Meet the Mayor – Kempsey Shire Council’s Liz Campbell

Liz Campbell was born and educated in the Kempsey District and elected to the Shire Council in 2008.

With a background in the travel and tourism industries, Cr Campbell became Mayor in 2011 and was re-elected the following year when Kempsey held its first election for a popularly elected Mayor.

Kempsey Shire Council, on the NSW Mid North Coast, was incorporated on 1 October 1975 after the Kempsey Municipal Council amalgamated with the Macleay Shire Council. The region’s economy centres on tourism, farming, and service industries.

Q: What drew you to service in local government?

Probably childhood scripting drew me into local government.

My father was a Councillor on the Kempsey Council for 35 years, being elected before I was born and serving through to my adult years. He served time as Mayor and chaired many local and regional committees.

My parents were very engaged in the business and community of Kempsey. When I returned to Kempsey to live, there seemed great opportunities, but things needed to change. My frame of reference to influence change was to get involved through local government.

I am not a single issue or single community councillor – I try to keep a balanced view that every project and every part of the community is important. 

The Macleay community really embraces the diversity of cultures we have here, and I would like to see us continue to respect our rich history and all of the different cultures we have living here today so that in years to come we will all blend as one community.

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

I enjoy being with people and meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It is also very satisfying to see plans that we have worked on with the community become a reality.

I am intensely proud to be a Macleay local, and I feel the Macleay Valley community is very much ‘’my community’’. I have worked hard since first being elected to Council in 2008 to make this a better place to live and work – a place that people are proud to call home and where visitors will want to stay.

To have played even a small part in the people of the Macleay having a better quality of life; access to services and facilities comparable to other regional communities; and giving our young people real opportunities to achieve a brighter future is what makes being a councillor rewarding for me.

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

There is nothing that stands out. Some aspects aren’t as much fun as others but even the difficult things – like having to make really tough decisions – there is always something to learn, something to be proud of, something that has been achieved or something to be gained.

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

The rewarding experiences and projects have been many and varied. All have been rewarding, but different in their own way.

A highlight of the past four years has been achieving 87 percent of what we set out to achieve in the four-year Delivery Plan our councillors put together just after the 2016 election. That’s a remarkable achievement in the face of drought, bushfires, and Covid-19.

During this busy period we found a solution for the Steuart McIntyre Dam issues; completed the Kempsey Cinema project; delivered the Crescent Head and Horseshoe Bay Masterplans; built new toilet blocks and upgraded parks and recreational areas for people to enjoy our great outdoors; the Stuart Point Foreshores revitalisation is well underway; seeing major road and bridge upgrade projects come to life, securing multi-million dollar Government funding to make our sports fields fit for purpose; and the way Council has lead the community response during our bushfire recovery efforts have all been highpoints.  

Delivering a real plan for financial sustainability has been key to the great progress made so far in lifting our financial and operational performance. We have worked hard to put strong foundations in place and position ourselves for the years ahead.

But if I were to choose just one thing, it would be the decision we made in 2017 to invest in an external review of Kempsey Shire’s organisation and a subsequent redesign of Council’s culture and structure on a continuous improvement model. 

We are now seeing the results of that decision, with projects being managed to a higher standard; a cohesive and engaged workforce; financial management working towards a balanced budget goal; stronger community engagement, and transparent reporting. 

We have gained a reputation for credibility within the state and regions, and we have a growing positive reputation as a local government area that is great to live in and visit.

Q: Your council is among the many that bore the brunt of the Black Summer bushfires. What are the lessons, looking ahead, for disaster preparedness and mitigation at the local level?

The Black Summer bushfires were devastating for our up-river communities and highlighted that we just were not prepared for bushfires. Over time, we developed preparedness for floods – not fire. 

We have been working ever since with the community, agencies and the State and Federal Governments to look at what worked, what didn’t, and how we address the gaps.

The frustrating thing is, the bushfire season is here again and we have just started to formulate the information and future plans.

We have a recovery hub and a dedicated team working at building resilience and programs for mitigating the risks, assessing and taking action around fuel loads, and ensuring all properties have fire plans in place.   

Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received regarding local community service as an elected official? 

“You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time”.

I have since learnt it is a quote from Abraham Lincoln!

Q: Would you recommend to other people serving on local government?

Absolutely I would recommend local government – this is one of the best ways to contribute and influence where you live, work and play.  

Local governments need diversity among their elected decision-makers to get a broad perspective and to be truly representative of their communities. Our Council has worked hard to develop ways that makes the councillor experience as rewarding as possible, and to fit in with work and family commitments.

All councillors are independent of  a political party and serve the local community first and foremost.     

Q: What is your favourite place, and why?

I don’t really have a favourite place. We have so many that are fantastic but different in their own way.

My home, on the banks of the Macleay River, overlooking the river, town and the mountains in the background, is the place I connect with most. This is my family home, the house I grew up in, and the one constant in my life.