Gold Coast City Council will host the first round of economic development meetings for 2010 this month. CEO Dale Dickson will hold the top civic job for another four years under the glare of public scrutiny. With 3300 full-time staff under him, 47-year-old Dickson discusses the challenges that await him and those that he has conquered while in the hot seat.

What is the GCCC business modus operandi for 2010?

What we can’t have is an economy that relies on the dominant industries of tourism and construction. We need to diversify our economy and implement the agenda for the next 10 years.

The way to answer that is in three parts.

1. We will be seeking to have the council adopt a new economic development strategy. It will be advanced by the economic development and tourism committee and move us from a focus on particular industries to a focus particular programs. (see the eight programs at

2. Continuing with economic stimulus implementation. The signature project if you like, is the redevelopment of the Surfers Paradise foreshore ($25 million). When you look at the totality of what the council has been doing over the last five years, it’s enormous. I guess what we do is interpret it and re-interpret it and trivialise it, but the truth is we have very professional and competent people working together to advance the agenda.

3. The development industry. The response to what has been called the 5-point plan. There has been a lot of mythology about council’s dealing with the development industry. In March there will be a response to proposals put forward by the industry. The big issue is the timing of contributions. From a cash flow perspective, if you’re a developer, the issue is not necessarily how much you pay, but when you pay it.

Will there be less red tape?

Bureaucracy is a generalisation. Talking about generalities doesn’t get anyone anywhere or advance anyone’s interests. We need to deal with specifics and focus on real world issues so that we can help people.

If you look at the situation with PIP charges, the argument that the industry has put forward as part of this 5 point plan is that council should reduce its infrastructure charges by 35 per cent for residential developments and 65 per cent for commercial.

The reality is that, historically PIP charges with water and waste water found via an independent review told us we were under-charging by about 22 per cent — against the real cost of delivering the infrastructure related to growth. That’s not necessarily what people want to hear, but we need to get on a factual basis as far as a starting point is concerned and acknowledge that an independent organisation with no interest in the outcome has given their view about what we’re charging.

What about DA approvals? Can the construction industry expect fewer delays in 2010?

There has been a lot of work done by us as an organisation to streamline and deal with development activity. But the picture is far more complex than that. We have state legislation that has only just been revised and new planning legislation that has replaced the old planning legislation. The main issue affecting the industry is sourcing finance really and the industry by its own admission has said that.

There has been an issue with second tier financing companies that had a presence on the Coast.

In reality, we deal with each and every individual application on its merits and there is no doubt in my experience that depending on the track record of the developer, the circumstances on the economic climate at the time, the site and the actual development – all of these things are assessed. We are prepared to negotiate to see the right developments go ahead.

Projects such as the Hilton and John Fish’s project (Marina Quays) are good examples, where the council could have taken another position, but it didn’t.
The perception of the council being this amorphous, bureaucratic beast is wrong. At the end of the day, people interact, do business with each other and get on with it.
What leadership skills are needed to lead the GCCC toward becoming a better organisation?

We have several hundred people who are in positions of leadership. You have to have absolute clarity of purpose, because there are lots of interested stakeholders, commentators, Federal and State politicians, staff, people in the street and visitors – a massive array that have interest in the performance of Gold Coast City Council.

For me, there are two fundamental things – one is clarity of purpose and secondly, having the courage of one’s convictions. You have to have both in this business and particularly in this position in this city at this point in time.

You have another four years left on your contract. Who is a likely successor?

You have to have particular personal qualities to be effective in the job. I would encourage and promote people who I thought had the right qualities, because someone has to do it.
Someone that is emotionally and intellectually resilient, can talk to anybody and treat people fairly and reasonably on their merits.

Does a person come to mind?

There is but I won’t name them. Part of this role is cultivating within the organisation people who are leaders. We launched a leadership DVD for the organisation in November last year.

We are going to invest in leadership as a particular area of focus over the next three to five years.

There was much speculation on your re-appointment to the top job. What really happened there at the GCFC?

The reality is that I developed an interest in that position over time. My interest was in assisting a church of people that were looking to establish a local AFL licence on the Coast, because I was asked to help about three years ago.

It was a passion for me when I was playing footy, but my passion today is city building. I enjoyed working with other people such as John Witheriff who were giving their time freely, but to establish something that will add to the Coast socially and economically.

It will get there, it will be a winner and around five years from now there will probably be a parade down the main street of Surfers and I hope John Witheriff is in the last car, soaking up the moment.

What’s in Dale Dickson’s crystal ball for 2010?

You have to be fundamentally optimistic about the Coast for a whole bunch of reasons. We as a council are about future proofing the city – economically, socially and environmentally.

I’m hopeful there will be less focus about me. There was a lot of media focus on me personally last year, but I’m a big boy and I can handle it.

I look forward to having fewer distractions that came about last year as a result of enterprise bargaining agreements, my contract and my future.

The industry of local government is where my academic background is and public policy. We have a bit of blank canvas here, with a city that is just a tick over 50 years old and is as good as anywhere in the world to live.

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