Ber­ri­gan Shire Mayor re­flects on last two years, looks ahead

Southern Riverina news - - NEWS -

James Ben­nett: What do you be­lieve has been your big­gest achieve­ment as Mayor since you’ve come into the po­si­tion?

Matt Han­nan: I’m head of the coun­cil but when you talk about achieve­ments it’s the whole or­gan­i­sa­tion, so that’s my col­leagues and staff.

Be­ing able to suc­cess­fully at­tract fund­ing with our ma­jor in­fras­truc­ture and cap­i­tal works we have go­ing is pretty sig­nif­i­cant.

One ex­am­ple is the Tocumwal Fore­shore. It’s some­thing that has been in the pipe­line for a while, and to see works hap­pen­ing is prob­a­bly our big­gest achieve­ment in years.

JB:Why did you run for coun­cil and the po­si­tion as Mayor?

MH: I orig­i­nally ran for coun­cil be­cause I wanted to give back to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Mov­ing on from that, I think it’s im­per­a­tive we ex­pose lo­cal gov­ern­ment to all age de­mo­graph­ics across the shire and putting my hand up for mayor gives a good op­por­tu­nity for me to show­case lo­cal gov­ern­ment isn’t just for any typ­i­cal per­son.

JB: Tell me some­thing about your­self that the com­mu­nity might not know.

MH: I shouldn’t prob­a­bly say it, but I’m a pas­sion­ate Colling­wood sup­porter.

I’m a lover of sport; I play a bit of lawn bowls.

I’m a fam­ily man and love work­ing the youth of the com­mu­nity. I try to be a role model for the youth. The rea­son I’m in lo­cal gov­ern­ment is be­cause I love work­ing with the com­mu­nity. I don’t have any grandiose as­pi­ra­tions at this point in time.

You’re never go­ing to please ev­ery­one un­for­tu­nately, but I’m just out there try­ing to do the best I can.

JB: Have you been able to use your po­si­tion as Mayor to raise aware­ness of dis­abil­ity is­sues? MH: I wouldn’t say raise aware­ness. I work at Fin­ley Pub­lic School, and have been there for 15 years, so there’s a bit of aware­ness there.

Maybe go­ing to play bowls in the Na­tional Dis­abil­ity Cham­pi­onships in Perth was some­thing.

I haven’t been the big­gest ad­vo­cate in that (dis­abil­ity) sec­tor, but I think in this day and age we’ve come a lot fur­ther from where we were when I first started.

JB: What are the Ber­ri­gan Shire’s big­gest as­sets?

MH: Our peo­ple, 100 per cent. Our peo­ple It’s been two years since Matt Han­nan was elected to the top po­si­tion of Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cil. Long-time Coun­cil­lor Bernard Curtin, who sadly passed away in April 2018, moved out of the Mayor’s role in 2016 to make way for Cr Han­nan. It was a time of wide­spread change in lo­cal gov­ern­ment. Just weeks be­fore Cr Han­nan was elected Mayor, the NSW Gov­ern­ment Fit for the Fu­ture re­forms were im­ple­mented across the state. Coun­cil amal­ga­ma­tions were part of the changes, and while all of its neigh­bours found merger part­ners Ber­ri­gan Shire was left to stand alone. South­ern Rive­rina News jour­nal­ist James Ben­nett sat down with Cr Han­nan to dis­cuss the last two years, and what the fu­ture holds.

are cer­tainly the big­gest as­set, but we have many of them.

From our schools to our age care fa­cil­i­ties; I know they aren’t coun­cil run fa­cil­i­ties, but they’re all part of the com­mu­nity.

Our sport­ing fa­cil­i­ties, events, parks and gar­dens — we have nu­mer­ous as­sets.

JB: A big is­sue for the Ber­ri­gan Shire in re­cent years has been the Fin­ley School of Arts and War Me­mo­rial Hall. As some­one who has been at the fore­front of the is­sues both as a coun­cil­lor and mayor, how would you as­sess the way coun­cil han­dled the sit­u­a­tion?

MH: If you ever say you get things right all the time, you’re prob­a­bly telling a few sto­ries.

I think coun­cil could have han­dled it bet­ter at times. It’s re­ally hard to en­gage the whole com­mu­nity, that’s one is­sue.

And that’s not just Ber­ri­gan Shire, that’s all shires across NSW.

Of­ten when you miss some­body, they’re the ones who should have en­gaged.

