Torres Shire mayor global thinker, local actor
As Queensland's most northern local government authority, the collection of islands comprising the Shire of Torres form one of the most distinctive councils in the country. As the only Australian local government which abuts an international border, this remote and beautiful region comes with a unique set of governance issues, which in turn require a unique kind of leadership. It's no coincidence that the Shire has only ever had one Mayor.
As an Ugaramle (Stephen Islander) and a descendent of the 'Magaram' Clan of Mer (Murray Island), Mayor of Torres Shire Pedro Stephen's connection to the region is deeply rooted. Reflecting on a historic twenty years of service as mayor of Torres Shire, he cites the influence of his father, the first Chairman of the Indigenous Community Council on Thursday Island during the 1960s as a key factor in his decision to run for mayor in 1993. 'I had grown up with his involvement in community development,' he said.
'I spent three years as a councillor and ten years in the Royal Australian Navy doing marine engineering, where I gained experience travelling abroad, living in cities and looking at things with an open mind.'
It was during this time that Cr Stephen began to develop the mantra which would form the backbone of his leadership role within the Torres Shire community – think globally, act locally.
So it's no surprise that he lists the development of the region's airport, built on shire owned freehold land, as one of his proudest achievements during his 20 years of service. 'I saw it as a door of opportunity for access for delivery of services to support economic development of our island shire,' he said.
Another opening for the shire under Cr Stephen's leadership came during the mid-nineties, in the form of a twenty million dollar catchment dam and submarine pipeline project. The project would ensure one of the island's most valuable commodities – access to a stable water supply – was guaranteed for its residents in decades to come. 'We connected Thursday Island to Loggy Creek Dam, on Horn Island. We chose to build a dam off Thursday Island to manage the availability of land we had,' he said.
Submarine piped water supply is just one of a number of truly unique factors which Torres Shire Council deals with on a day-to-day basis.
One of council's biggest challenges is waste management, with waste regularly collected and barged across the ocean to Horn Island. It's examples like these that Cr Stephens lists when describing key challenges involved in keeping a low rate base while navigating through a ‘maze' of bureaucratic structures and systems.
Yet, as Torres Shire's first and only Mayor, his popularity with the community continues to know no bounds. His secret to successful community leadership?
'Walking and working with the community, remaining transparent and ensuring all constituents are aware of decisions related to planning and development.'
'I have had the advantage as a local to grow up together with my community and wear many hats in this community,' he said.
Despite being one of the most isolated local government areas in the state, it is shared service delivery which Cr Stephen says holds the solution to many of the financial issues currently being experienced by the sector.
'It shouldn't matter where you live, even remote and isolated local governments need to offer quality services to their communities,' he said.
'The current government is saying councils must do more with less – well, that's been our responsibility as a council since day dot.'
His goals for the future?
'For Torres Shire to continue to lead, facilitate and provide strong foundations to launch new social, educational and economic initiatives and partnerships for the development in our region and our international neighbours.'