27 March 2023

Councillor and mental health advocate Dan Hayes outlines new year wish list

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Man standing in front of home

Wagga councillor and psychologist of nearly 20 years, Dan Hayes, has dedicated many years of his career to regional mental health, with a focus on suicide prevention. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

We all have opinions about our local council and what it has or hasn’t got right, but how well do you know the men and women elected to represent their community in local government? In this series, Region Riverina speaks with Wagga Wagga City Councillors to find out what makes them tick.

Who is Dan Hayes?

I was born and raised in Wagga. I studied psychology at university here [Charles Sturt campus] and am coming up to 20 years of being a psychologist. I dedicated my career to regional mental health for a while, with a focus on suicide prevention, and I worked for an NGO. Outside of work, I’ve got a teenage daughter who’s great. My hobbies include movies, TV, have a swim in the river and doing nerdy stuff like escape rooms and board games.

I believe in government on all levels and that they can make a difference in people’s lives. I ran for council to make a difference to the city that’s given me so much. It’s given me a career, education, friendships, recreation and sports.

How have the past 12 months been on the council?

It’s been a good term for the council, but there are inherent challenges within local government regardless of what’s going on. It will continue to be there, including not having enough funds to do everything we need to do. There’s a systemic issue with trying to fund what the community is asking for, but that’s the challenge and frustration, and that’s the job.

Council itself had some gaps in staffing positions to be able to roll out some of the projects at times, and it feels like we haven’t got the momentum we would like to, especially if it’s short term. We’ve got 21 months left to have the council working well together and achieving great outcomes for the community.

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We’ve had some really good wins. At the first council meeting of the term last year, I wrote a report about how we can fix our roads, and all councillors supported that. We all recognise we’ve got to make some hard decisions to meet the community’s expectations.

Some of the best decisions we make are the ones I won’t necessarily see for years to come. You’re doing the structural changes; you’re putting those things in place that will take time to come. There are some quick wins along the way, like the compressor down at the beach, but the real significant things take time.

What’s been your biggest achievement so far?

The levee bank, which wasn’t supported by all the councillors at the time, which still surprises me. The progression of the RiFL [Riverina Intermodal Freight and Logistics Hub] is a key part which will work for years and years for the city.

I used to go to the library review, which led to Wagga’s standalone library service. It’s an enormous change not everyone knows about, or what it will deliver to our suburbs and villages.

One of the big ones is supporting the Morgan Street development. Some of the smaller ones and probably the most popular achievement was the free entry to the Oasis when there’s over 41 degrees heat. People have the opportunity to cool off for free.

Two things I’ve done some work on and continue to progress are increasing our footpath network and ensuring our suburbs get their fair share. A lot of the focus is on the CBD, and then we leapfrog to the villages. I think Ashmont Glenfield and Mount Austin have been forgotten about or, at worst, been made the punchlines of jokes – absolutely not acceptable, in my view. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to turn the ship of the council to ensure we’re providing the right services and that they have the opportunities other suburbs have.

What are your priorities for 2023?

One of my big agendas is the roads and the budget repairs needed. I’ll review the master plan of the Botanic Gardens and look at accessibility, as people with mobility issues find it very difficult to access the gardens.

I will also be looking at housing – I’ve been very supportive of infill development and how we get things in place to make that happen. So having a couple extra thousand people live within a walk of the CBD and what that would mean for people looking for housing; students, medical professionals, and young people alike. It will ease the pressure that’s being put on the houses, and we can’t keep going out further and further because that’s going to present some significant challenges. We’ve got people looking for homes and can’t find them, and we’ve got rental prices going up.

I’m also looking forward to getting my teeth into the CBD master plan, which looks at how we reinvigorate the whole CBD area, not just the main street. It touches upon infill … which will be a really exciting opportunity to set the CBD for decades to come.

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Is there anything different you’d like to see on the council?

I think everyone wishes everything was done quicker, and I get that. I really do understand people’s frustrations … and the criticisms are very, very fair.

The council had significant staff shortages, as lots of organisations have, so it’s been challenging. The staff do great work, and it’s not a criticism of them by any stretch. But the other part is that there is a process to go through to make sure we have the community on board and get that feedback. I have found in my time that no matter what we’ve done, it is always done better when we’ve had the community’s input.

What’s your vision for Wagga?

I want Wagga to keep growing and be a vibrant, exciting place to live with jobs, homes, and safety for all its residents, whether in the city, the suburb or the villages. I want to ensure young people feel they can stay in Wagga when they finish year 12 and that jobs and opportunities are available. I want to see a city that is working for its residents and involves jobs, education and proper health care.

When it comes to the airport, we need a better lease and arrangement for it because, at the moment, we can’t upgrade the facility. We’ve had airlines who had told us they wouldn’t set up here because, as they’ve described it themselves, it’s ‘Third World’. We need an airport that people can fly from and fly to. We’ve got a shocking lease arrangement with the Department of Defence and with the Federal Government before that. We’ve got a local member who has resisted at every chance for a better deal to make the airport thrive.

There’s an opportunity for a business part out there, but we can’t since the lease has only got a few years on it. If anyone invests facilities out there, when the lease is done, they’re going to have to take it away. Who’s going to invest in that?

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