Coffee Club owner launches campaign to be next mayor
MICHAEL McMillan's journey towards a tilt at being mayor of Rockhampton began the day he found himself at Singapore Airport on the mobile phone singing Happy Birthday to his two-year-old daughter.
His work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and subsequent international projects delivered on behalf of Brisbane City Council was demanding too much time away from his young family on the Sunshine Coast.
It was late 2008 and a watershed moment in his life.
He chose family over a blossoming international business career which ultimately led him to move to Rockhampton in 2009 as the owner of the new Coffee Club franchise in Stockland Rockhampton.
Six years later he is fully ingrained in the Rockhampton community through running his successful franchise, and involvement in junior sport and his school community.
"We came to a decision to pursue a better work/life balance and identify a family-friendly environment supportive of raising our children, and we love it here," Mr McMillan told The Morning Bulletin.
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Now he feels a strong civic calling to put his hand up as a mayoral candidate in the March 2016 local government elections.
But why would this 44-year-old make the move from running the number-one-ranked Coffee Club franchise in Australia into the high pressure and demands of local government politics?
He says he is stepping up for the sake of his young children, his staff and the community he lives in.
Every day he watches the economic barometer of shoppers in Stockland and every day he talks to fellow business owners about the stress they are under due to the retail slowdown across the region.
"They come in for lunch, for morning coffee and we are all in the same situation," he said.
"When we came here in 2009 we were powering, riding the wave of the mining boom and it seemed every trolley going past had a plasma TV in it.
"Slowly but surely Rockhampton has felt the impact of the GFC, perhaps later than others because we had the cushion of the mining boom around us.
"But we have seen that dissipate and reality has sunk in real quick."
He feels he has the experience, passion, skills and vision to make a real difference for this community.
"I am running for Mayor because I believe we need new thinking, energy and teamwork," he said.
"I am not a politician, but I listen to my customers, other local business people and members of the broader community every day and there is a clear appetite for change.
"As the father of a young family, business owner and active member of this community I care deeply about our region's future, our prosperity and the quality of life we seek for our children and generations to come.
"I have grave concerns for this economy if we don't do something and we don't do it quickly.
"I am responsible for 18 staff and it's serious. Running any sort of business in this sort of economic climate is a serious consideration.
One of his priorities will be to approach federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce and lobby
him to make the Rockhampton Region a case study for effective regional development.
He said the region already ticked some boxes (with infrastructure in place and the Fitzroy River's potential) and the district could be a test case for a progressive successful regional centre.
"The challenge is to keep ratepayer costs affordable while introducing the necessary stimulus to grow our economy, attract investment, broaden the rate base and improve our lifestyle and municipal services," he said.
"We have huge untapped resources; we live in a fertile food bowl, access to reliable energy and water sources, are the epicentre of the cattle industry and are geographically well positioned to serve domestic and international markets.
"We must be proactive in building upon this strong foundation to realise our region's potential."
One of the main drivers for him is to restore teamwork across the layers of government after observing the war of words between local political and community leaders over issues such as de-amalgamation, cyclone recovery funding and levee banks.
"I'm over it," he said, showing his frustration with the petty politics that have damaged the region's prospects of attracting government funding.
"I have seen what is being played out and it's a disgrace.
"We should be standing shoulder to shoulder not squabbling."
So what's the way forward?
"The answer might not be right here within this region - what we need to do is look out and beyond," he said.
"We need to use support mechanisms across all tiers of government."
Although he has no experience as an elected local government official he can point to extensive experience working in political environments and in public policy process.
"I have assisted Third World governments to undertake reform activity supportive of their economic objectives," he said.
"Although the Rockhampton region does not face the same challenges as these economies, it has much to do in order to secure its long-term future.
"Steps must be taken toward building a strong and most importantly dynamic economy that creates real opportunity and jobs for locals and attracts newcomers to our community."
His parents and generations of his family before them have a long-standing connection to Rockhampton and the surrounding region.
"My mother grew up on a dairy farm at Struck Oil and my father was the son of a Lakes Creek meat worker," he said.
"My parents met and married here prior to moving to Brisbane, following their dream of establishing and running their own business.
"Ironically we have done the reverse, moving to Rockhampton in pursuit of lifestyle and opportunity."