Meet the Mayor – Derwent Valley’s Ben Shaw

Tasmania’s Derwent Valley Council was established on 2 April 1994 and includes the localities of Bushy Park, Maydena, and Strathgordon, with New Norfolk being the major town.

Ben Shaw was elected to Council as Deputy Mayor in 2014 and became Mayor in 2018. He was elected Vice President of the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) in 2018

Q: What drew you to service in local government?

A sense of pride in my community and a drive for wanting something better. I have two young children and I want them to have opportunities to grow, learn and settle down in our home town.

Unfortunately, it was not heading that way before I got involved so I’m pleased it is now.

Q: What part of your job do find most satisfying?

When I see projects completed and people enjoying the end products of something we have all been involved in, seeing smiles on people’s faces and knowing they are benefiting because if the work council has done.

Q: Are there any aspects of being mayor that you would be happy to forgo? 

I’m not a fan of acting as a planning authority whilst also being a representative of the community. I just think it’s a tricky situation to be put in to wear two hats.

I understand it and the responsibility that goes with it. But I’d give it up if I thought our community would retain its voice on planning matters.

Q: What is the most rewarding project you have worked on during your time in local government?

There have been a few, to be honest, and they are all different, structurally. Our new rowing club and esplanade revitalisation has been a big personal push of mine and to see it coming to fruition is great.

Strategically, though, I’m very impressed with our community strategic plan “Our Valley 2030” and associated strategies off the back of that, including our new community branding: #unquestionablyderwentvalley.

Q: What is the biggest issue facing the Derwent Valley from a local government perspective, and how is your council dealing with it?

Growth and associated infrastructure/service needs. The issue we have is one of a small rate base for a large geographical area, it’s hard to work out where the best spending is going to make the biggest impact.

We have ageing infrastructure already so adding to that is a challenge; on the other hand, if growth is managed and done sensibly that will also help with our infrastructure concerns.

Q: To what extent can the DVC profit from Hobart’s growth, which has traditionally been to the south?

We are seeing huge growth rates in housing and commercial interest because of our proximity to Hobart and our country village living style and natural beauty.

We have over $500 million worth of private developments on the books at the moment for the next five years and growing; housing and land is affordable and we have plenty of space, so we are capitalising on the widespread interest in Tasmania.

Q: The coronavirus pandemic has created serious financial headaches for councils. What can be done longer-term to ensure local government funding is adequate to provide the services residents, businesses and communities expect.

There are going to be some challenging times ahead. We need to come up with ways other than raising rates to raise revenue.

An increase in Federal Assistance Grants would be fantastic along with more untied funding opportunities from both state and federal governments.

Local government should be used more often as a vehicle in delivering all small to medium-scale projects in our municipality on behalf of all levels of government because we are the ones that know best our communities’ needs.

Q: If someone approached you saying they were thinking of standing for local government, how would you advise them? 

Fully understand what you are getting yourself into, make sure you have the time to give adequately what is needed, find a good mentor or someone with experience, and be open-minded.

It’s definitely rewarding and I would encourage anyone to jump in as long as they are fully aware of their roles and responsibilities.

Q: What is your favourite place, and why?

My favourite place in the Derwent Valley is anywhere near the River Derwent.

It’s majestic, beautiful and the real lifeblood of the Derwent Valley but also of southern Tasmania.

I grew up fishing, swimming, boating, and generally being around our river so it holds a special place in my heart.