By Phil Jarratt
When word spread around Noosa Council’s Chambers last week that CEO Brett de Chastel was about to announce his retirement, the Pelican Street players were disappointed but not necessarily surprised.
The fastidious, fair-minded chief executive has always played to a plan, and succession was clearly one of them. This is why in May 2021 he was announcing his retirement effective February 2022, just a few weeks shy of his 60th birthday, leaving Council nine months to find his replacement and have Brett ease him or her into one of the most demanding jobs in local government.
PHIL JARRATT sat Brett in the Hotseat, perhaps for the last time.
NT: What’s the real reason?
Brett: (Laughs) There’s no hidden agenda. I just feel like I’ve done what I set out to do. I was heavily involved in the de-amalgamation campaign behind the scenes and I wanted to be part of setting up the new council (in 2014) and I feel like we’re running pretty well now. I’d started to think, okay, what’s next? I’ve always had the best interests of the organisation at heart, and I genuinely believe that they need renewal. I hope whoever comes along next does a better job than me, because it will be good for council and the community. There are other factors. I have a friend of similar age who has just been through a major health issue, and you feel, well, that could be me, so you have to make the most of life while you can.
NT: In a previous interview with me you intimated that you loved the Noosa lifestyle, particularly the leisure aspects of it, so I could understand if you were retiring to ride your mountain bike and go to the beach, but you’re not really retiring, are you?
Brett: Well, in a sense that’s true, but over the past eight years I’ve struggled at times to balance work and leisure and worked some really long, hard hours, particularly in the last 18 months, with bushfires, Covid, elections, a planning scheme to deliver and a new council to get used to. But the councilors have all been really good, and I’m more than happy with where the council is at the moment. The 2020 election was a pretty tough one – I think everyone is aware of that – but the new council has got a good vibe going. They get along very well with each other, which is the secret of a successful council. If you can have different ideas and opinions, but get on well on a personal basis, you will achieve a lot more, and that’s what this group is doing. We all laugh and have fun with each other, so we’re in a good space. If that wasn’t the case, I might not be making this announcement, but I feel like I’m leaving at the right time.
NT: It’s interesting, isn’t it, when you see people who were polar opposites a year ago, now able to work together for the common good?
Brett: Well, they don’t always agree, but it’s about the issue, not the person.
NT: I guess the big fear during the election and immediately after was that we’d have a pro-development block that had the numbers to put anything through.
Brett: Yes, but what’s happened is that they vote on each issue as they see it. There’s no set pattern to the voting which means that each councillor is carefully looking at the issue and making an informed decision. There’s plenty of debate but no acrimony. They’ll go and have a wine together afterwards. I’ve tried to help that process along by instituting team bonding sessions early in the piece, and doing personality profiling to help them understand what makes each person tick. What’s developed is a sense of purpose and a mutual respect.
NT: You said in our last interview that the art of your job was to keep everyone happy …
Brett: Yes, all the time about every issue! (Laughs) And that’s impossible, of course. But the role of Council CEO is an interesting one because in one sense I’m reporting to the mayor and six councilors, but I also have about 450 staff who have expectations of me, I’ve got the media and the special interest groups to keep happy, not to mention our 55,000 customers. So it’s a balancing act while trying to make decisions that are in the best interests of the community. The good thing is that everyone in Noosa has the best interests of the community at heart, the arguments are always about how to achieve them.
NT: While I don’t want to burst the bubble about how smoothly everything is going, there are a few murmurs, inside council and outside, about the threat of growing population pressure.
Brett: One of the things that Noosa has to deal with is how to manage our success, how to deal with the numbers of people who want to come here at holiday periods when our roads and transport systems are set up to deal with our base population. Being loved to death is one of the greatest challenges we have to face.
NT: I think some of the murmurs are more about the South East Queensland Regional Plan and the implications for our population cap.
Brett: The SEQ Regional Plan will come up for review within the next two years. The last time it was reviewed it very much respected our planning scheme and didn’t require us to open up any more greenfield sites. What I’m hearing from the State is that they’re looking at major housing construction on greenfield sites at places like west of Caboolture and south of Logan. There’s no doubt that they will want to create a lot more accommodation in SEQ, but they’ll want to do it in the areas where they can focus on infrastructure efficiently. I haven’t heard of any new population pressure on places at the edge of the region, like Gatton or Noosa.
NT: In two years you won’t be sitting in that chair. Will the new CEO be fighting the State over this issue?
Brett: I don’t know. I hope not, but I do believe that what it will do is put more pressure on Noosa through an increased population around us creating more daytrippers, which gets us back to the first part of the problem.
NT: When the new CEO is appointed what advice will you give her?
Brett: (Laughs) There’ll be a three-month hand-over and I’ll have plenty of advice for the new person, but I’m sure they’ll also bring their own ideas to the role. Some of my advice will be about managing yourself, looking after the staff who are our biggest asset, building relationships with the councillors, and learning to manage our success. It’s a nice problem to have, but we have to ensure that we don’t lose the magic we’ve got.
NT: Can you tell us anything about your plans for 2022 and beyond?
Brett: I’ve got a real passion for supporting indigenous communities, so one of the things I intend to do is volunteer work with some of the Cape York communities, helping them with issues of governance or finance, mentoring their senior staff. I’ve done this kind of thing up there before and I know I’ll enjoy that. And I’ll look around town here to see if any organisations need assistance. I want to stay connected, remain part of the tribes.