Moreton Bay Regional Council’s new Mayor Peter Flannery is a man of many talents. We sit down with him, so you can get to know him better.
There’s no more challenging time to be mayor of Australia’s third largest council, but Peter Flannery says he’s always been up for a challenge, whether that’s serving in the Army, driving a taxi or even abseiling off highrises to clean windows.
His resume before being elected to council in 2004 does not read like your typical career politician’s and Peter says all those experiences have made him a better councillor and now mayor.
Peter was born in Toowoomba and grew up on the Gold Coast with four sisters, joining the Army when he finished Year 12 and doing an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Victoria’s Albury Wodonga for two years.
Peter was stationed in Brisbane for 10 years, before leaving the Army in 1994.
“I played a lot of sport in the Army, did abseiling and rockclimbing as an instructor as well. So, when I got out of the Army, I started my own business – abseiling off buildings and cleaning windows,” he explains.
“I saw it on a money show on TV on Channel 9, a guy was abseiling off buildings in Sydney and he had five or six people working for him and he was an Army Reservist. I thought I could do that.
“So, I flew down to Sydney, spent a week with him trying to learn how he operated his business. I came back and set it up in Brisbane. Before that, I had taken long service leave from the Army and worked in real estate for eight months.”
It was a business he ran for about 18 months, but a moment abseiling down a 30-storey Gold Coast highrise made Peter question the risk he, and the two brothers-in-law he trained to help him, were taking.
“I was at one end, hanging off the ropes and my brother-in-law was at the other end and I thought, if I haven’t tied the knots right, or something … it’s alright if I die, because it’s my fault but if my brother-in-law dies I don’t know if I could live with that. I thought it’s time to get out of this and try something else,” he recalls.
That’s when he got into local government, working for Brisbane City Council as a local law officer, enforcing bylaws for about three years.
“That sparked my interest in being a councillor because I was enforcing bylaws back then that the community didn’t feel were correct or adequate for them. I thought I can’t change this as an officer, you’ve got to be a councillor,” he says.
The then Burpengary resident attended an information session at Caboolture RSL about running for council, about six weeks out from the poll.
“I remember clearly one of the council officers on the night explained how much reading and work was involved and said if you have a young family, you can’t do this job,” Peter says.
“That was trigger for me, I thought ‘Ok I’m going to prove you wrong’.I had a crack at that in 2000, didn’t know what I was doing, missed out by 1500 votes. I learnt a lot. I’d never been involved in any political campaigns before.
“I went back to work and ended up working for Caboolture Shire Council, local laws, and then ran again in 2004 and got in as a councillor for the first time.”
He had a break from council from 2008 but was elected to represent Division 2 in 2012, holding the position until he successfully ran for mayor in this year’s poll.
“When I had that four-year break from council in 2008, I really missed it. I didn’t think I would because I had been working in local government and council for about nine years all up by then,” Peter recalls.
“I just wanted to have a break from local government but, when I went away from it and back to my old Army trade, I really missed it … just the satisfaction you get when you know you can improve people’s lives and you can put infrastructure in place that helps people’s daily challenges become a lot easier.
“I came back and worked for Moreton Bay Regional Council in 2009. I worked in roads and drains department as a customer liaison officer, so once again it was dealing with the public and trying to resolve issues before I ran again in 2012.
“I think I’m a better councillor now, than I was back then. I have a different appreciation of it now and being in it and out of it, you know the opportunity that you’ve got and the responsibility you’ve got.”
The heavy weight of leading this region through the COVID-19 crisis and bringing a new council together to get the job done is not lost on a man driven to do the best he can and take advice from experts who know more than him.
“I’m well aware that it’s a stupid person who thinks they’ve got the answers to everything. I’m happy to take and acknowledge the advice and recommendations of those people around me who are smarter and more keyed into that particular issue,” he explains.
“I’ve seen a good opportunity in the COVID restrictions because it has given us a chance to refocus everything we do and change direction in a lot of it – reprioritise. It puts pressure on us to bring things forward that we may have taken a long time to bring forward down the track. We’re in a bit of a pressure cooker but it’s a good pressure cooker to be in.”
In his view, the new decade and six new councillors in the chamber also presents a chance to enhance the way councillors interact with the community and staff – in a more professional way as expected by the people who’ve elected them.
“We’re getting paid very well for the job we do, so we need to be professional at it and keep it in the back of our minds in everything we do,” he says.
“Just be my own person. I don’t want to copy the former mayor or other mayors that I’ve worked under. I’ve worked under two different mayors and I’ve learnt good and bad things from both of them. I’ll do things my way, be myself, because that’s got me to this point,” he says.
“One thing I did raise in the campaign is that I want to be a mayor for the whole region, so I intend to get out to those areas that feel they may have been missed out in the past and sit down and chat with people to show them that I’m a normal bloke. I’ll try to do the best I can.”
This naturally-reserved dad and husband will also be driving economic development, working hard to create jobs, reviewing the planning scheme and preparing for this fast-growing region’s future. He knows there is some heavy lifting to do and he’s already getting stuck in.
“It’s great to do a lot of talking, but now we want to see some results coming around and see some movement rather than a talkfest,” he says.
And when he has a spare moment or two, you might just see him at the tip after a day in the garden or on his motorbike cruising to the hinterland or Bribie Island.
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