Fighting for our business future

THE boilermaker's son is breathing new fire into the local landscape and he’s got the Bay bubbling.

But if Bernard Whebell had halted his career ambitions in the Bundaberg pizza delivery service, the Hervey Bay Chamber of Commerce might not have found new life four months ago.

That’s when the chamber’s treasurer and briefly serving vice-president took on the president’s mantle.

“I’m tip-toeing slowly and learning quickly.

“We’ve changed the structure a bit so we have corporate members rather than an individual representative. This means we’re representing some 2000 jobs and hundreds of businesses.

“It’s too early for me to say if the chamber is growing stronger under my leadership. I’m not perfect. I’m keen to learn and that’s what I’m enjoying doing.”

Tully-born, Isis and Bundaberg-raised Bernard, 39, is an accountant.

And from Bay street talk, a sound one.

“But I was crap at maths, much better at English,” he offers.

“I did my economics degree at UQ, went into the pizza delivery business, which was just fantastic.

“However, I joined the State Government processing leave forms for TAFE teachers and becoming an A02 typist while I studied accountancy part-time. That became the career.”

The passionate Cowboys supporter and father of two also pretty much donates his time to sitting on the Fraser Coast Regional Council’s internal audit committee. Former Bay lawyer Adrian Daniel serves alongside him, as do councillors Gerard O’Connell and Belinda McNeven.

“I went on to the audit committee just prior to amalgamation.”

But is this position in conflict to his heading the local chamber?

“When you’re involved in a chamber of commerce in a small town you always run into conflict. I’m conscious of the perception of conflict but my position is declared.”

Small communities mean you have to put your expertise and passion into other areas.

“The chamber has widened its focus and also decided to be more consultative rather than confrontational as far as council is concerned.

“Our focus used to be heavily on the development sector.

“We’re now more into covering other important aspects of this community – tourism and economics for a start.”

Bernard’s challenges include, he says, how to get people passionate about the business community, and his biggest goal is “just to give business here confidence. My gut feeling is we’re bumping along the bottom of the economic downturn but it won’t be a quick climb back up. And the last thing we want is to revisit the era of greed.

“We are Hervey Bay. We are not Noosa as someone once said to me: ‘We’ll be the next Noosa’.”

“In coming months the chamber will follow on its coup in getting Tony Abbott to the rostrum with a significant retail forum featuring three big name retail bosses from here and out of town.”

Bernard is keen to harness Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett for a breakfast speaking slot.

“We want our chamber to continue to be robust and to be a voice for business.”

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