I didn’t pay much attention to the council until I was asked to consider becoming a councillor, so I spent some time watching and learning what they actually did for a few years. I felt that there were many people on council who had been there for a long time, and it seemed as though the community was ready for some new faces. In 2013 the council had to reduce the number of councillors from 11 to 9 and elected to have a full spill (everyone out and all positions vacant), so I decided this would be an excellent time to join as there was a good chance if I was elected, I would not be the only ‘newbie’ trying to make a change. I put my hat in the ring but didn’t think for a minute that I would get elected as I was only known to people in my local area. Luckily for me, the community seemed ready for change, and 6 new councillors were elected, with three previous councillors being returned to their seats. It was a fabulous time to jump on board, and the learning that we all shared was terrific.
Being a councillor required a lot of reading and listening! I think you need to have a passion for your community and want what is best for everyone, even though that sometimes means you have to make tough decisions that won’t please everyone. As a large group of new councillors, we attended much training on top of the regular meetings and briefing sessions. Don’t let anyone tell you that the council only meets once a month – it isn’t true. Whilst the council does, in fact, only have one decision-making meeting a month, there is a lot of work that goes into understanding each decision, learning about the background behind each decision before it is made and listening to all the parties involved in each decision.
Council staff are fabulous for making sure that councillors are fully informed before making each decision. That sometimes means understanding what has gone on before that has been a work in progress for years and years or is the culmination of many other decisions along the way. Some many rules and regulations need to be followed and understood. As a councillor, you are not making a decision that will put yourself, your council, your staff, or your community in an untenable position. I also feel very strongly about thinking very carefully about why you are becoming a councillor. Regardless of your passions or interests’ areas, you will be required to consider your community as a whole and make decisions about what is best for everyone. Sometimes that means making a decision that might go against what your friends or local small community group might want. You need to be prepared to make the tough decisions and stand by them in the face of criticism. There were many tough, forward-thinking decisions made whilst I was on council, and I am proud to say that there isn’t one that I feel was not made for the right reasons.
As a RRR Woman, your local government is the closest form of Government to the people who make up your community. It relies on representation from the community who have a passion for and a good understanding of what is happening on the ground. We all have different skills to bring to the table, and the best local Government has a good representation on the council from different sectors of our community. There is no point in sitting back and waiting for someone else to do it. If you have the passion and the time, step up and have a go. I loved every minute of my time on council, even the awkward conversations back home in my small community when things didn’t go the way they had hoped. I also really enjoyed the learning and the new skills I gained along the way.
Some of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my time in leadership have been in councillor, or a leader in any community group being fully informed about any issue at hand, is critical. Sometimes, information must be gathered from various sources to make sure you have the full picture. Often people will criticise a decision made without taking the time to consider all sides or all the information. In most instances, once you can have a one-on-one conversation about why you made the decision you made, most people will appreciate where you were coming from, even if they don’t necessarily agree with you. It is important to explain the reasons behind a decision or direction clearly and concisely, especially if you anticipate it to be a controversial one.
I don’t consider myself a leader, more a facilitator of people who share a passion.
It is easy and rewarding to help a team make progress or a difference by working together and achieving their goals. Making sure everyone is on the same page and rowing the boat in the same direction is critical if you want to lead an effective team.
I would love to continue to see women stepping up to take on the challenges. In the 8 years I was on council, the number of women councillors was either the same or in sometimes slightly greater than men, so here in Esperance, I think we do very well. In general, though, whilst I believe women certainly have the skills required to make a difference, we sometimes don’t have the ability to recognise our skills or appreciate their value. We need to get behind each other and make sure that we encourage and help each other recognise our skills, which will help us have the strength to continue to take on leadership positions.
My biggest piece of advice woman who is thinking about being in a leadership position within a RRR community is to take a leap of faith and have a go.
You more than likely have more skills to offer than you are aware of. Find a mentor you admire and chat with them about their experiences to be well informed about what is expected before you jump in. Also, be willing to learn along the way, as we should never stop learning.
Currently, I am loving being a ‘nanna’ and being available to share time with my new grandson whenever possible. I am also back on my community of Grass Patch committee, taking on the secretary position of our local community development group (again!), where we are working on the local community hall renovation. I have also helped to start a new grower group in Esperance. Esperance Zone Innovation (EZI) focuses on empowering and educating producers to unlock the power of farm data and use it to create benefit. It is breaking new ground and is exciting to be part of. I am also working with some past fellow council members on a proposed sculpture trail for Esperance (so watch this space). I did say that I was going to be having a rest for a while after being on council, but sometimes you just feel driven to jump in!