Davis ready to come off the bench, but won't be a ‘Tony Abbott’
Orange’s long-serving former mayor John Davis has kept a relatively low profile since choosing not to run at the last Council elections, but he believes he still has a role to play and plenty to offer the community.
After 30 years in the centre of public life, the past eight months have been highly unusual for Davis, who is not one used to sitting on the sidelines.
“To be honest, I've been a bit lost, because it was 30 years of my life — sometimes it was 24 hours a day, sometimes it was an hour in a day, people walk up to you in the street and they talk to you at a function or whatever,” said Davis.
But the former mayor said taking some time away from it all has been a deliberate choice, as he was adamant he “wouldn't be a Tony Abbott sitting in the back blocks giving advice or whatever.”
Davis began his political career in Blayney, where he served as Councillor and then mayor. In his 13 years on Orange City Council he was mayor for all but one year, where a tied vote saw him lose the mayoral seat Reg Kidd in a draw out of a hat.
Stepping back from Council was a difficult decision, but he said it had come time to put his wife and family first.
“My oldest daughter said to me, do you realise that when you got on the Council in Blayney she was ten and my son was nine and my youngest daughter was eight and they are now 38, 39, 40 years old so that gives you perspective,” said Davis, who adds he might have even retired a few years earlier if it weren’t for the opportunity presented by the NSW Government’s controversial Council amalgamations.
“That kept me in the game. I stayed an extra two years trying to get that amalgamation of Orange, Blayney and Cabonne,” said Davis.
But it was a difficult period, he admits, and one that in the end, further steeled his resolve to step down.
“That two years of trying to get that amalgamation, the pressure was enormous. We were trying to do our job, trying to do stuff and we were getting hostile comments off some people in the community. I thought that was very hard on Councillors and very hard on families,” said Davis.
“I find politics now is a little bit grubby, in general terms, it is not like the old days when you could have a discussion, positive arguments, negative arguments, go have a drink and after the meeting it's fine.”
But for all the talk of why he needed to step back from Council, Davis admits he’d probably be back in a heartbeat given the right circumstances. And he won’t even rule out a return to politics in the future.
“There have been talks about whether I should have a go again and that's never out of the question, I never say never on anything:”
But for now, at least, there might be another kind of role he can play as Davis believes he still has a lot to offer the community.
“There seems to be a disconnect between the community and Council. There are that many different things I've learnt, that I think might be able to help everybody in the community and also help the Councillors, and even the local members and what have you, to be a conduit between them,” said Davis, who is still figuring out just what future role he will play.
We've taken our eye off the ball and the main thing is you don't want to let any opportunity go — that's the way it is.”
“Originally I thought I'd get in touch with the Chamber of Commerce or say one of the service clubs like Rotary… I'd like to get involved in something that whether we get a group of interested people, not in opposition with Council, but for something positive that we can do… something.”
As Mayor, Davis was all about ‘doing something’ and his pro-development stance attracted both critics and admirers.
Orange today is in a strong position, said Davis, but he is adamant it will take work and vision to make sure it stays that way into the future. Mayor or not, there is no doubt Davis will have an opinion on just how that should be done.
“You can't stay stagnant — that's what people have got to realise and that's the only thing I worry about since I’ve not been on Council. You have got to have jobs… people don't realise that as quick as you are getting 10 jobs in a place you can lose ten, or you might get 100 jobs and lose 200, it happens all the time,” he said.
“Orange is well placed; it has just come to a slowdown, a bit of a bump in the road. In the next ten years a major part of our population is going to be young people and this population base is going to put more and more pressure on jobs, that's why it’s all about jobs otherwise they’ll have to move and live somewhere else and heaven forbid.”
“Jobs can come here. We've got the hospitals, we've got the services, all the infrastructures here so we don't have to build any of that stuff, yet we are not encouraging the jobs to come to our community.
“You'd hope that in the next six months there will be a major overhaul in the thinking or what's going to happen, otherwise you are going to have Dubbo, Bathurst, Tamworth and the Goulburns, they are going to give announcements about businesses that would have come here.
“We've taken our eye off the ball and the main thing is you don't want to let any opportunity go — that's the way it is.”
There certainly did appear to be a more entrepreneurial flair at Council when John Davis was Mayor. John’s comment about Orange coming to a slowdown or a bump in the road rings true, or it at least feels that way. His comments on seeking out job creation initiatives should also not be under-estimated. With or without John Davis, our Council needs to adopt a pro-active approach if they want to stay ahead of others.