Meet the Mayor – Richmond Valley’s Robert Mustow

Robert Mustow was born in Casino in northern NSW, and has lived in the Richmond Valley his entire life. After finishing high school, he became a qualified panel beater and successfully operated his own smash repair business for 15 years.

With a long-running passion for local sport, especially basketball, he was then employed by Basketball NSW as the North Coast Regional Development Officer, before retiring.

He was first elected to Casino Council in 1987, which amalgamated with neighbouring Richmond River Shire Council in 2000, and was elected Mayor of Richmond Valley Council in 2016.

Q: What does your typical mayoral working day look like?

My days as mayor are incredibly varied. I am often responding to residents’ inquiries via email, letters, phone and face-to-face meetings. I attend many public functions each year, although Covid-19 has paused many of these. There are also regular information sessions and briefings in addition to Council’s monthly ordinary meetings, so plenty to stay on top of. In the last four years I’ve attended more than 1200 community functions/events and meetings.

Q: What is the best aspect of your job?

I love the involvement and the sense of contributing to the wellbeing of our community. It’s great to be able to listen to people’s concerns and being in a position to solve them where possible.

Q: What is the worst aspect of your job?

Public speaking, because it is not my strongest suit! Also, not always having the finances to deliver on all of the community’s expectations.

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

When I was elected Mayor I made the commitment that each of our towns and villages would receive their fair share of community infrastructure upgrades. I’m happy to say this has been delivered – every one of our six towns and villages now has new and improved facilities and infrastructure for the community’s benefit.

If there is one project that stands out, it’s the $14 million upgrade of the Northern Rivers Livestock Exchange (NRLX), securing Casino’s position as the beef capital of the region. This project had been talked about for 25 years and we finally delivered it, for the benefit of one of the most significant industries in our area.

A current project of vital importance is the rebuilding of Rappville, which was devastated in the past summer’s bushfires, into a bigger and better village.

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 Richmond Valley experienced devastating bushfires during the 2019 fire season with almost 48 percent of our local government area impacted, which resulted in 69 dwellings in the Council area being destroyed with many more damaged. The 2019-20 fire season was unprecedented. 

Council staff have always actively participated in our Local Emergency Management Committee and Bush Fire Management Committee which was a great help during the response and now the recovery phase of the bush fire disaster.  Our Council has built strong networks and partnerships with the combat agencies such as the NSW RFS, SES, NSW Fire and Rescue, and Police who plan, prepare and respond to emergency events.

We are very fortunate to have the Northern Regional RFS Operations Centre in Casino, and at the height of the emergency we had staff and plant resources assisting the RFS, as well as senior representation in the Emergency Operations Centre. The EOC was activated (24 hours) a total of 36 days with 17 days being the longest period of continual activation during the bush fire emergency. 

Council will continue to support the combat agencies with their planning, preparedness and mitigation to ensure our community is in the best possible position should an emergency event occur.

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?

Council has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and like any other business in an ongoing economic and health crisis such as this, we need State and Federal government support so we can continue delivering vital services to our community.

At present, we are handling our finances to the best of our ability and have delivered our own two-phase support package to the community, which includes extra hardship options for ratepayers, strengthening the preferencing of local businesses in our procurement policy, and fast-tracking invoice payments and the waiving of some interest charges.

Local government is responsible for maintaining the essential infrastructure and services that keep our community going as well as all the public facilities which improve life for our residents. It’s a big responsibility to deliver with sometimes scarce resources, not to mention the threat of creeping cost-shifting.

That is why strong support from our Federal and State governments is essential.

Q: If someone standing for council were to ask you for advice, how would you respond?

  1. The community comes first – you’re not there for your ego.
  2. Respect the staff of the organisation, and your fellow councillors.
  3. Have a positive and close working relationship with the general manager.

At the end of the day local government is a united team effort which involves councillors, the community, and staff working together for positive outcomes.

There is no “I” in the word team!

Q: What is your favourite place, and why?

The Richmond Valley will always be my favourite place! I was born and raised here and my grandchildren are now the sixth generation of Mustows in the Valley.

We have a beautiful environment for all to enjoy – fertile farmland, wide rivers, pristine beaches, rainforests, and national parks, and a friendly and welcoming community.

Q: How would you reflect on the difference that you’ve made in your community and local government in general?

I would like to think I have made a real contribution to the Richmond Valley community in my 33 years as a councillor, and now mayor. Much of this has been in the form of new infrastructure which has improved the quality of life for residents.

For example, when I first became a councillor, I can’t recall there being any bike ways in the Valley. Today, we have a great network of shared pathways throughout our towns and villages, which have improved safety and mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, and kept all ages in our community active, healthy, and able to enjoy the wonderful natural environment around us. We also have a 13km rail trail set to be built over the next two years which is one section of a planned 132km trail from Casino to Murwillumbah.

One of my most important priorities as Mayor has been to have a strong forward financial plan, so the organisation is financially sustainable and “fit for the future”. This will ensure funding is available for infrastructure and services that will enrich the lifestyle of Richmond Valley residents as well as attracting industry, tourists, and visitors to our Valley.

A slightly longer version of this conversation can be found on ALGA’s Facebook page.