Mayor Shield’s acceptance speech paints a broad picture for Dubbo
Councillor Ben Shields, September 28
FIRST of all I would like to thank my family, my partner and friends who have stuck by me through 18 years of public life. Without these people backing me I would not be in this position today.
I also thank the people of Dubbo for giving me this opportunity to lead their Council and to set the agenda for the coming years.
Amalgamation Road has been a bumpy ride which turned a longawaited corner on September 28, 2017, during an extraordinary meeting of the new council to elect a mayor. As space permits and over several editions, Dubbo Photo News will be publishing excerpts from Mayor Ben Shield’s acceptance speech. He emphasised a desire for an inclusive council and, in keeping with that, the people of Dubbo and Wellington can read his comments in full here.
To the elected Councillors assembled here today: You have my sincere gratitude for electing me to this role. You have my assurance that I will be mayor to the best of my ability, and will use consensus as a way to make decisions and unify the region.
Consensus involves give and take. When working as a group of ten Councillors, I will be particularly encouraging all of us to be in regular contact with each other. And, as Mayor, I intend to be facilitating regular informal get-togethers of Councillors.
2. Rates and Revenue.
This Council has a number of challenges ahead. It is meaningless to ignore the issues that confront us.
Firstly, we need to finish the job of amalgamation. Combining our rates and revenue structure for the entire Council area will be an incredibly difficult and thankless task. Only a unified and focussed team of Councillors can deliver the right outcome.
3. Social Issues.
The day has come when as a region we must take our social issues seriously. Despite the good work of our police, our crime rates are too high and too many lives are being wasted by drugs, unemployment, poor parenting and the crimes that happen as a consequence.
In our towns, much crime is concentrated in certain troubled families and communities. I believe we must intervene as a community and be as tough on the causes of crime as we are on crime itself.
I formally commit my personal support as Mayor to a residential drug rehabilitation facility in our region. It is sorely needed. I believe it should be in a location outside town and run with local community input.
I am aware of some of the work done on this issue in recent years and I will be asking for a briefing as soon as possible on the available options.
I also fully support establishing a drug court for this region. There is mounting evidence to suggest such a program would be revolutionary in its approach to offenders in the region and play a significant part in the reduction of drug related crime.
Youth Koori Court is a concept that has been trialled in metropolitan Sydney. This is a scheme similar to Drug Court. Young offenders are committed to lengthy supervision and case management by the court itself.
Outcomes in terms of punishment depend on the extent to which the offender has succeeded in improving cultural connections, gaining education or employment and in addressing health outcomes.
This would be fantastic for Dubbo and Wellington.
Everyone knows the potential of our young Aboriginal people, but for too long we have accepted intergenerational problems that hold too many back from taking their rightful positions in this community as leaders and contributors.
Going forward, we must as a community also examine what is known as “justice reinvestment”. This boils down to a simple idea: spending time and money to prevent crime in the first place, rather than dealing with the symptoms of social problems through courts and jails.
Imagine if instead of spending $50 million in jailing kids we could spend $25 million on crime diversion, employment training and substance abuse prevention, with the effect of saving money, reducing crime and changing lives?
Justice Reinvestment is happening in Bourke right now, why not in Dubbo and Wellington?
I will support the formation of a new Committee of Council to oversee these projects and others, designed to help people and families break the link between intergenerational social disadvantage and substance abuse, criminal behaviour and other social problems. I will act as Mayor to ensure the necessary Council resources, including Project Officers and other resources, are allocated to ensure we can secure these and other projects.
4. Aboriginal people
I would like to make special mention of the need to embrace and empower our local Indigenous communities. For too long we’ve settled for the status quo of failed State and Federal Government policies when Local Government should be taking the lead to transform the way we accept this ongoing social disadvantage.
Our Indigenous culture is the oldest in the world, yet Australia seems to be the only nation on earth where tourists visit and yet can’t get a proper cultural experience with First Nations Peoples.
I’ve travelled extensively to first and third world countries. In the southwestern deserts of the USA, local American Indian people are trading the intrinsic value of their cultural heritage for outside tourist dollars. Visitors spend money buying souvenirs, paintings, dreamcatchers, they pay local people for their version of bush tucker and to watch them perform tribal dances and songs, yet here in Dubbo and Wellington, with one of the largest concentrations of Aboriginal people in the nation, we have no such opportunities for interaction with local people.
Tourist dollars feed back into disadvantaged communities to create meaningful, sustainable and fulfilling jobs, and also create pathways for youth to make a living and establish work ethics while they learn about and immerse themselves in their traditional culture.
This is not rocket science, this is pretty simple stuff, and it’s time Dubbo Regional Council gave strong leadership to make this happen, if it is what the local Aboriginal community wants.
My approach on Aboriginal cultural and community issues will be focussed and consultation and self-determination. The time for the Government to impose its will on Aboriginal people has passed.
Can I also pay tribute to state MP Troy Grant, who has secured over $1 million in funding to make a Wiradjuri project a reality. If Council seeks and employs the best Grants Officer we can, I can see these dollars being leveraged into $3 million or $4 million to design a project which should provide that critical mass to create an entirely new social enterprise for this region.
I commit to consult widely with the local Indigenous people, as well as gather in expertise from the broader community. I want to see the resounding success of this venture to be the signature achievement of the incoming 2017 Council.
River/environment, Live Streaming of council meetings, Grants officer, Traffic, Lake, Showground and CBD.