As my Presidency of three years comes to an end, I present this overview.
The Executive Committee for the first two years focused on advocacy which was based on our evidence based strategic plans. Most activity centred around encouraging business development, tourism business development, event strategy and seeding events.
The Executive Committee believes the main achievements of the Chamber have been to refocus attention on Batemans Bay as a designated regional commercial centre and tourism hub. The recent investment and activity by each level of government has been welcomed.
Private investment and support for a fragile business sector is still wanting. The challenging economic statistics such as employment, lack of growth and demographic issues represent a challenge to each level of government, while defining Chambers advocacy.
The past three years has seen Council increase its marginalisation of the Chamber, which has been particularly difficult for the Executive Committee.
I would like to thank the Executive Committee of the last year, as they have made decisions in the best interest of the Shire and Chamber while under undue pressure. For the past year the Chamber has been fortunate to attract a strong and diverse Executive Committee with impeccable skills. The group comprises the largest private employer and largest accommodation provider in the Shire, a member with national board experience, a member with long term real estate experience and experience with other Chambers, a former Chamber president and large Shire wide employer, an architect with Council planning experience from another Shire and a retailer. It has been a pleasure to work with such a broad skill based executive – Thank You.
My resignation from Councils MacKay Park Sunset Committee and public criticism of capacity, expertise and process surrounding the Mackay Park development precipitated criticism by the Mayor and attracted the wrath of Council.
A letter to the Mayor to consider a Batemans Bay business group proposal of buying the old Bowling Club Site and developing an events centre, regional gallery and regional museum with greater capacity than the proposed Mackay Park events centre and at no operational cost to the ratepayer was met with a no thank you letter only.
My public comments on a lack of vision strategy, masterplan or place making strategies for the Mackay Park development, Batemans Bay CBD and Batemans Bay Foreshore when Council had promoted this after the last election 3 years prior, has also drawn Councils criticism, though a strategy has now been undertaken. Unfortunately, the Chamber has been excluded, making it again a cherry picked engagement not indicative of a genuine stakeholder engagement process.
Council developed an event strategy only to discard it and propose the current strategy, I continue to be critical of this wasteful approach, and strategies which hide behind consultants who are highly directed by inexperienced senior staff.
Council has not been supportive of the Sculpture for Clyde event which I created. Council requirements forced much of the event out of the Shire. A recent motion within Council about the running of this non-Council event saw no consultation with myself and organisers. This defeats any notion that Councils event strategy and practices are inclusive in nature or serve the better interest of the Shire.
Business and Tourism is not driving any strategy within Council since both the Business Advisory Committee and the Tourism Advisory Committee were abolished by the Mayor without proper replacement. Myself and the Chamber have been actively marginalised by the Tourism and Events unit now for over a year, as have other tourism operators in the Shire.
The oversight of the tourism and events unit and disconnect with industry was highlighted at a recent Tourism Update meeting. The Mayor cited a massive increase in tourism visitation in 2018 and attributed this to Council staff.
The tourism industry did not experience these increases and there was no business correlation to the presented visitation data. Some believe the figures presented were misleading which is evidenced by the Mackellar report.
Robust figures from ID Profile can be viewed on Councils website which contradict Council tourism claims, as they show a reduction in investment, no growth, a reduction in spending and unemployment trending up to almost three times the state average. Council has had no new tourism promotional program for 3 years, yet self praises its achievement of increasing tourism numbers. Industry is embarrassed by this spin.
The restructure and repositioning of Councils Tourism, Events and Business units down the hierarchy into the planning department has further alienated what should be local industry driven activities. The conflict of interest between entrepreneurial activity and regulatory department activity only furthers the perceived disconnect. A planning department cannot and has not built business confidence, especially in tourism. A funded industry group would save ratepayers and drive real outcomes.
Issues with Council came to a head with the Mayor offering mediation with the Executive Committee in December 2018, which we promptly welcomed and agreed, only to receive a letter 6 months later suggesting we defer the mediation until after our AGM.
As President I take advocacy seriously and have learnt that within a small Shire where every business is in some way connected or dependant on Council, then advocacy has its limitations. Too often we see people and groups publicly lobby positions which have attracted Councils wrath rather than genuine dialogue and inclusion.
A majority of the Executive Committee and myself considered resignation in January of this year due to treatment by council. We decided to continue to the next AGM in the interest of the Chamber. At this time we needed legal and insurance advice when dealing with Council. My Presidency and position with the Sculpture for Clyde event has been made almost impossible by Council.
Should the future Chamber Executive decide to not have Council as a member for advocacy purposes, I would hope that members support this action. Councils single membership has seen both Councillors and Council staff turn up without notice to meetings and have too often interrupted guest speakers in order to lobby Councils position. Chamber should never be Councils proxy. Businesses’ have a legitimate fear of Council which needs to be overcome.
It is now time for a new president and executive who may wish to take the Chamber on a different path. I have no doubt that Council will support a new president and executive.