The regions around Margaret River have become famous for its wines since the 1970s. The area in Western Australia, once an agricultural region, has now become a tourism hotspot.

“We produce about four percent of Australia’s wine, and about 20 percent of Australia’s premium wine”, says Ian Earl, Mayor of Augusta Margaret River Shire Council. The council has worked this to its advantage, funding wine and food fests to keep the beat in the region ongoing.

GovInsider caught up with the Mayor Ian Earl, to find out his priorities for the year, and how tech helps drive the council’s work.

Residents get a say

The council takes citizen engagement seriously, and has set up an online consultation hub, called “Your Say” for residents to submit feedback digitally. The council is asking for feedback on how councillors should be elected, its vision for 2036, and building elderly-friendly facilities and services.

AMRS Staff - photo Elements Margaret River-10 (1)

The Shire also uses the site to communicate with planning, building, design and development professionals, the website says. It has published documents on plans to preempt bushfires in high-risk areas, and set up online feedback forms for design of developments in Western Australia.

How tech can help

The council’s works team has also used simple means to better schedule road repair works in the region. Using a GPS-enabled device, officers can input road standards, and this data is then shared across all relevant staff. It helps them “see what needs to be done and when it needs to be done”, he says. This means that “officers can get the right people out at the right time”, he adds.

The region is also the “only biodiversity hotspot” in Western Australia, he says. ”We need to keep the weeds and feral pests under control as much as we can do”. Earl’s administration has been using drones to keep these at bay, by mapping out weed species to eliminate manual labour. They’ve started this “only for the last one or two years”, he says. “All of this stuff is new to us.”

Other priorities

Earl’s council has also set aside A$8 million to upgrade its cultural centre. This is a top priority for him because the project is ranked high on what their residents want. “Every couple of years, we request that members of the public send [what they] think of the Shire, and we’re able to rank how good we’re going.” Using the feedback, “we have a look to see where we need to make the improvements”, he said.

The cultural centre was built 35 years ago, and Earl wants to install new seating, kitchen and toilet facilities, and expand the foyer. It is a place where the Shire regularly conducts meetings, and also hosts various arts and cultural shows throughout the year, he says.

Looking ahead

The biggest challenge that the council will face, Earl says, is mitigating the risk of bushfires. “Forests are very close to a lot of towns”, so naturally bushfires are a “very big risk”. The council has assigned a staff to rank the most critical areas. “The most dangerous ones can be dealt with first”, and a plan can then be worked out “over the next five or seven years” to manage the threat, he says.

Earl is hopeful that a new airport in Busselton, at the northern end of the Margaret River region, will help boost tourist numbers. “We expect in the next few years to see direct flights out of Singapore.”

This accessibility will satisfy wine-enthusiasts, or wanderlusts keen to explore the sprawling vineyards in the Shire.