Feature

Fraser Coast's most powerful woman opens up

Fraser Coast Regional Council chief executive officer Lisa Desmond discusses her experiences and vision for the region.
Fraser Coast Regional Council chief executive officer Lisa Desmond discusses her experiences and vision for the region. Alistair Brightman

SHE works 11-hour days, has copped a barrage of criticism for some decisions she's made and her colleagues are 11 strong-minded men.

You'd think that would be enough for Fraser Coast Regional Council chief executive officer Lisa Desmond to tear her hair out.

But she greets photographer Alistair Brightman and I in the Tavistock St council building with a big grin and a spring in her step.

The passionate 42-year-old woman was first appointed CEO in 2011 after 20 years of working in council departments.

And last week, she was awarded a three-year contract extension, based on her performance in the three years prior.

Council chief Lisa Desmond has been awarded a three-year contract extension.
Council chief Lisa Desmond has been awarded a three-year contract extension. Alistair Brightman

Ted Sorensen once urged councillors to "go and get their balls back from the CEO".

But despite the criticisms and long days, Ms Desmond loves most minutes of her job.

The Chronicle sat down with the driven woman to talk about her experiences and vision for this region.

Ms Desmond described her first term as CEO as challenging and rewarding.

"I've enjoyed the public engagement and certainly working with business and industry," she said

"I was fortunate to take over CEO when most of the amalgamation (2008) stuff had finalised and it really was an opportunity to push the Fraser Coast as a region to go forward."

As CEO, her job is to provide advice and guidance to the 11 councillors, and implement their policies.

Her vision

Stockland, St Stephen's and the proposed development of Station Square she immediately cites as the signs Fraser Coast is healthy.

"That infrastructure is really going to push some growth through," she said.

Lisa is almost jumping out of her plush black leather seat as she describes the growth agenda for the next few years.

"Where we'll focus now, particularly now we've got the single planning scheme and obviously the new incentives policy ... we'll be targeting commercial developments to drive some jobs growth within the region, " she said.

The proposed development of the Urangan Harbour is also firmly on Ms Desmond's infrastructure radar.

"It would be great to see in the next two to four years some significant development of the Urangan Harbour.

"From our perspective employment and jobs is what we would continue to target," she said.

And despite a terrible cane season, the Maryborough Sugar Factory is looking to expand land and grow the region's agricultural sector.

"If they can get their mill to that million tonnes (harvest) a year, the economic outcome from that would be significant," Ms Desmond said.

Facing criticism

After the Fraser Coast Regional Council failed to takeover Wide Bay Water, Ms Desmond was the victim of some stinging comments.

Along with asking councillors to retrieve their balls, State Member of Hervey Bay Ted Sorensen urged them to use some brains and fight the takeover.

Fraser Coast Regional Council chief executive officer Lisa Desmond tries out one of the swags that local bosses will camp out in with Darren Bosley of the Fraser Coast Chronicle, Troy Sorrensen of the Hervey Bay RSL and Adam Healey of Forty Winks.
Fraser Coast Regional Council chief executive officer Lisa Desmond tries out one of the swags that local bosses will camp out in with Darren Bosley of the Fraser Coast Chronicle, Troy Sorrensen of the Hervey Bay RSL and Adam Healey of Forty Winks. Alistair Brightman

"I didn't respond to those," she said.

"I always believe if you're making the right decisions some people will be critical, some people will be supportive of those decisions."

WBW director Geoff Skerritt sensationally resigned after an open letter to the Chronicle slamming Ms Desmond's conduct in August last year.

"Basically in a public life you've got to have some thick skin," she said.

"Ted's got views on certain things and Geoff does and that's okay- but I'm quite comfortable with where the decisions have come.

"But I always reconcile that if I'm doing it for the better of the organisation and the community then that's where I sit on it."

Tourism

Recent turbulent times in the region's traditional tourism sector have the council and Ms Desmond thinking about other ways to get visitors to the region.

She has praised the current councillors for their "decisive decisions" to move the region forward.

With two operational airports, an aviation focus is in the plan for the future, with population and employment growth to assist the growing construction industry.

And the $87 million St Stephen's Hospital development is expected to bring more than stethoscopes and operating beds to the Fraser Coast.

The region's peak tourism body, Fraser Coast Opportunities has been directed to look at medical tourism.

Ms Desmond talks about it as if it's a no-brainer.

"Why not come here, have your treatment and then stay for the recovery here in a beautiful place like the Fraser Coast," she questions.

Fraser Coast Opportunities

Described as a 'cancer' by councillor Chris Loft, and the affordability questioned by councillor Rolf Light - Fraser Coast Opportunities has been under fire.

And as a member of the FCO board, Ms Desmond is defensive and believes over time it will achieve.

"Beside the extra $500,000 the council put in to make sure the entity could function - the balance of the money was money that council (was) spending itself on events or regional marketing," she said.

"I think over time we will reap the benefits of it.

"Being on the board of FCO, we are very conscious of making sure that we do start demonstrating achievements.

"Now is the time we need to really start delivering and not just from doing the same activities.

The budget

During her 20-year stint in several different council departments, Ms Desmond has put together a number of budgets.

But as the cost of living rises and leaves wages behind, she acknowledges it's hard to balance services with affordability.

"It's always difficult balancing affordability from a community's perspective in paying rates and charges and balancing delivering of services," she said.

"It's always easy to say we can reduce rates and not provide it but at the end of the day you've got to then give on services and I don't know that's the expectation (of) the majority of the community."

Spare time

She doesn't have a lot of it.

Current home renovations and the weekly shop takes up a lot of the tiny amount of spare time she has available.

But when Ms Desmond does have a chance to relax, she reflects on why she is lucky to live here.

"I sit there every day and I know things are challenging now and again - but you look out there and you look and go, why would anyone want to be anywhere else?"

Topics:  chief executive officer, fraser coast regional council, lisa desmond



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