Meet the Shire President – Gingin’s Wayne Fewster

Cr Wayne Fewster has lived and worked in Gingin all his life, and was first elected to the Gingin Shire Council in 1993; serving 16 years, including two as Shire President.

After a break of several years from council, Cr Fewster won election again in 2015, and became  Shire President in 2019. He is a retired farmer but still works a small property near the Gingin township.

Gingin Shire is about an hour north of Perth in the Avon-Midland region with an economy based on broad-acre farming, cattle and sheep grazing, irrigated horticulture and viticulture, piggeries and poultry farms, feedlots, and tourism.

Q: What drew you to service in local government?

I have always been interested in what happens in the local community, and wanting to serve on  council was an extension of this.

My maternal grandfather was a shire councillor and president for many years, and my dad was a shire councillor too. So maybe it’s in the blood!

Q: What do you love most about your role?

We have a relatively inexperienced council right now. This is not a criticism, because fresh councils bring fresh ideas and can often achieve things that elude long-serving local governments.

As one of Gingin shire’s most experienced councillor I can bring some historical background and perspective to discussions and decision-making, and that is satisfying.

Having input into how the shire is run, and seeing projects come to fruition after months or years of hard work makes the job really worthwhile.

Q: What is the least appealing aspect of your job?

Well, I do not really enjoy public speaking too much, or talking to the media. 

I have got better at it over the years because being in this role make you a better communicator. Where it’s appropriate, I delegate some communications to our CEO.

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

Probably the one big one was helping a small group of community members get a swimming pool for Gingin town itself, a project that took about eight years to bring to fruition.

We had many detractors to begin with – people saying it was a waste of money and that it wouldn’t be viable. But we persevered.  

The Shire and State Government were expected to raise one third each of the total project cost, so we ended up doing a lot of fund-raising.

To see how the popular the pool is with young families and seniors in summer is very gratifying and, funnily enough, the people who spoke out against it originally are now among its most enthusiastic users.

Q: Coastal erosion is an emerging issue in your local government area, particularly around Lancelin. What is Gingin doing to mitigate the threat posed by rising sea levels and to build resilience?

We adopted a Coastal Hazard Risk Management and Adaption Plan (CHRMAP)  in June 2019, and have completed several major studies examining the erosion and inundation issues in our four coastal towns.

One of these has predicted that in a major storm event, parts of Lancelin will be inundated by between one and two metres of water, so we’re taking the issue very seriously.

It will take time to develop an overarching strategic framework, however. There is resistance to this from some people who don’t believe in climate change, which I understand.

To do nothing would be a big mistake down the track, however.

The State and Federal Governments are going to have to become involved at a bigger level, too. If we back away from this issue, it is going to be very costly for everyone in the long run.

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.

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the Shire, partly because it has happened so quickly.

We accepted the State Government’s view that it was not a time for councils to be increasing their rates, and councillors took a reduction in their allowances as a show of solidarity with the community. Shire staff have also agreed to forego a wage rise this year.

What happens if Gingin’s rates continue to be pegged, I’m not sure. We still have services to provide and we’re seeing more and more cost-shifting from the State Government without being compensated for it.

Gingin has healthy reserves right now, but these have to be topped up if they become depleted. Otherwise, the Shire will find itself in financial strife.

Q: Perth’s peri-urban sprawl is edging closer to Gingin. Is that creating pressure on the shire’s community infrastructure?

Without population growth, we’re never going to get the good community facilities that people want, like better schools, aged care, and medical facilities. It’s a numbers game.

The newly opened section of the Perth to Darwin National Highway (NorthLink WA) has cut about 20 minutes off the commute from Gingin township into the Perth metropolitan area, and we’ll start to see an increase in people migrating out of the city to places like Gingin.

There’s chicken and egg element to attracting visitors and new ratepayers. If you don’t have the facilities they won’t hang around for long, but you need a viable population base to invest in new infrastructure.

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

Firstly, if you get on council, don’t be frightened to make decisions. That’s your role. We don’t always make the right decision, but the worst thing a council can do is sit back and not make a decision.

Secondly, understand the limitations that democratic processes impose on elected officials.

The beauty of being a counsellor is that you have input into decision-making, but the process is a democratic one, and it must be respected. Not everyone itching to get on council understands this.

Q: What is your favourite place, and why?

Gingin Shire is a fantastic place to live, but my favourite place to visit is the Kimberleys. The wilderness and the open space up there are unbelievable. Even when you have been there as many times, as I have, the sights and experiences are still fresh and awe-inspiring.

We have got a lot here in WA that is special. The one good thing to have come out of this pandemic is that West Australians are travelling around the state in unprecedented numbers and learning to appreciate its beauty.