pipeline
  • building activity continues to record positive growth, with $1.6 billion in building approvals recorded during the last financial year
  • growth in our exports outside the region by over 30% which are now sitting at 17.9% of all goods and services produced locally – up from 13.6% in 2013
  • improved average household incomes by a staggering 25% since we released our Regional Economic Development Strategy in 2013. This is something of which I am particularly proud as it is the real dividend for our community from our efforts to strengthen the regional economy.

With growing global uncertainties and the fiscal challenges of our State and Federal governments, our region will not be immune from economic fluctuations.  We are much better placed to work our way through these than we were in the wake of the global economic downturn in 2008-2010, however, the Sunshine Coast cannot afford to lose momentum or change course.

With this in mind, during the next term of Council, I will

Continue to support new employment opportunities

Encourage new investment in our seven high-value industries and continue to leverage the important infrastructure investments that have been made by Council and other tiers of government and the private sector. These are the bedrock for continuing to generate jobs on our Sunshine Coast.  We have experienced considerable success with this formula, underpinned by our unwavering commitment to our Regional Economic Development Strategy.  As Mayor, I will continue to support the next five-year implementation plan for this Strategy and work with my fellow Councillors to ensure this is appropriately resourced to deliver the jobs, services and infrastructure that our growing region requires and support the growth of local businesses.

Promote investment in digital industries and the establishment of the Sunshine Coast as a digital trade hub

On 23 December 2019, our international broadband submarine cable came ashore at Maroochydore.  Our direct data and telecommunications connectivity to Asia and the rest of the world will be in service in the first half of this year, providing a platform to fundamentally change the fabric of industry and employment on the Sunshine Coast.  I will continue to push hard to have the Sunshine Coast recognised and supported as a leading Digital Trade Hub and encourage Council support for private sector investment in new technologies such as Digital Twin laboratories and Blockchain technology, which will provide new avenues for the growth in precision engineering and advanced manufacturing and help expand the export of our agricultural products, health, wellbeing, sport science and rehabilitation and education services.

Maintaining the focus on the Sunshine Coast’s infrastructure needs in the South East Queensland City Deal

As Mayor of the Sunshine Coast, I have been at the forefront of the push by SEQ Mayors over the last six years to secure a City Deal for SEQ.  With all tiers of government now at the table, the City Deal is the opportunity to lock in commitments over the next 15 – 20 years to major infrastructure for the Sunshine Coast, particularly our public transport network.  As Mayor, I will continue to lobby hard as the City Deal is finalised throughout 2020 to secure the investment needed for our mass transit suburban public transport system, with better connections to Brisbane.

An expanded stadium that keeps the big names coming to the coast

On 12 December 2019, Council endorsed a $68 million, first phase expansion of the Sunshine Coast Stadium, to increase the fixed seating capacity of the venue to more than 11,600 seats, in addition to seating for 5,000 spectators at the northern and southern ends.  Council’s commitment of $17 million is contingent on securing matching contributions from the State and Federal governments and other sources.  In keeping with my long-standing record of securing investment in major region-shaping infrastructure projects, I commit to working to secure the commitments from the other tiers of government and the private sector by mid-2021, so that the Stage 1 expansion can be delivered by the end of 2023.

Securing government commitments to our long overdue Exhibition and Convention Centre

More than 20 years of planning and studies have provided a comprehensive base for the demand, scope and functions for an Exhibition and Convention centre in Maroochydore.  The business case is now complete, but the facility can only be delivered with Federal and State government funding – as has been the case elsewhere.  Council is providing the land but will need to secure commitments of $100 million each from the Federal and State governments to build the facility.  As Mayor, I will ensure that Council has a clear prospectus in place so that our region can finally secure the funding commitments from the Federal and State governments and work with my Council colleagues to ensure construction of our convention and exhibition centre commences within the next term of Council.

Sunshine Coast to be a key part of any 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid

For the last five years, I have played a key role within the Council of Mayors South East Queensland to examine the feasibility of staging the Olympic and Paralympic Games in SEQ in 2032.  We now have all tiers of government on-side to develop a bid and are working closely with the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) to make this happen.  In my role as a member of the Olympic Candidature Leadership Group, along with the Prime Minister, Premier, AOC President, Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien, Minister Kate Jones and the Brisbane Lord Mayor, I am in an ideal position to ensure the Sunshine Coast is well placed in any successful bid for 2032.  Over the course of the next term of Council, I commit to continuing to ensure the Sunshine Coast remains a key location for the staging of a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games and to securing at least five key sporting events from the Olympic program for the Sunshine Coast.

