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A portrait of Halls Creek CEO Noel Mason

Name: Noel Mason
Local government: Shire of Halls Creek
Date commenced as CEO: December 2018

Tell us a bit about your background

You could describe me as a true WA local government journeyman.

I commenced my local government career at the Shire of Shark Bay in 1983, with stints at West Arthur, Melville, Laverton, Kellerberrin and Augusta Margaret-River, before a three-year CEO role of an Aboriginal Corporation at Wirrimanu (Balgo) in WA.

I joined the Federal Government in Indigenous Affairs in July 2006, and spent seven years in the NT, on country.

I since completed an MBA before returning to local government at the Shire of Kulin in 2016, now Halls Creek. 

Whom/what I have become is just a culmination of those who have shared my journey as mentors, advisors and friends in local government — far too many to list, but all worthy of commendation.

What was it that attracted you to the role of CEO?

I first became a CEO in Laverton in 1989; having had eight years in the ranks. I guess it was impatience, my experience to that time signalled the need to demonstrate how things could be done in community development, anything was possible.

Since then, I acknowledge that after many years in a CEO role I am still learning, because changes are still constant. The MBA studies were enjoyable in the sense that much of what I was learning, I was already practising, so it was a real confirmation about being relevant to the times.

More recently, showing staff and organisations that care and respect for all people is not just a workplace issue. The community deserves our best, both at a macro and individual level.

Can you give us a quick snapshot of your town and community?

Halls Creek has a population of 5000 — 75 per cent Aboriginal, with major outlying communities (Ringer Soak, Mulan, Billiluna and Balgo) serviced by Halls Creek. Sixty-five per cent of the population are under 25 years of age.

A combination of massive distances, the natural and built environment, weather, the wet season, significant Indigenous disadvantage and high costs all impact on shire servicing, staff attraction and retention. These are all major factors in Kimberley, the same for Halls Creek.

Major roadworks and mining employment opportunities are emerging and the opportunity to generate Indigenous advancement through employment are with us. 

What do you hope to achieve in your role and what has been the biggest learning so far?

My role focuses on facilitating the community plan, achieving those things that the council and community are aiming for. If I can achieve that, then the job is mostly done.

In terms of the organisation, compliance, quality service delivery and demonstrated leadership from the shire are all linked elements.

For the staff, growth in skills capacity and progression opportunity are all important.

For the community, shared access to opportunity, listening, care and support are our drivers. Helping them to achieve the things that get them out of bed every morning is our aim. Demonstrating that with a little, communities can achieve a lot when care for each other drives us; and that social disadvantage is not a life sentence.

My biggest learning so far is that with a combined effort, Halls Creek is ready to grow and explode beyond what it has been profiled for in the past. The opportunities abound.  

Tell us about something great your town is working on and how it is delivering for your community?

In response to a destructive social issue of youth lawlessness after dark, Aboriginal men were asked to join with the shire to provide a walking patrol of Youth Engagement Night Officers, whereby those youth responsible were identified and supported to take alternative pathways.

This evolved into six men and two women who are now employed by the shire to provide a wrap-around service for youth, where the root cause of their need to be on the streets at night is addressed.

For the past few months, crime in the community has been reduced by 70 per cent and this has been maintained at that level.

The cost, somewhat less than the shire spends annually on vandalism repairs and security, is now number one pick for the budget.

The important message is: an Aboriginal issue is being resolved by an Aboriginal response in a simple, supportive and caring way. The initial capital outlay for this program was one mobile phone, and a few torches.

Supporting the theme that jobs create liveable solutions to most disadvantage, the shire has committed to an annual intake of 10 traineeships (across all aspects of our work — it’s the trainee’s choice).

All youths completing Year 12 will be offered a 12-month traineeship, providing Halls Creek youth with a transition year to the workforce. 

The shire aims to place them after the traineeship in any organisation locally or regionally, looking for talented, committed work-savvy youth. To date, nine positions have been filled for 2019 and the energy and effort trainees are bringing to the shire is wonderful.

The State Government funding commitment ($50m for four years) to the development of the Duncan Gordon Rd and the Federal Government commitment to seal the Tanami Rd (many millions of dollars over many years) has provided an opportunity for the shire to develop a roadworks training crew.

Our aim is to provide qualified, certified employees from the region to the MRWA projects. Civil roadworks are an important component to the chain of qualification, skills and capacities that feed the mining industry with plant operators so that, too, is in the shire’s mind as mining projects unfold in the Kimberley.

Having an aim to train and qualify local people in the civil roadworks industry gives the shire a wider pool of competent and talented people from which to draw our own staff in future years.

Employment has the potential to crack elements of social disadvantage and this would be a targeted spinoff too.

These are just some of the aims/projects that keep me enthused to lead such a great team at the Shire of Halls Creek.
Page reviewed 30 July 2019