It was also one of the hardest hit by Ex Tropical Cyclone Seroja, which at 700 km long and 150 km wide, caused damage to about 31,800 homes and businesses in the Mid West and Wheatbelt regions.
Shire of Mingenew CEO Nils Hay talks about the Shire, recovery and the future.
Tell us a bit about your Shire
The Shire of Mingenew is about 100km south-east of Geraldton. It covers about 2000km2 with a population of around 450; a number of them making up our 20 staff.
Our community is peaceful, tightly knit, and (given our size) we still boast a strong sports scene and a generous volunteering culture — the latter which has come to the fore in the wake of Ex Tropical Cyclone Seroja, which has significantly
impacted our Shire and the wider region.
We are an agricultural area, and home to the largest onshore grain receival facility in the Southern Hemisphere as well as sheep and cattle production. We are one of WA’s premier wildflower tourism destinations and an emerging Astrotourism hotspot by virtue of our low light pollution, clear skies and existing Space Industry operations.
While it’s not well known, we are also home to a unique radio quiet zone and internationally significant satellite tracking and ground control operations. Council is currently working with the State to upgrade supporting infrastructure to grow
this segment of our economy.
What major projects do you have underway at the Shire?
Our current focus is disaster recovery; more than five per cent of our population has been displaced by property damage and finding stable accommodation for them is our main priority. We are also working with the relevant stage agencies to ensure
that the broadacre cropping sector can commence with their season, which is critical to the local, and regional, economy.
In more normal times, like many rural Shires, our project pipeline is heavily focused on transport infrastructure, and we are presently preparing for a large intersection realignment project, significant low-cost widening program and a bridge replacement in the coming financial year.
We are also in the process of building a new youth precinct to replace some aging playgrounds, restoring our heritage-listed railway station to give it new life as a cultural hub and implementing a number of small tourism infrastructure projects, such
as new walking trails at Mingenew Hill and an Astrotourism site at Yandanooka.
What challenges and opportunities are on the horizon for the Shire?
Currently, it is disaster recovery. Our community, assisted by the SES and other agencies — including some of our neighbouring local governments, responded magnificently to the impact of Ex Tropical Cyclone Seroja in terms of clean-up and immediate support. We are currently working through issues like contractor availability for rebuilding works and ensuring that downed Western Power infrastructure in paddocks doesn’t impede our farmers’ seeding program.
Like many rural communities, declining population is also a major challenge. Unlike some others though, we have also faced a housing shortage – which the cyclone will exacerbate. In late 2020 we held a successful process to sell residential
blocks in town from $1, and since settled the first few contracts. The prospect of new housing construction and new families and businesses moving to town is exciting.
We see tourism growth — in wildflowers, Astrotourism and agritourism — as great opportunities for our Shire. We are actively seeking to improve the infrastructure supporting our space sector, as current operators are struggling to meet demand. There is also increased interest in conventional gas exploration in our region, and we see our strategic location as justification for Mingenew to become a local service hub.
From an operational perspective, one of our biggest challenges is the growing compliance environment. As the proportion of Shire resources devoted to this increases, our capacity to deliver services to the community and manage our assets shrinks.
We have been actively engaged in the Local Government Act Reform consultation process and remain hopeful that size and scale consideration will be applied in the new legislation, as a one-size-fits-all approach in a sector as diverse as local
government in WA places a disproportionate burden on smaller, regional and remote local governments.
Local government in times of crisis
We all know that we are the tier of government closest to the community and never is this more apparent than during a genuine crisis, like a natural disaster. When the lights go out and the phones stop working, people will come to their local government
before just about any other agency — especially in the regions. This is something that we need to be conscious of in our sector, but it also needs to be something State agencies are aware of — ensuring that we are a key partner and
kept well informed throughout the response and recovery process, and suitably resourced to play that key role.
In the aftermath of the cyclone I have had the pleasure of watching my team perform exceptionally under challenging circumstances. From rapidly reopening key infrastructure, to ensuring that we have accurate data to feed to Department of Fire and Emergency Services, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Department of Communities and other agencies, to simply making sure our local volunteers have a sandwich and a bottle of water to keep them going whilst they help clean up. There would be times when we feel that community expectations of local government are simply excessive and unreasonable, then there are moments like this when we prove that we can deliver more than anyone really thought possible.
How would you like to see the Shire positioned in 10 or 15 years’ time?
Looking beyond the immediate disaster recovery phase, over the coming years I would like Mingenew to remain a leader in the agricultural sector, and this core pillar of our economy and identity stay strong. I would envisage continued growth of our local tourism sector as well as improved infrastructure resulting in further expansion in our space industry precinct.
With our telecommunications infrastructure, welcoming community, affordable land, and proximity to the coast and Geraldton, we would become a retreat for tree-changers and those looking for a safe and quiet place to work remotely and raise a family,
as well as a service centre for emerging resources projects in our region.
I would hope that the projects that my team and I are working on now, in terms of both infrastructure and the strong governance platform we have built, are still providing value for our residents and visitors, and we have created a sustainable platform for the administration and elected members of the future to continue to deliver great things for our community.