Interview: Mayor of the City of Gold Coast
The 2018 Commonwealth Games; citizen engagement; and a bid adieu to legacy systems.
Mayor Tom Tate talks about the city's preparation for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, how the council engages its citizens in project planning, and how a shift from legacy systems saved them millions in cost.
What is your vision for the city?
To continue to develop infrastructure that protects our lifestyle while encouraging businesses, locally, nationally and internationally, to invest here to create more jobs for locals. Everyone knows the Gold Coast for two economic drivers – tourism and construction. Those two industry sectors have served us well for many decades. As Mayor, I want our third economic pillar to be education. We are working hard to drive the education economy by attracting more international and domestic tertiary students to our city. Currently, we have around 17,000 students. I’d like to see that increase to 25,000 in the next few years. This will broaden our economy and help us ride out the highs and lows of the other two industry sectors – tourism and construction.
How will technology help?
Significantly. And we are meeting those demands by cabling high-speed broadband along the light rail spine so residents and businesses can access this high speed IT service. At the same time, the Federal Government is rolling out its NBN broadband so we are wiring our city for the future.
What has been the greatest innovation from the civil service?
The introduction of a single solution for our Council’s IT needs. This came about in 2015 and will provide customers with a much greater experience when they do business with Council. Prior to the roll out of a single IT solution for Council, we had in excess of 40 different IT systems, many out of date and not ‘talking’ with one another so far as IT capability. This was clumsy and costing us millions in lost productivity. The new solution, which is coming through now, will greatly enhance the customer experience – both residential and commercial. That is a good outcome.
What has been the biggest challenge that the council overcame in 2016?
Meeting its financial and in-kind commitments to the GC 2018 Commonwealth Games which will be held in April 2018. We managed this without increasing rates above CPI, or borrowing more money. Our overall commitment is around $125 million in cash, and the same amount in-kind through staffing and resources to work towards a successful games. So $250 million in total.
How is the city using feedback from citizens?
We want to be the most engaged Council in Australia so far as our contact with residents, and feedback from them. We have introduced the City Panel which is an on-line portal where residents can individually help shape many of the projects we deliver. As Mayor, every year I present our draft annual $1.4 billion city budget to the residents, through our City Panel. This gives them the chance to shape where we spend money, on what services, how much, and when. I challenge any other city in Australia with a budget of this size to show how they ask the residents (and business) to map out their annual city budget. Detail is at gchaveyoursay.com.au.
What is your top priority for 2017?
To ensure we keep rates below CPI and to ensure our borrowings are gradually paid down. Both of these initiatives are on track.
How can the 2018 Commonwealth Games benefit the city?
The Games is an opportunity for Australia and the world to see a different side of the Gold Coast. While we are Australia’s No 1 holiday destination and extremely proud of that, we also want to showcase our business, commerce and investment opportunities. The Games will do that for us on a world stage.
What is the biggest area of spending for the council?
Infrastructure delivery and maintenance. For example, we spend around $90 million annually on new roads, repairs and maintenance. That is a good outcome as we need to keep our transport networks free flowing as the population booms.
What city or country do you draw public service inspiration from and why?
Australia. And to be biased, I believe this is the best city in Australia. I can already see investment from the eastern seaboard juggernauts of Melbourne and Sydney shifting here as they view our city as the future for a great work/lifestyle location for their business and employees.
If I were to visit your city, what one place would you recommend?
Socially, any of the local beach cafes on a Saturday morning.
Fitness wise, I’d either take a walk along our 55km of world-class beaches, or hire a mountain bike and explore the hinterland which is 15km west of the beaches.
Business wise, the Health and Knowledge Precinct is emerging as a world-class commercial destination for sports science, health, research, tertiary education and development. That precinct typifies the ‘new Gold Coast’.