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Australia Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding speaks about her first year in office

23:58  24 february  2021
23:58  24 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a person standing in front of a city street: Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding says the people of Ipswich can now see how the council is making decisions. (ABC News: Baz Ruddick) © Provided by ABC News Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding says the people of Ipswich can now see how the council is making decisions. (ABC News: Baz Ruddick)

It was 2019, and Teresa Harding had no intention of running to be Ipswich's first new mayor, following the sacking of the entire council 18 months prior.

As fate would have it, the former federal candidate was in the Queensland Parliament the day the council was sacked, watching on as a division was called on whether to dismiss Ipswich City Council in August 2018.

"When the bells rang and the doors were shutting and you were waiting for the split, there was no split," she said.

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"It was unanimous, all 93 members voted to dismiss the council because of their poor governance and corruption."

The council was put in the hands of a state-government-appointed administrator, Greg Chemello, until the next council elections in March 2020.

Court actions were underway against previous Ipswich mayors and officials, the council's finances were in disarray, and the region was grappling with a booming population needing infrastructure, homes and jobs.

It all left the administration — and the future new council — with a massive task.

'I decided I would put my hand up'

In the meantime, Cr Harding had developed a think-tank to create a vision for Ipswich's future and to support any mayoral candidates who shared that vision.

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But no-one would put their hand up to run as mayor.

"By the end of July, August I decided I would put my hand up and run," Cr Harding told ABC Radio Brisbane, nearly a year after her election.

"I pinch myself every day that I've been elected. It is a complete honour and a privilege."

As a would-be leader, Cr Harding pitched her campaign to voters on three issues: transparency around council decisions and spending, managing the region's population boom, and tackling Ipswich's complex waste management issues.

She created a 100-day plan of promises she would enact if elected. After being voted in as Ipswich's new mayor in March 2020, she has now delivered them.

Drawing on her own experiences in the Army and in open data and governance, Cr Harding said she knew what she wanted the city to become.

"I certainly knew in my mind that I wanted to make sure that the people of Ipswich had unprecedented access to the city's finances so they could see exactly how their rates were being spent," Cr Harding said.

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All council purchases greater than $10,000 are published on the council's new transparency hub, as are all awarded contracts.

The "gold standard" for financial accountability, the hub shows not just the current council's spending, but much of the previous council's spending as well.

A booming population

The new council is also tackling the needs of a struggling CBD and a booming suburban population, with the local government area seeing 4.5 per cent forecast population growth year-on-year to 2036.

Cr Harding said, like other south-east Queensland regions facing population growth, Ipswich was "feeling the pinch" of infrastructure trying to catch up to demand.

"The growth that we've seen in Springfield in the last 20 years, will happen in 10 years in Ripley Valley."

Suburban developments such as the city of Springfield and Ripley Valley have placed greater pressure on infrastructure, particularly public transport, and development is not slowing down.

The council has a pitch for state and federal governments to manage the Ipswich to Springfield transport corridor — where 70 per cent of that population growth will be.

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In the October to December 2020 quarter, Ipswich had 933 new home approvals, 577 development lots approved and welcomed 1593 new residents.

But about half of the city's population commutes outside of Ipswich, a percentage Cr Harding wants to shift back to Ipswich.

A $250 million redevelopment of the "neglected" CBD will move 800 council officers into a new building this year, offering potential for retail, dining and entertainment to return.

Cr Harding said connectivity was key to bringing more businesses, large and small into the region, while major companies such as Rheinmetall and other infrastructure and industry kept jobs ticking over.

From waste to resources

She said another focus was managing Ipswich's numerous privately-owned landfill sites, and she believed they could be transformed into a recycling and manufacturing jobs opportunity.

"We have eight privately owned landfills … and we're currently taking in 42 per cent of the state's landfill waste," Cr Harding said.

"It has decreased since the waste levy came in — it used to be 58 per cent.

"We need the federal and the state governments as well as the council to work together. If it were really easy to fix, it would have been done by now."

The state and council have now created a joint taskforce to manage the issue and work toward resource recovery, rather than allowing a continuing industry of landfill without progress.

Looking to the future

There are still challenges, but Cr Harding is confident the people of Ipswich are behind the efforts of her nine councillors and council officers.

She hopes people will see what the council is doing and, if they disagree, hold the council accountable for errors, for spending, and for the city's future.

"Everywhere I go, whether I'm buying sausages at the shops or at a community group meeting, people just come up and thank us," she said.

"With the transparency and integrity hub, they can now see how their money is being spent.

"They can now, for the first time, see how the council is making decisions."

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