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There's no stopping Ipswich's 24/7 mayor

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale
Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale

A PUBLICITY hog, too cosy with developers, the best-known mayor in Australia, Queensland's most popular politician, the best thing to happen to Ipswich, a beloved hero.

Which phrase best describes Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale? Click here to vote in the poll or view photo gallery

Paul Pisasale is celebrating 20 years in local government, but it seems he has been part of the Ipswich community fabric forever.

Everyone, it seems, knows Paul Pisasale or likes to think they do and he makes sure he knows everything and everyone knows what he is doing.

At the council election in March, he got almost 88% of the vote for mayor and scores of speaking engagements have spread his name and the message of Ipswich's success up and down the country.

An interview in Paul Pisasale's office is an attack of ideas, an excursion of diversion and a journey into the unknown with frequent, unexpected trips on to side tracks to nowhere.

Developer Stephen Williams says his friend has the attention span of a goldfish, probably because his mind is juggling a million things, but adds he is extremely good at quickly getting to the nub of an idea.

The mayor's staff keep him relatively under control, but bemoan the fact he pressures them to accept engagements on one hand then complains they have locked him into an unreasonable schedule on the other.

He's torn, seemingly without realising it, between his desire to keep everyone happy no matter what and frustration that he has to be all things to all people all the time.

One of his key staff, Paula Burton, is a single mum with two children aged six and four and says it's relaxing for her to go home.

He's famous for his connection to his phone and as he talks to the QT, his BlackBerry periodically crackles reminders of other calls.

"Twenty years, what can I say? It's been a whirlwind," he says as he sits down.

"I just love what I do and I'm so bloody passionate.

"People vote for me because I go to the show-and-tells, the morning teas and I'm out there every day of my life.

"I'm trying to get out of things, but I want to finish the job I started.

"I think the people of Ipswich have put an enormous amount of trust in a vision and we have turned the city around together. The last 20 years has not been Paul Pisasale; it's been Paul Pisasale and friends. It's been Paul Pisasale and the people of Ipswich.

"Pride Pins, the pride in the city has been one of the most exciting things.

"The Born in Ipswich certificates, I've given out thousands of them. But do you know what I've given out more of? I Wish I Was Born in Ipswich certificates."

Asked if he has an exit strategy, he says "they're coming through" and "the young people are ready to take over" - but has no specific answer to when he plans to stop being mayor.

"When I stop enjoying myself," he says.

"At the moment, I'm like a kid in a candy shop. I come to work every day and I've got wonderful staff, wonderful friends, wonderful people like Gambaro's Restaurant raising money for the Mayor's Community Fund.

"A fire happens at the Gold Coast and the mayor is nowhere to be seen. A fire happens like the one at One Mile last week and the community rallies around and helps them.

"Because of my popularity I've had so many approaches to go to state and federal politics. I've had offers and I've thought about the Senate because it's a job for six years and I've done speaking engagements all over the place so everyone knows me, but I can't do it because I made a commitment to the people of Ipswich to become mayor and finish the job."

But being the mayor and indeed staying in politics hasn't always been an easy job, especially with Ipswich's past image problem.

"I've learned that political parties are not everything people think political parties are," he said.

"When I first joined a political party I thought everyone had the same vision. I didn't realise that in that party and on both sides of the fence there are so many people jockeying to destroy other people in the party to get a better position.

"It's really a shame because the values of a political party are good when you have a common vision and everyone works towards that vision, but what happens is that gets lost. You can see that now with Campbell; egos take over.

"One bloke said: 'They don't like you because your profile is getting too high'.

"There was a stage in life where I didn't want to keep going.

"In this city, the mayor (Dave Underwood) was sacked - all for political reasons - and comments were made the city was a basket case.

"In 1994 I'd had enough and the people of Ipswich had spoken, so I went out of office for a year.

"There was a 35% swing against the Labor Party, then there was the amalgamation and I decided to go back.

"I wanted to change the rules; I wanted to go back as an independent where the people came first.

"I'll never forget because with the sacking of the mayor you were bound by party rules and I didn't want to be part of any party.

