At just the right moment of a Council of Australian Governments meeting, David O’Loughlin’s mind will turn to Port Pirie and Whyalla.
Despite meeting with premiers and state government representatives, he still can spare a second or two for the lessons he learned in those two cities.
The former building industry operator and now president of the Australian Local Government Association puts great store on “relationships”.
“Growing up in Port Pirie and working in Whyalla taught me that relationships matter in government, local government, politics and business,” he said.
“That is where you should invest most of your time … developing partnership with liked-minded bodies.
“You need credibility in the bank because not everything goes according to plan … when things don’t go well, you need your friends, you need businesses and other parties in government to stand up.
“You need to build credibility and respect … there will be a time when you want help and you want to be worthy of helping.
“Relationships are vital in life. They matter and so does ‘listening’. That is probably the thing I learned in local government – helping people in the community to get through.”
Mr O’Loughlin, 51, is the Mayor of Prospect in Adelaide and a former South Australian Local Government Association president.
He is a member of the O’Loughlin family that was involved in the building industry in Port Pirie.
During a break from university, he worked as a laborer for the company on the Nazareth aged care centre – now St Joseph’s – in Port Pirie.
He later worked for the company then moved to Whyalla where his own firm had contracts with the steelworks and Iron Duke.
“I was working 12 hours a day for five or six days a week. I loved it,” he said.
He led the fit-out division with Built Environs which handled the redevelopment of the State Library and the $65-million Elizabeth shopping centre expansion.
He became a City of Prospect councillor in 2003, then Mayor in 2006, then president of the SA Local Government Association liaising with Premier Jay Weatherill, then president of the Australian Local Government Association late last year.
Mr O’Loughlin said the national body was “fiercely protective” of $2 billion in Financial Assistance Grants from the federal government to councils.
Through his role as associaiton president, he is thought to be the first Port Pirie identity to serve on COAG.
“With the Prime Minister, Premiers and Territory First Ministers, we discuss matters of national importance,” he said.
“It is a huge responsibility and a tremendous honour to be entrusted with this role on behalf of every town, city and community across the country.”
Mr O’Loughlin has looked out for less well-off residents during his career.
With Housing SA, he was responsible for every property that the trust bought or sold and everything it built right throughout SA, including the remote-area Aboriginal Housing Program.
With a team of 125, he achieved projects including the $404 million social housing component of the National Economic Stimulus Plan.
It provided almost 1500 new homes around the state including many in Port Pirie.
Of his time with the SA Local Government Association, he says it made sense that as leader of that body he regularly met Mr Weatherill who was covering the whole state.
“It still works really well,” he said of the arrangement.
This role gave him an introduction to the Australian Local Government Association, representing 537 councils around the nation, and he eventually became its president.
“This year the federal Financial Assistance Grants were worth $2 billion,” he said.
“We are fiercely protective of that.
“I also helped to win the campaign to recover additional road funding for SA – another $20 million yearly for two years.
“Port Pirie has probably received an extra $100,000 and Whyalla more than $100,000.”
It seems Mr O’Loughlin is repaying some of the early faith shown in him by the two Upper Spencer Gulf cities.