Ben Shields has seen a lot of change in Dubbo over the years. He has served in local government since 1999 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old still studying for his Higher School Certificate.
With the 12 month anniversary of his election as mayor of the amalgamated Dubbo Regional Council fast approaching, councillor Shields sat down with the Daily Liberal to discuss what the council has achieved under his leadership since September 28, 2017, and what he wants to do for the next 12 months.
What is your most significant achievement over the past 12 months?
I would say there have been several big achievements since I have become mayor but the biggest one I think is that we have a strong and fairly cohesive council. No one could say that there have been any big fights between the councillors in this term so far. I have been involved in the Dubbo council since 1999 and every one of them has had fights and brawls somewhere along the line, but so far this council has not. That is largely because we have a group of councillors that are genuinely working with each other and decisions are largely made due to the discussions we have in informal type workshops, so we have crossed out a lot of the old committee systems and this has enabled us to work well together.
A lot of the issues now get sorted out before we come to the chamber because we ironed out things beforehand a lot of the time. I challenge anyone to point to a council, at least since the 90s that have been as cohesive as this one. I’ve had the view for some time that Dubbo should not just have simple stormwater gutters running from Dubbo straight into the Macquarie River. So I was pleased that my proposal to get all our gross pollutant traps installed within four years has been adopted and we already have a few rolled out. I am proud of our disability inclusion plan which I am passionate about. I want to make Dubbo the most disability-friendly city in Australia. I am also very proud of the growth at the airport.
What issue do you get asked about most?
Rural roads. 1500 kilometres of road in this region are not sealed and funding from state and federal government is just absolutely appalling. They’ve given us next to nothing to fix them. Not a week goes by when I don’t have people showing me examples of disastrous roads which are not up to scratch. The expense of fixing rural roads is relentless and I don’t know how to fix that, how to bring in the cash to fix that issue. The state needs to step up to the plate with this one. I am absolutely over the moon with all the new facilities the state is building in Dubbo, but I can’t emphasise enough how much we need them to help with existing infrastructure.
How do you manage social media now that so many people use it for comment and criticism?
Social media is my biggest friend and my biggest enemy in one. On one hand, I get more contact from ratepayers on social media than any other forum and I try to be very frank with them. If someone is a lunatic on social media, I’ll call them on it, but if someone has asked a genuine question, I will try and help them as much as I can. Being available on social media is important. The flip side is I have my detractors I certainly have a set group of people at the moment ... who I believe have fake profiles and say quite extraordinary things and some even claim to be me. Idiotic games that are being played by no more than half a dozen people who carry on stupidly.
Do you think you have remained faithful to your election platform?
There are a few more projects that I would like to announce in the coming months, but so far, yes, I think I have. The organics bin is one. Up until the administrator signed a 10-year contract for the third bin I made it very clear that I was against it, ‘can the third bin’ was my slogan. When the administrator signed the contract a few months out from the election my campaign changed to ‘save your weekly rubbish collection’. I was able when I became mayor to keep the collection of general rubbish weekly and that is a commitment that I was able to deliver on. It would be absolutely foolish of me to not get behind the organics bin now it’s here, we have a multi-million dollar plant in operation so now it is here let's make the bloody thing work.
How environmentally responsible do you want the Dubbo Regional Council to be?
We should be an environmental leader; I am a fan of the practical things we can do such as the gross pollutant traps. We can do the latest trendy things like have an electric car for the general manager or we can take tonnes of rubbish out of the river each year.
Goals for the next 12 months?
Things like Purvis Lane and Boundary Road need to be completed, the new cycle facility a number of things that need to be rolled out and stability within the council will help that happen.