Meet the Locals: Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio
Paul Antonio has been Toowoomba’s Regional Council Mayor since 2012, bringing more than 30 years of local government experience to the role.
He has led the region through periods of intense growth and development, as well as crisis and change due to floods, bushfires and now COVID-19. We sat down with Paul to chat about his experience as Mayor and what’s next for Toowoomba.
How and why did you come to be involved in local politics?
I wanted to do something for my home community of Millmerran. I served for 26 years on the Millmerran Council, 12 years on the Toowoomba Regional Council, and have now been elected to serve for another four years.
Tell us a bit about your family and background?
My family has been in the Millmerran area since the very early 1900s. While I do have a home in Toowoomba, I come from a very strong rural background and my real home is about 102kms from the CBD on my farming property 20-kilometres west of Millmerran.
I graduated from UQ Gatton with a Diploma in Agriculture before returning to the family farming properties. Today, my son and I have five properties covering 8,000 acres. In normal seasons we run about 1,200 Angus cattle, concentrating on breeding and fattening. We have about 3,000 acres that either are, or have been, farmed, as well as extensive areas of pasture, including Leucena, where we run our cattle.
I am widowed and have three adult children and nine grandchildren spread across southern Queensland.
What are the biggest challenges in your role as Mayor?
The lack of support from Federal and State Governments in terms of funding for major projects that would make a significant difference to our community. Also, the failure of the Federal government to recognise local government in the constitution, given that we are the community builders who know what’s needed in our community.
And what do you find the most rewarding?
Working cooperatively within the Council of Mayors in South East Queensland, where we are able to propose major projects, such as the fast rail to Toowoomba. Similarly, I established and chaired the Council of Mayors for Darling Downs and South West Queensland to advocate for ten shires and regions which cover one quarter of Queensland’s land area.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
Toowoomba is a beautiful city. I love to spend my spare time walking in the various parks around Toowoomba or at my country home. Also, because of the breadth of its economy, Toowoomba is a particularly strong community. There is constant growth, yet the livability and the strength of our economy is second to none.
You’ve led your community through some challenging times, with floods and bushfires, and now the COVID-19 Pandemic. What have been the biggest challenges and how has the community coped?
The 2011 floods were a massive challenge, particularly the recovery, which amounted to a cost of over $200 million. The fires were challenging but we also learnt that we must be prepared for the coming fire season at the end of 2020, so we are preparing now.
The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced is undoubtedly the COVID-19 pandemic and I applaud the discipline of the local community, together with the service providers, particularly the medical profession and the police, for their work in making sure that we keep this pandemic under control locally.
Toowoomba has seen some terrific growth, including its huge infrastructure development, in recent years — what are your proudest achievements?
The Toowoomba Bypass, which was advocated for longer than 50 years by community leaders across the area. The Wagner built airport [the Brisbane-West Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba] is amazing, given that it’s the first internationally capable airport built in Australia since Tullamarine in the 1960s. Also, the potential for a new rail network, including the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, which will include a link from Brisbane to the Toowoomba region.
Council’s plan to develop the CBD in Toowoomba has seen $800 million invested in our CBD in the last 10 years with enormous potential for the next decade as our CBD matures, with city living, more office blocks, and more hotels as the tourism sector grows.
Where do you hope to take Toowoomba in the future?
I hope that we continue to see investment in our CBD, and that we can build resilience in some of the smaller towns through generating tourist activity. Each small community in the region has something special which, if promoted appropriately, could attract tourists. I also hope to secure a water future for Toowoomba that will guide it for the next 50 years, and that the Council can continue to guide Toowoomba in an environmentally and community-friendly way.
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