Prob­a­bly the en­gage­ment process at the start could have been bet­ter but also I don’t think all of Fin­ley was able to see what coun­cil en­vis­aged, and what could have hap­pened at the precinct.

Peo­ple are at­tached to things in their com­mu­nity, and I re­spect that too.

From my point of view you need to know what is go­ing to be needed and what will ser­vice your com­mu­nity down the track.

Of course we could have done things bet­ter, but I’m not go­ing to dredge up stuff from the past. It’s go­ing to be up to the com­mu­nity go­ing for­ward what they de­cide to do.

JB: You touched on it a lit­tle bit in that an­swer but if you could have your time over again how would coun­cil han­dle it dif­fer­ently?

MH: The first thing we’d have is more money.

I wasn’t the mayor when we went through that con­sul­ta­tion pe­riod, but if I was I would prob­a­bly try and sell the vi­sion of what we were try­ing to do in the first place.

And that’s im­per­a­tive; the com­mu­nity will come with you if they can see into that vi­sion.

That’s not a knock on Bernard (Curtin) or any­body, that’s just how I would have done it.

At the end of the day I live in Fin­ley and you like to think you know you’re peo­ple.

JB: Ev­ery year the Ber­ri­gan Shire must vote on Straw­berry Fields. Sim­i­lar to the Fin­ley War Me­mo­rial Hall, res­i­dents are ei­ther for it or against it. Where do you stand on Straw­berry Fields, par­tic­u­larly as there’s such an em­pha­sis on con­cerns around drugs, while on the other hand there’s such an em­pha­sis on the cash in­jec­tion it brings?

MH: I’m not go­ing to talk about the plan­ning is­sues or the moral is­sues.

At the end of the day we’ve worked with Straw­berry Fields over a five year pe­riod and I’ve watched that fes­ti­val evolve in that plan­ning and setup of what they’re try­ing the achieve. As mayor I hold them to ac­count. Un­for­tu­nately we live in a so­ci­ety where drugs are an is­sue. Can we stop peo­ple from tak­ing them? No.

Can we pro­vide safety at events where peo­ple par­take in that? Yes.

I’ve been on the record a few times say­ing we’ve had that event in our com­mu­nity and I, as mayor, want it to be the safest event in Aus­tralia.

At the end of the day, one fa­tal­ity is one too many and we don’t need any fa­tal­i­ties in this area at all.

We need to make sure the event or­gan­is­ers are held ac­count­able to what they say they’re go­ing to do.

JB: The thing that stood out for me when I was re­port­ing at my first coun­cil meet­ing was there are no women on coun­cil. Do you be­lieve more women should run for coun­cil?

MH: 100 per cent. I’ve been on coun­cil for 10 years and dur­ing that time there have been two fe­males on coun­cil — An­drea O’Neill and the late Liz McLau­rin.

It’s a dif­fi­cult one. That’s some­thing I’d like to do in the next cou­ple of years — get out there and talk to women about stand­ing.

I work with a lot of fe­males, I work with a lot of fe­males at school, lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas, com­mu­nity groups and most com­mit­tees have women on them.

Is it some­thing that is ac­ces­si­ble for women to be in­volved in coun­cil? Maybe not, be­cause of the times we have meet­ings, and that’s some­thing we can look at down the track to en­cour­age more peo­ple to be in­volved.

Just for bal­ance and a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, we don’t pro­fess to know all the an­swers.

How­ever at the end of the day, if women don’t de­cide to stand or if they do de­cide (to stand) they’re voted on ac­cord­ingly.

JB: Ber­ri­gan Shire was one of the few lo­cal coun­cils in coun­try NSW that did not merge. At the time the coun­cil was happy it didn’t merge with other coun­cils, but we’re see­ing sur­round­ing coun­cils such as Ed­ward River and Mur­rumbidgee re­ceive an ad­di­tional $10 mil­lion for merg­ing plus more money with the Stronger Coun­try Com­mu­ni­ties Fund. Be­fore the merg­ers, Ber­ri­gan Shire was also branded an ‘un­fit’ coun­cil by the NSW Gov­ern­ment. Has not merg­ing held the Ber­ri­gan Shire back and are you con­cerned that merged coun­cils are re­ceiv­ing more fund­ing sup­port?

MH: Well first of all the ‘un­fit’ word is not men­tioned any more at state gov­ern­ment level. It seems to have dis­ap­peared into cy­ber space so we’re not deemed ‘fit’ or ‘un­fit’.

