After a widely respected stint as our local State Member, Peter Besseling is once again putting his hand up for public office – this time for Port Macquarie-Hastings Mayor.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for Mayor?
In 1996, my wife, Meaghan, and I moved to the Hastings, because we knew it was the ideal area to raise a family. The attraction was not only the natural beauty of the beaches, rivers and mountains, but also the sense of community that we felt when we were looking to purchase a property in Byabarra. I recall a cold night in Comboyne, where a very friendly local pointed us to the only feed available late at night – the steak sandwiches at the footy … and they were so nice, I ate about five of them.
We have since raised our children here, Zarah and Kaes, and have lived in Byabarra, Wauchope and now Port Macquarie; our love of the area and its people remaining undiminished. The pride in our area led me to successfully contest the NSW by-election held here in 2008 and become the Member for Port Macquarie – a position I held ‘til the last State General Election. Wanting to take a role in maintaining that sense of community and to help improve our area’s infrastructure and services is what has motivated me to be involved in public life and is something I enjoy. It is for those reasons I have decided to nominate for Port Macquarie-Hastings Mayor.
What are some of your polices leading into the next election?
The focus will be on making sure that infrastructure and services are delivered as efficiently as possible, in keeping with a responsible approach to the Council budget. It is critical that the new Council work with the General Manager and Directors to deal with some of the known pressures on the budget and look to maximise the experience and knowledge in the community through the involvement of various working groups, in providing advice to Council.
It is important to develop policies and strategies that maximise Council’s economic, social, environmental and governance responsibilities. Wherever possible, Council should look to create an environment that encourages the operation of all businesses, without necessarily picking winners and put in place opportunities for the community to come together in celebration and social activities. The establishment of the Moonlight Movies concept is a good example of how both ambitions can be achieved simultaneously. We must never lose sight of why we love to live where we do and must always look to ways of protecting and enhancing our precious natural resources, which are increasingly adding value as drivers of our economic activity.
If you could fix just one pressing issue for the Hastings immediately, what would it be?
The most pressing issue facing all Councils in NSW at present, is the funding model upon which infrastructure and services are delivered. Councils should always prioritise their core responsibilities, often described as rates, roads and rubbish. Yet, successive governments at both state and federal levels have pushed the responsibilities of providing and maintaining infrastructure and services down to local government, without providing the ways and means in which to deliver them to an acceptable standard for our communities.
The re-classification of roads is a good example of this. Quite often, funding goes from the Federal Government, is washed through the State Government and finally allocated to local Councils on an ad-hoc basis. When a Council wishes to fund a much-needed project, they must go cap-in-hand to other levels of government – a process that is not only inefficient, but also unsustainable, as evidenced by the growing infrastructure backlog in regional Councils in particular. If our Council wishes to provide for our community in the long term, it must not only focus on its core responsibilities, but must also address the issue of long-term funding sustainability.
What is your overall vision for our area heading towards 2020/2030?
The two major infrastructure investments that will have the greatest impact on the future of our area are the funding for the airport expansion and the funding of an expanded university presence. We all want to see this region provide enough business and education opportunities for our children, so that we do not encourage the ‘brain drain’ that sees a steady flow of talent out of our community and into the larger centres such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It is important that we are connected, however, to these centres, in order to take advantage of the commerce and trade opportunities that stem from people being able to easily access our region through direct flight routes.
Access and participation levels in education are poorer for people living in regional areas, and the planned expansion of NSW, Newcastle and Charles Sturt Universities will help deliver not only new infrastructure, but also expanded courses that will benefit our entire local government area. This activity will also generate an economic opportunity that has not been available on such a scale before, with the expanded university presence opening up the ability for students from anywhere in Australia, or indeed the world, to study here. Education is Australia’s second largest services export sector behind tourism, and we are in a unique position to be able to capitalise on this locally, particularly given that over the last 10 years the industry has achieved 15 per cent average growth.
Do you feel any pressure from the community being the first publicly elected Councillors in almost 6 years?
No. I am actually quite excited at the opportunity to not only be part of bringing a vital element of our democracy back to the area, but also excited at the chance to help shape the culture and operation of our Council. The first two years will determine the approach that Council will take during this term and most likely shape the direction of Council for many years to come. This is a terrific opportunity for this coming Council to stamp its mark on our community’s future, for all the right reasons.
That is why it is so important to get the right mix of skills and experience on Council in this coming term, so that the opportunity is not wasted and the right culture and environment is created. It is important to remember that Council is a multi-million dollar business, covered by legislation, regulation and responsibility to our local community. Therefore, it is imperative that our Councillors have the skills necessary to deal with the complex issues involved and the courage to do what is in the best interests of the community.
What’s something our readers don’t know about you?
My wingspan (the distance from fingertip to fingertip when my arms are extended) is 4 inches longer than my height.