The Sunshine Coast Council represents an area of 2500 hectares in Southeast Queensland, with a population of 280,000. The council was formed in 2008 from the amalgamation of the Caloundra, Maroochydore, and Noosa Councils, with Noosa eventually separating in 2014 when given the option by the former LNP government, under Premier Campbell Newman. At present, Sunshine Coast Council is the 6th largest council in Australia, and is currently working to become the country’s most sustainable region – vibrant, green, diverse.
The council is in the process of carrying out a number of major developments, including a new, large-scale health precinct in Kawana. On the Greenfield site is the Sunshine Coast Private University Hospital, which is already open and operating, and the co-located Public University Hospital, which is due to be completed before the end of 2016. The area surrounding the massive, $2 billion developments features large amounts of green field capacity for allied and related industry to be developed as well. “This will be the centrepiece for what will be the Sunshine Coast’s major industry in the future; health, medical and well-being,” says Mayor Mark Jamieson. Another notable project is the development of a Greenfield central business district, which will be staged on the former site of the 53-hectare Horton Park Golf Club in the heart of Maroochydore. After purchasing the site and relocating the club, Sunshine Coast Council established a separate company at arm’s length from government to handle the development a process estimated to span the next 15 to 20 years. “It will be, at least in its early years, Australia’s only green field CBD development,” says Mr Jamieson.
The region’s natural features; its climate, geography, 200 kilometres of beach, and pristine hinterland, are each known to be major tourist attractions, and will continue to be key assets into the future. A separate company established by council, Sunshine Coast Destinations Limited, manages Sunshine Coast’s tourism business with funding from the council’s tourism levy. “They’re very skilled and adept at marketing our region in a whole lot of ways to attract domestic and international tourism,” adds the Mayor, “and, indeed, we were the standout performer for both domestic and international tourists in the most recent recording period.”
Currently in the planning stage is the expansion of the region’s airport at Marcoola,with the project including a new 2450 metre long x 45 metre wide runway, upgraded terminal facilities and a new passenger transport apron. The expansion will cater for larger, more fuel efficient aircraft that can fly longer distances to other parts of Australia and many international destinations.. “It will have a huge impact on the region in terms of the access it will provide to the markets beyond Australia,” says Mayor Jamieson. “We already see international flights from New Zealand; we started up with Air New Zealand, building from a season that lasted 3 months of the year to now 8 months, and we expect that to continue to grow to the point that they’ll be flying year round.”
Council is also currently working towards the construction of its own 15-megawatt solar farm, which, upon completion, will effectively provide the entirety of council’s energy requirements, with additional capacity to be fed into the grid. “It plays into our sustainability agenda,” the Mayor says. “It will be the catalyst for other clean kick industries to establish on the Sunshine Coast.”
Next year, the Sunshine Coast region will play host to the Surf Lifesaving national titles, in addition to the Mooloolaba Triathlon, one of the most recognised triathlons both within Australia, and internationally as well. In addition to the Caloundra Music Festival’s approaching 9th anniversary, the region will also stage the 70.3 Marathon World Championships, as well as the World Outrigger Championships in the coming year.
The economic development strategy that’s been developed by council in concert with local business and industry, as well as the university and the state government, recognises that small business serves as the backbone of the Sunshine Coast economy. “We have over 30 000 small businesses, and they’re very important to the region’s economy,” Mark says. “They have ensured a very strong resilience in our community and that has been highly important in tough economic times. That resilience has seen our businesses survive when many others haven’t.”
The council assists the wide variety of charitable groups on the Sunshine Coast in a number of ways, including funding support through grants, as well as other assistance, particularly in a planning sense. “We can be of help to organisations with issues such as affordable housing, and the provision of emergency services,” says the Mayor. “We have a strong reputation, and work closely with those people.”
The greatest challenge facing the Sunshine Coast region is the development of its economy. “The region, historically, has not had a lot of diversity in its economy,” Mark explains. “We’ve been successful on the back of organic growth as people have moved here for the lifestyle, but increasingly, council and councillors need to recognise that our challenge for the future is to encourage greater economic diversity. That will create more jobs and opportunity, particularly for young people, and ensure that the people who grow up and learn on the Sunshine Coast can also find suitable careers to carry them through in the later years.” While the council’s focus on economic development stands at the forefront of its priorities, this time of year also marks the review of the budget, contributed to by the council’s numerous innovative revenue streams, reducing the pressure that would normally be placed upon the shoulders of the rate payers.
Before his election, Mayor Mark Jamieson spent 30 years in the media, working his way up from entry level to become a chief executive in a major publishing company, and thereafter taking up interest in businesses of his own, both on the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere. “When I looked at the candidates for mayor in the last election, I was concerned about the lack of business experience,” he says. “Rather than sitting on the sidelines and complaining about it, I put my hand up as a candidate for mayor, and was elected on a platform of strong economic reform. The people of the Sunshine Coast gave me a strong mandate, and I intend to deliver on that. We’re starting on a low base, and there’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re getting there, and as a united council, we’re doing a good job. We’ll see a lot of the fruits of our labour bear next term.”