Thinking big, acting local
For second term councillor and Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, the ability to deliver on big ambitions at a community level is what inspires him most about working in local government.
As a father of three and husband to wife Felicity, Cr Reece is first and foremost a family man. But second to that, he is a self-described “workaholic”. And with the number of hats he wears in the community, it’s easy to see why.
When it comes to the City of Melbourne, Cr Reece is considered an influential figure within the current council team not only as Deputy Lord Mayor, but as chair of the “extremely busy” planning portfolio.
He is also the deputy lead of the finance, governance and risk portfolios, and represents the council on the Committee for Melbourne, Melbourne Action Plan Implementation (IMAP) Committee, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute Advisory Board and the Melbourne Art Trust.
But away from the council, it doesn’t stop there …
In continuing his “Melbourne” theme, Cr Reece is an executive in Chancellery at the University of Melbourne, holds an academic position of principal fellow and teaches at the Melbourne School of Government as his day job.
Having also previously served as a director of the social enterprise street magazine The Big Issue for more than a decade, he continues his passion for giving back today as the current chairman of global men’s health charity Movember – a not-for-profit founded by his friends here in Melbourne.
With his sense of duty to the community manifesting in so many ways, he said he had been raised from a young age to appreciate the importance of social justice – something which he carries into every aspect of his role as a councillor.
“I grew up in quite a religious family, so I would characterise my dad as a big influence on me,” Cr Reece said.
“He was very much part of a Catholic social justice tradition. He still works as a volunteer for St Vincent De Paul to this day and those values of community service were instilled in me from a really young age.”
I think I was very much brought up to see that as part of who you are, you serve your family, you serve your community. So, I hope when I look back across my working life, people will say he was a person who dedicated his life to the service of the community. I really hope that’s seen as something that defines me.
Cr Reece said his favourite part about serving as a councillor at the City of Melbourne, often considered as somewhat of a quasi-state government, was that “we get to think big, but act local”.
It’s a mindset that perhaps stems not only from his many community service roles, but from a more decorated history in politics than what many readers may know about …
While having never been elected to political office prior to becoming a councillor, he’s spent his fair share of time working in them as a highly regarded figure with the Australian Labor Party (ALP).
Not only has he previously served as state secretary and campaign director of the ALP’s Victorian Branch, but he was also a senior advisor to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and former Victorian Premiers Steve Bracks and John Brumby.
Before entering the political domain, he worked as a lawyer and a journalist, and he continues to keep his hand in the media with regular appearances on Sky News and contributions to The Age.
That ability and desire to always “think big” has had a significant effect on his approach as a councillor, and he said he was “fired up” to bring Melbourne back better than ever from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The joy I get from serving at a local government is just as much as those other tiers of government, the work is different but it’s just as satisfying and rewarding,” he said.
“Melbourne is a great city. The world’s best city because we’ve always had big ambitions for ourselves but those ambitions get delivered through actions that are taken at a local level and so I love the fact that you can bring those things together.”
“Melbourne should see itself as a global hotspot, a global leader for architecture, design and sustainability. I’m really fired up. I’ve never been more fired up in my life. It’s my mission to help Melbourne bounce back better.”
But while he’s so far enjoyed a successful career in public service, it didn’t necessarily start off that way …
In a stunning admission to Docklands News, he said that while he’d held many jobs over the course of his career, there had been few as important than his very first – dressing up as a fibreglass Smartie kid in the Moomba Parade in the ‘80s!
Working for the former chocolate company Rowntree-Hoadley, he said his promising career as a Smartie parading down Swanston St was tragically cut short after his “poo brown” colour was voted out in the “Great Smartie Elections” in favour of a new blue smartie.
“It was my first taste of election defeat,” he said.
Nevertheless, that same thrift for events and passion for Melbourne will no doubt serve him well as the city recovers from COVID, and when it came to Docklands, he said he would love for the City of Melbourne to have greater control over the precinct.
“It was a mistake made by the Victorian Government not having the City of Melbourne have oversight of Docklands from the very start and I think some of the mistakes made in the early development of Docklands was because you didn’t have local government involvement,” he said.
“The City of Melbourne does urban renewal and planning really well. That is our core business. We build cities for people. We are fantastic at placemaking and activation.”
“If we had been involved from the very start, I think a lot of those early mistakes could have been avoided. Having said that, we’re very involved now and we’re very committed to making Docklands live up to its full potential as Melbourne’s best waterside suburb and I think there’s lots to look forward to.” •