Council

The momentum around our region continues to grow, as we position the Sunshine Coast as a healthy, smart, creative region.

As I regularly say, there is no better place to be than the Sunshine Coast – as a place to live, work, recreate, raise a family or run a business. The clear plans and commitments put in place over the last eight years under our Council have played no small part in this outcome.

Under my leadership, Council’s strong financial position and prudent fiscal management has enabled us to ensure Council can provide the services and infrastructure which our community needs today – whilst at the same time, supporting major initiatives that will help to entrench the future prosperity and liveability of our Sunshine Coast.

As Mayor, your Council has continued to receive a strong financial sustainability rating from the Queensland Treasury Corporation.  We continue to be one of only three councils out of the 77 councils across Queensland that received this rating.

Coupled with this strong financial sustainability rating is the fact that, in every year that I have been Mayor, Council has received an unmodified audit opinion from the Queensland Audit Office.

These two achievements alone, are testament to the responsible stewardship which I bring to Council and the discipline that I and fellow Councillors have applied to the management of Council resources and finances – which are ultimately, the assets of our community.

What this does is enable Council to deliver a wide range of services and facilities for our community – which we do, every day. It also enables Council to pursue an innovative infrastructure investment program that is unparalleled for local government in this state – if not the nation.

Importantly, by ensuring Council is in a strong and stable financial position, we are able to support and connect our communities, preserve and nurture our natural assets, develop our economy, and above all, remain focused on maintaining a lifestyle on the Sunshine Coast that is so highly valued by our residents.

There is however, no room for complacency and nor can Council ever afford to take its eye off the need for continuous improvement and disciplined and responsible decision-making.

To this end, in the term of the next Council, I commit to work with my Councillor colleagues and seek their support for the following operating improvements  –

Maintaining Council’s strong financial position

A significant priority for me has been – and will continue to be – driving the discipline needed to ensure Council remains at the forefront of financial sustainability.  To this end, I commit to supporting the budget and management principle that Council’s strong financial sustainability rating must remain in place at the end of the next term of Council. This will include retiring a significant portion of Council debt in mid-2022 – when Palisade Investment Partners make the final project payment for the Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project – which will mean that this significant infrastructure project will have been delivered by Council with no enduring cost to the ratepayer.

Better accessibility to Council meetings

Subject to the report to be provided to Council in May 2020 confirming reasonable costs, I will support the introduction of live streaming of Council statutory meetings in existing Council chambers and from the new Council chamber to be built in Maroochydore.

A new approach to confidential agenda items

Much has been said about how Council deals with confidential business items.  There have been valid reasons at the time for items of business to be considered by Council in confidential sessions.  I recognise however, that the system does not cater well for informing our community as much as possible about the nature of these matters or for easily releasing material once time has moved on and/or the confidentiality considerations have passed.  While Council must always operate within the requirements of the Local Government Act 2009 in how it manages its meeting business, I believe there are improvements that can be made to provide greater visibility for our community for confidential matters considered by Council. With changes to the legislative arrangements for Council meetings in the pipeline, I commit to seeking the support of the next Council to an immediate review of how Council manages and reports on confidential agenda items into the future and to seeking community input as part of the review process.

Better opportunities for community involvement in planning for the future

I recognise that many people in our community have a strong interest in the planning for our region and how, where and in what form, development occurs. Our Council has a robust planning scheme and development assessment process in place, with the transparency of all development applications now even more apparent than ever before, since our Council introduced the award-winning Development.i application. The next Council will have responsibility for developing the next Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme, which will provide the basis for land use and development on the Sunshine Coast through to 2034 and beyond. Our community should be front and centre of this process. So, I will be proposing to the next Council that it establish a community reference group prior to September 2020 – much along the lines of the Community Reference Group for the Biosphere nomination – and that this group be charged with designing and recommending to Council, the community engagement and participation process that it would like to see pursued as part of the development of the next planning scheme.