I grew up in Brisbane, went to university there, then went travelling. After meeting my husband in Greece, we moved to Flinders Island (population 900), where we raised sheep and cattle, and harvested abalone. A neighbour approached me to stand for the council. I won that election and was elected mayor in 1996. In my early days in local government, as the only woman on the council, I was asked, very politely, to provide afternoon tea. I didn’t.
I worked for 23 years in local government. A highlight was in 2004 when, as a delegate to the Commission for Sustainable Development, I addressed a session of the United Nations in New York on the role of local government in environmental management.
In local government, you need a good understanding of governance and to keep your skills up to date. I feel we need compulsory training in governance for elected members — otherwise those who need it most won’t do it. With power sometimes comes a hubris, expressed as: ‘I don’t need training, I’ve been doing this a long time’. To rely on elections to sort out problems with governance or culture is ludicrous. Training should include conduct in meetings, strategic planning and policy development. Top of the list is land use, planning and development. Currently, the minute you’re elected, you’re expected to be familiar with all aspects of planning. You also need training in financial reporting. It teaches you the right questions to ask. If you don’t know the right questions, scrutiny suffers. It’s essential for those directly accountable to the community to understand what’s going on.
Another thing that seldom occurs is self-reflection. I’ve seen that contrast in behaviour as chair of Metro Tasmania and on the Board of Inquiry into Glenorchy City Council [reporting in November, it found substantial governance failures and poor behaviour]. Round-table meetings with representatives of all sections of the bus company were conducted more constructively and with clearer outcomes than some council meetings. Many of those employee representatives had far less experience of meetings than aldermen, but they showed respect for one another and listened. It’s an ongoing battle — to entrench patterns of good behaviour and compromise.
I’m reading… Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister
by Nicholas Shakespeare (Harvill Secker) about Churchill in WWII. Reading his account of the political and military leadership in England and Norway in early May 1940, I don’t know how we won the war!
My favorite app…
We use the Bureau of Meteorology app a lot at home, but I love Duolingo — I am now 35 per cent fluent in French.
I’m excited about…
Anzac Day in France this year. It is the 100th anniversary of the second battle Villers-Bretonneux, in which my grandfather, Oliver Atkinson, was a machine gunner.