This month we speak with Russell Peate, CEO of Mid-Murray Council.
Russell speaks about his long career in local government, the exciting initiatives underway at Mid-Murray and the innovative approach that can be found in many regional councils.
Hi Russell, thanks for speaking with us.
What’s your current role?
My current role is Chief Executive Officer of Mid Murray Council. The council covers a large geographic area of around 6,500km2 from near Murray Bridge to the Riverland and across to the Barossa.
We have the second largest road length of 68 Councils in the State (3,500km of roads; 3,200km of which are unsealed), 220km of the Murray River, 50 shack areas on the river, 28 boat ramps, 28 Community Wastewater Management Schemes and 16 small towns. Our population is only 8,500.
We are about an hour to an hour and a half drive from Adelaide; with the largest town being Mannum on the Murray River.
Where were you before? What is your work background/career path so far?
Before Mid Murray Council, I was the Chief Executive Officer of the District Council of Grant and prior to that the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Rockhampton City Council (a large Provincial City Council of 60,000 people and at the time 630 employees), Senior Clerk at Emerald Shire Council and Rates Clerk and Trainee Local Government Clerk at Logan City Council in Queensland.
I have completed a Bachelor of Business from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, further study at Central Queensland University (years ago to become a certificated Local Government Clerk), Master of Business from Charles Sturt University, Australian Institute of Company Directors, Justice of the Peace (Qualified), Professional Leadership Program, was the first Local Government Exchange Manager to South Africa and have been on the Board of LGMA, SA /LG Professionals, SA.
What attracted you to local government, and your current role?
No other business or organisation in my view has as much contact, input or influence into the community and people’s lives.
Councils have the ability to change the quality of life for communities and people. This can range from health and medical services, mobile phone and internet services, aged care, encouraging businesses to establish, partnerships with schools and other organisations through to the normal services of councils. My current role is so diverse in working with small communities in dealing with all of these services and projects as well as ensuring the Council operates efficiently.
What motivates you? What are you most passionate about in local government?
The ability to work with the community and partner with them to ensure better services, facilities, expansion of/or new businesses, provision of projects that the community have identified and working with the Council team to help make this happen.
I am most passionate about working and partnering with the community and businesses to help make services and projects happen. For example, a small town in the Mid Murray Council had only 11 school enrolments. By working with a large new business that established, the school now has 22 school enrolments.
Businesses in the town are flourishing, the Country Fire Service has more volunteers and the community is thriving.
How have you shaped your Council’s involvement in economic development and what does the future hold?
I have helped shape the Council’s involvement in economic development by simply working with and partnering with businesses in helping them to expand or establish.
Often councils are seen as a barrier or a hurdle in planning and building requirements for the expansion or establishment of a business. If we can assist and facilitate the approvals; including working with State Agencies (EPA, DEWNR, DPTI, Native Vegetation and others) then the Council, community and business can benefit and prosper.
The Mid Murray Council presently has $2.5 Billion in development, either approved, underway or development applications lodged.
What is the most exciting initiative that your Council is currently involved in?
The most exciting initiatives have involved working and partnering with the establishment of Australia’s largest Commercial Free Range Chicken Farm, working with the establishment of a $1 Billion Solar and Battery Farm, a $550 Million Wind Farm and other large developments.
All of these have significantly benefitted or have the potential to benefit communities and businesses throughout the region. Another exciting initiative involves partnering with a health business to establish a full time general practitioner for a town that has very limited medical services.
We can only imagine what it’s like to have to drive 50km to visit a GP; let alone specialist services.
You’ve been participating in the Rural Management Challenge now for a number of years – and Mid Murray won in 2015. What do you see as the main benefits to individuals, council and your community from participation?
I personally fully support the Rural Management Challenge as a practical and valued training and management exercise for our Council team.
With the busyness of work, sometimes it’s difficult to have a cross functional team work together and the Rural Management Challenge provides this. It is an excellent example of a team working and learning together which then brings back benefits to Council and their own roles.
I have actually participated in the Rural Management Challenge myself, so am aware of the rewards and benefits.
Rural Councils often need to look at innovative solutions due to cost pressures and lower staff numbers. What’s an example of an innovation or innovative thinking that you’ve seen during your time at Mid Murray?
Some of the innovative solutions and thinking has been that jobs are multifaceted. That is, team members need to be innovative and be able to undertake a range of roles unlike larger councils.
In addition, some of the more innovative thinking and solutions have involved regional procurement groups, video conferencing between our three council offices, resource sharing with adjoining councils and particularly community partnerships for events and projects, where progress associations/community organisations run a variety of events for the benefit of their towns and communities.
Do your staff members attend any other LG Professionals, SA events or programs? What has been your experience of these programs from a CEO perspective?
Team members attend a range of LG Professionals, SA events and programs ranging from one day seminars to the Rural Management Challenge, Emerging Leaders Program, Professional Leadership Program, Annual Conference and others.
I have attended and undertaken the Professional Leadership Program run by LG Professionals, SA in association with Executive Education at the University of Adelaide, Rural Management Challenge, Annual Conference and one day seminars. I have found the programs; particularly the Professional Leadership Program to be excellent and practical and very beneficial to the work environment.
What are the best things about the Mid Murray area – what makes it unique?
The Mid Murray Council is unique in that it covers part of the Murraylands Region, Riverland Region and a small section of the Barossa. It is only one to one and a half hours drive from Adelaide and incorporates 220km of the Murray River, the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges and plenty of tourist attractions.
If you like water sports, fishing, camping, motorbike riding and a range of other activities that are close to Adelaide; then Mid Murray Council is the area for you. The Murray Princess (the largest paddle wheeler in the south hemisphere – three stories high) is based in Mannum and there are a number of other houseboat (unforgettable houseboats) and commercial boat tours.
The Council owns and operates the PS Marion and PW Mayflower and runs their own cruises and trips all by volunteers. The PS Canally at Morgan is also being restored by volunteers.
Finally, how do you spend your leisure time outside of local government?
I try to have a reasonable work life balance.
However, living just outside Mannum means that you are part of the community, which has its ups and downs. You have the ability to contribute to the community (I volunteer for the Breakfast Club for the Mannum Community College and a community organisation barbeque), have been on the local football club committee and have previously in other councils been on the high School governing council, hospital board, President of Make a Wish Foundation, the local swim club and other community organisations.
My leisure time is varied; although I don’t get a great deal of time to undertake these – travel (both within Australia and overseas), music (relearning the guitar), cooking (little time to do this), gym five days a week, running, swimming, tennis (when I can), music, theatre and watching sport (soccer, AFL, tennis).