John Hedditch is one week away from completing his tenure as Brimbank’s first mayor for eight years. He chats to Ewen McRae
How are you feeling after 12 months in the job?
Well, where has it gone? It’s flown, and I’ve been looking back in the last few days and I’m feeling toasted, but we’ve done a whole lot of good stuff in the past 12 months across the west and here in Brimbank.
Looking back, can you remember what your expectations were about stepping into council, and then becoming mayor?
I was a bit shocked for it to happen the way it did. I was semi-retired when I decided to put my hand up, and then I got elected and then elected mayor. So I went from playing golf, babysitting the grandkids and doing some community work, to working 60-80 hours a week in those first five to six months – that was massive, a huge culture shock. But I look back now and it’s been fabulous. I thought I knew the community well, but I learnt heaps.
Being the first elected council in eight years, what were the challenges in those early days?
I think we all came in with big wide agendas and thoughts about what you can achieve, but what we learned pretty quickly was that this new council had nine new councillors, and the local government arrangement is complex. So I saw my job in this first year as a transition mayor, and supporting the council to learn its craft, understand good governance and be as good, if not better, than the administrators. We have a history, and we need to make sure we have open and transparent governance here and we don’t fall into the ways of past councils.
Did you seek advice from anyone when you were elected mayor?
I did. I spoke to my neighbour at Maribyrnong, Catherine Cumming, who I have known for over 20 years, and I also became a member of LeadWest where I became close with all the western mayors. We’re all a little bit sad to be breaking up after such a good year working together. Brimbank has been welcomed back into the fold, and everyone is glad to see democracy back.
What have been the biggest issues, as you see them, in Brimbank over the past 12 months?
There are big issues for us in our waste area, I think that’s a huge issue, and an understated one. We have a community that wants to see the environment protected, so all the dumping and contaminations going on around the place we need to come down on hard. Also, we have a huge gap in community infrastructure. Our 10-year forward capital works program totals $700 million, and we don’t have budgets that can cope with that. We have rate capping, constraints on local government and also huge expectations from other levels of government that we deliver better outcomes for the community on a shoestring. So for us there’s a massive challenge getting the much-needed community infrastructure in place, and we need much more assistance.
This community is growing, it has big pockets of disadvantage, and chronic under-investment. So we are going to do a lot of strong advocating in these next 12 months, to get some money dropped off in dear old Brimbank, to let us get on with rebuilding and revitalising Brimbank to improve liveability. What I would say to government is to have a crack, come in here and work with us and make a difference.
What advice would you have for your successor as mayor?
Focus on good governance, that’s what this community wants. It wants a council it can be proud of, one that will not fall into the ways of past councils, so that would be my best advice. If you have good governance, and you do it with a set of values that you would live your life by, then the rest follows.
John Hedditch wished to thank his wife and family for their support over the past 12 months, and also the executive management team at Brimbank council.