"The last 16 years as an independent I've shown that independents can play a really important role because I work very closely with whoever the premier and prime minister are."

He accepts the perception that he works too closely with developers - even that he's "on the take" from developers - has plagued him for years.

'He's from Sicily, you know what they're like' is one comment he's heard.

"With some of those people that hurt my family, I wish I'd used that horse's head idea (from The Godfather)," he says with typical candour.

"This year I went back to Sicily for the first time and I understood where my passion comes from.

"But I have to fight that out all the time; my family has had to fight it and we are what people perceive us to be, not what we think we are.

"Changing the perception has been the hardest thing. I have no problem working with the development industry. But any developer that thinks they can put dollars to my campaign and it will change the way I operate, they've got another thing coming.

"You look at the developers in the city - Stockland, Wingate, Springfield - they're not like that; they're not going to go to jail.

"I don't make the decisions; we have planners and in my whole life I have never interfered in a planning decision in council.

"I can tell you, our planners are the most ethical people in the country.

"You've got to understand from my point of view, before I entered politics I spent 30 years in voluntary organisations helping the city - the Ipswich Regional Development Organisation, YUPI, I set up the National Fitness Council, I set up Community Aid with John Haggarty and all those people. So for 30 years I work in the city and then I say I'm going to go into public life and help my city and all of a sudden I'm a crook?

"For every person who has those perceptions, I have 20 people who are really appreciative of the things I do behind the scenes.

"The last election showed that; there will always be people who only care about themselves and always want to spread bad rumours about someone.

"My father always said: 'If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all' and you know something, I've never said anything nasty about anyone'. But I think Ipswich has really come of age over the last 10 years; we've become a more caring community.

"I've been investigated and investigated and investigated. I was on first-name terms with the head of the CMC. I'm not an angel and I could not make a mistake, but I'd be sitting on my backside all day.

"I lost a lot of money becoming mayor. I had my own restaurant and a hotel.

"Everyone thinks just because you're mayor you make a lot of money."

Stephen Williams, the managing director of Wingate Properties, is one of the most influential people in modern Ipswich and his relationship with the mayor and the council is critical.

At the head of his resume, he developed the sites of Riverlink, Citiswitch, Swanbank Enterprise Park and the Ripley Valley.

"I am originally a town planner so I take a long-term view of what I think is good. In the mid-1990s I took a view that south-east Queensland would grow to the west," Mr Williams said.

"That was contrary to the regional plan at the time which was fostering development in the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast.

"The developers were in those areas and Ipswich had high unemployment and pretty well unloved by anyone."

In 1999, he set about getting projects that would be job creators. The first thing he did was buy a site from Queensland Rail because he had a vision he could get a shopping centre complex that would bring back to Ipswich $140 million of escape expenditure going to Brisbane, create 1500 jobs in the area and ultimately stimulate the revival of the CBD.

"Initially the council was not convinced Riverlink would work and in fact would compound the problems of the CBD, but in time Paul and the councillors formed the view that Riverlink, the parklands and some other initiatives would stimulate major growth and Wingate has become part of the Ipswich community," he said.

"Everything that Wingate does is built around the objectives of what council wants, so it's a partnership between a developer and the council."

The mayor concedes he took some convincing, but realised building Riverlink was vital to saving the CBD. The next step was even more momentous.

"I'll never forget the morning I rang (Paul) Tully and said: 'Mate, I want to buy the CBD'," Paul Pisasale said.

"He said: 'Have you been drinking red cordial again?'

"But the city had to back ourselves and that's what we did.

"The other of the biggest things to happen to Ipswich is our relationship with Springfield. I met Maha Sinathamby 20 years ago and we've been friends ever since."

 

 

 

Which phrase best describes Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale:

This poll ended on 13 December 2012.

A publicity hog? - 11%

Too cosy with developers? - 7%

The best-known mayor in Australia? - 6%

Queensland's most popular politician? - 1%

Or the best thing to happen to Ipswich? - 72%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Topics:  editors picks paul pisasale



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