David Mawer traded Sydney Harbour for the Murray River when he took up his post as Officer for the Protection of the Local Environment (OPLE) in Wodonga earlier this year.
He joins a community some 40,000 strong, who share a love for their footy, rich military history and the mighty river which separates them from twin city Albury in NSW.
We caught up with Dave to discuss his first few months as an OPLE, and his plans to help the City of Wodonga tackle odour, noise and environmental issues.
Q: How are your first few months as an OPLE going?
A: I feel very fortunate to be embedded in a council with such lovely people. I’ve met some extraordinary people so far who have passion, commitment, intelligence and a sense of humour.
Q: What did you do before becoming an OPLE?
A: I’ve worked as a medical scientist in the United Kingdom and also worked for Sydney Water. Working for Sydney Water was a great way to use my environmental chemistry qualifications, and it also moved me away from straight laboratory work.
Q: Tell us about Wodonga and some of its environmental challenges?
A: Odour and noise are the most significant issues. A lot of this is to do with historical planning – we’ve got a pet food manufacturing company, an abattoir and a steel works in close proximity to the CBD. Over the years, they have generated a number of odour complaints so we’re working closely with industry and community to address those issues.
Q: What’s a day like for the OPLE in Wodonga?
Q: How have you approached working with industry to prevent environmental issues?
A: I start the day with a 30-minute check to see what sort of odours are out there. Once I’ve addressed the legacy EPA dust and noise issues, I’ll be working closely with council on their working plans in areas like litter, asbestos, and building site waste and dust issues. I’m also conducting weekly litter and illegal dumping surveys in hot spots around town and feeding that data back into council.
There’s a bit of investigation that needs to happen. The best tactic I’ve found is to make it clear we’re not there just as a regulator, we’re there to work together so we can overcome the problem. That’s how I’m trying to approach it. Talking to people in person has made a real difference and I think we’ll get more voluntary compliance by taking a more collaborative approach.
Q: What have you enjoyed about working in Wodonga?
A: I think Wodonga has a lovely community feel to it, it’s generally a clean town. There’s a lot of people invested socially in the community. They really care and there’s a world of pride in Wodonga, which is very refreshing.
Q: Why do you think the OPLE role is an important addition to Wodonga?
A: We are now able to give very timely responses for people in Wodonga. People make a complaint, the OPLE acts upon it, and information is shared with the customer to let them know the progress or result of that complaint. The personal follow-up means people feel like they’ve been heard and are part of the process.
Q: What do you hope to achieve during the rest of 2018?
A: I’d be proud of more businesses being compliant. I think that will happen as businesses become more educated on how compliance benefits their business reputation, the environment and the community. I’d also be proud of achieving wins that support council’s work plans for addressing litter, asbestos and building site pollution issues. As an OPLE I can add that human face to EPA and the council. I’ve really focused on bringing that willingness to work together to the role and it seems to be going well so far.
Funded by the Victorian Government, the $4.8 million OPLE pilot program has seen 11 new EPA officers assigned to 13 council areas across the state. OPLEs work hand-in-hand with council to swiftly respond to local reports of noise, odour, dust, waste dumping and storage, litter and water pollution. Read more about the work OPLEs are doing in Victoria.