Deputy Mayor and councillor Colleen Furlanetto is taking a leadership role in a local campaign against family violence in the Shire of Strathbogie in North-East Victoria. Colleen’s example shows what you can do as a councillor if you have the passion, ability to work with your community and preparedness to develop your leadership skills.
“I can’t do anything about preventing fires or floods in rural Victoria, but I can do something about domestic violence,” Colleen says.
Colleen gave up a 20 year allied health & nursing career when health challenges started to make that difficult. She then thought about what could she do to contribute to the community, and eventually decided, with her amazing family support, to run for council. She was elected as a councillor in 2008.
“I’m working for long-term generational change, which I believe will happen in rural communities before it happens in the city. Communities in the country have to show more respect for each other, they know they are going to be personally accountable to other members of their community. Of course, that doesn’t mean all in the community see things that way; some live in fear of speaking up,” says Colleen.
As part of advocating and raising awareness of the White Ribbon Campaign, this was one of the main reasons why the Strathbogie Shire set out to identify gaps in its health services.
Colleen is proud of the fact that for the first time, plans to prevent violence against women have been included in the Municipal Public Health Plan.
“The biggest thing is that if people have respect for themselves, they can then care for the community. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and help protect and support each other.”
In recognition of the leadership of Strathbogie Shire in addressing family violence, the Shire was invited by VicHealth to pilot a state-wide anti-violence against women campaign. Colleen’s leadership has been also expressed though her own personal commitment as well as through her council role. For example, she contributed some of her own funds to help print a booklet explaining the importance of respect within families and the wider community. Her high profile on the issue has led people to tell her about their own personal experiences and she has been able to encourage them to seek qualified help as needed. “There is nothing nicer than to go to an event and overhear people talking about the positive impact of the White Ribbon campaign.”
Leadership has meant she can reach out and it can produce some satisfying results.
As a councillor Colleen can advocate to improve housing, public health access for the diverse needs of the community, including aged care services in the district. However, she says she becomes ‘cranky’ when people sit back, do nothing and complain “someone should”. Her message to the small number in the community who complain is “I can’t do it all, I will support you but you will have to stop expecting others to do things and do something yourself.” In this, and other ways, she is encouraging others to practice personal leadership in their own lives.
Colleen knows about personal hardship too. She lives with Multiple Sclerosis and its degenerative challenges and is now in a wheelchair, “My body doesn’t work as well as I might like but could be worse. Everything happens for a reason. I have had so many wonderful opportunities that I would have missed out on if I hadn’t becoming involved on council.”