We’re very proud of be­ing a stand alone coun­cil.

My be­lief is Ber­ri­gan Shire is a re­ally pro­gres­sive coun­cil and while the other ar­eas around us have re­ceived ad­di­tional funds to work through that amal­ga­ma­tion process, it hasn’t come with­out its is­sues.

I talk to my col­leagues at both Ed­ward River and Mur­rumbidgee, and they both have sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges and I’m not one to sit back and have an opin­ion on what they’re do­ing.

How­ever it’s on­go­ing and they’re still hav­ing is­sues, so we’re quite proud of the fact we’re able to stand alone.

We’re quite proud of the fact our com­mu­nity was quite loud in that in­stance by say­ing the Ber­ri­gan Shire could stand alone.

I think it’s proof while we’re not deemed ‘fit’ or ‘un­fit’, we’re still get­ting on and pro­vid­ing for our res­i­dents.

JB: The SRN re­ceives con­stant feed­back and one re­cent is­sue that’s com­ing across is that com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion from the shire has been lack­ing. This is par­tic­u­larly men­tioned in ref­er­ence to the Ber­ri­gan tree plant­ing and town en­try sign de­bates. Do you think it is some­thing the shire has to ad­dress?

MH: As I said be­fore, com­mu­nity en­gage­ment is al­ways a real chal­lenge; it doesn’t mat­ter what lo­cal gov­ern­ment area.

It’s a re­ally tough space to work in, but when is­sues do arise, and us­ing the trees in Ber­ri­gan as an ex­am­ple, there are peo­ple who are ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about keep­ing those trees.

There are other groups in Ber­ri­gan that are pretty happy for them to be re­moved.

It’s like the whole shire — there are a lot of peo­ple who are happy their rub­bish is picked up, and they can turn their wa­ter on.

You put up op­tions and pay your staff to pro­vide you with this ad­vice and take those op­tions to the com­mu­nity to have their say. Then it needs to be im­ple­mented.

Of­ten we go back­wards and for­wards, and it can slow the process.

I en­cour­age peo­ple who do have some­thing to say to make sure they get in­volved at the com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion, and not come in at the last minute and at­tempt to change things.

Re­sources are spent to get to that point and we do value the com­mu­nity in­put.

The town en­try pro­gram is some­thing I’m ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about be­cause it was born out of com­mu­nity meet­ings five years ago.

We wanted to pro­vide peo­ple that aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing view to our com­mu­nity, and to the vis­i­tors to our area.

JB: I haven’t come across a lot of crit­ics about you as mayor but if there’s a com­mon com­plaint it is you sit on the fence too much with im­por­tant de­ci­sions. Do you think that’s a fair com­ment?

MH: I don’t think I’m a fence sit­ter; if you ask my wife she’ll tell you I’m not a fence sit­ter.

I’m not an au­thor­i­ta­tive per­son. I’m strong on my opin­ions but I’m also re­spect­ful of try­ing to lis­ten to other opin­ions. I’m only two years into the role as mayor. I’ve never been the pres­i­dent of an as­so­ci­a­tion, I’ve al­ways just been on a com­mit­tee or ‘worker bee’.

I don’t think my record says I sit on the fence — I say what I be­lieve in.

JB: What do you hope to achieve as mayor and in the next two years?

MH: I just want to con­tinue to pro­mote this area to ‘Live, Work and In­vest’ in.

There are things we can’t con­trol such as drought and state and fed­eral is­sues with wa­ter, and there are cer­tain parts of the com­mu­nity try­ing to work with them to get that sorted.

We do have so many pos­i­tive things; we have great schools, fa­cil­i­ties for our elderly, our hos­pi­tals are sec­ond to none, our parks and gar­dens.

There aren’t a lot of things we don’t pro­vide in the Ber­ri­gan Shire.

As I said we’re a re­ally pro­gres­sive shire and I just hope the com­mu­nity, as well as coun­cil, can con­tinue to work to­gether to pro­vide the things we need in this small com­mu­nity.

We don’t have all the an­swers but if we work with our busi­ness or­gan­i­sa­tions where we have rep­re­sen­ta­tion, I’m sure this place will con­tinue to thrive.

Ber­ri­gan Shire Mayor Matt Han­nan (left) and his Deputy Mayor Daryll Mor­ris were both re-elected to their po­si­tions in Septem­ber.

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