By John Dooley

AFTER spending more than eight months as acting CEO of the Mildura Rural City Council, Martin Hawson was officially appointed to the role last week following a special meeting of councillors.

Mr Hawson brings more than 20 years of experience to the position, gained at the highest levels of local government, and he is Mildura’s first locally born and raised Chief Executive Officer in more than two decades.

With qualifications in the health and education sectors, including a Masters in Health Administration and Graduate Diploma in Health Science, ensuring the health and wellbeing of the Sunraysia community has remained a consistent focus of Mr Hawson’s career.

Many people had expressed the view that Mr Hawson should have been appointed to the role in the first instance given his experience and local connections, but as he points out there is a process that must be followed when appointing a new CEO which includes casting the net outside of the region for applicants.

“As recently as February council advertised the position and that is an extensive process undertaken over four to six weeks and there were a number of interviews held with applicants,” Mr Hawson said.

“Following that I was asked to present my vision for the future on where I believe Council needs to go and I was fortunate to have been appointed to the role that I have been acting in.”

Speaking in aftermath of his appointment last week Mr Hawson said “his role is to deliver on what the elected councillors’ vision for the region is”.

The Weekly sat down with him this week to discuss what priorities he has on his agenda.

“Council is a complex organisation and I hope to bring my knowledge and understanding gained over many years to implement some changes into the future that will put us in a really good place for the next 20 years,” Mr Hawson said.

“I believe that is where the organisation is at this point in time and I want to be able to help shape that together with councillors and our staff.

“I have the opportunity to visit and observe how other councils operate and I think our staff operate at a very high level.

“All of our staff are very committed and passionate about working in the community and I think that is unique and is the difference between a rural and metro setting, because they are living in the municipality and they want to be a part of contributing to its prosperity.”

Mildura Future Ready is a key plank in council’s plans for our region, which includes the Mildura Sporting Precint, Stage 1 of which is completed and Stage 2 is under way, and the Powerhouse project, which will complete the second stage of the Riverfront redevelopment and the transformation of Mildura’s riverfront.

Mr Hawson said these projects will have an immediate and lasting positive effect on Mildura’s economy.

“These projects are the by-product of a process that really sits behind them,” he said.

“What drives these projects is having a real understanding of what the issues are and what’s going to make a difference in the community.

“Mildura Future Ready was a funding and advocacy strategy that focused on diversifying our economy and providing employment and stimulus across a whole range of sectors.

“That is still there, but there is more work to be done on the diversification of the economy, because that creates more opportunity for more people and helps address a lot of the social disadvantage we have in the community.

“That continues to be a motivator and a goal, but it is what sits behind the projects that will change the system.”

Mr Hawson is referring to funding support from both tiers of government, without which, projects like the sporting precinct or riverfront would not have been possible.

“We can’t achieve these goals without support. Local government is a driver of the activity, but it needs state and federal support to actually make those things happen,” he said.

“Without that support, we don’t have the resources to develop these projects. And so we have to work closely with the governments at both levels to help them understand that this is how we change our economic, social and environmental settings and we need them to partner with us.

“I think the projects in the shorter to medium term will make a difference. The Powerhouse development will make a huge difference to the riverfront and create a variety of offerings that we can have down there for people to participate in and enjoy.

“Once it’s complete, I think people will realise what an impact that facility will have.”

Mildura Mayor Liam Wood said the combination of a long-held commitment to the Sunraysia region, and a demonstrated ability to plan for the community’s best interests, made him the ideal person to lead council.

“What stands out for me is Martin’s continued dedication to our region over a long period. We see senior executives from different areas come and go but Martin has a commitment to this region,” Cr Wood said.

“During his time as Acting CEO and General Manager Community before that, he’s demonstrated a focus on long-term planning and strategies for our community. He’s not playing the short game, which will set us up for the future, which is exactly what we need.

“I think you’ll see some fairly quick changes for the positive, as CEO he now has the opportunity to put some of the larger-scale ideas I’m sure he’s had in mind before now into action.”