The incoming Sunshine Coast Council chief executive officer aims to foster a safe and respectful workforce culture, following the sudden resignation of her predecessor in February.

Emma Thomas was selected out of a field of 126 applicants to lead the council for the next five years on a $485,000 a year contract signed on Thursday.

The council’s third CEO and first female in the role replaces Michael Whittaker, who resigned in February due to ill health.

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Her tenure begins at the council following the recent completion of an investigation into allegations of bullying within the organisation.

Ms Thomas declined to comment on the investigation, but her message to council staff is one of support.

“Once I do start I’ll be thoroughly briefed on a range of matters, including any investigations or anything that has been ongoing … up until then I don’t have enough insight to make any comment,” she said.

“My message to staff is that I’m very supportive of a values-based approach to leadership.

“We spend so much of our lives at work (so it) should be an uplifting and enjoyable experience.

Sunshine Coast Council former CEO Michael Whittaker.

Sunshine Coast Council former CEO Michael Whittaker.

“It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard sometimes but it should be a place that you feel safe.”

Ms Thomas is a partner in PwC’s infrastructure and urban renewal team and the former director-general of Transport Canberra and City Centres, where she helped deliver Canberra’s light rail.

She will move to the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane later this year with her husband and their two dogs.

Among her first priorities was to meet with the Kabi Kabi and Jinibara people, to understand if the council needs to do more in its recognition of the traditional owners.

Ms Thomas said she was also keen to see progress on the new Sunshine Coast Council City Hall at the Maroochydore City Centre.

She said the council CEO was her “dream job” and her interest in the council’s work was sparked several years ago.

During her time working with the Australian Capital Territory government she brought a team to the Sunshine Coast to meet with the council to discuss its projects.

“I really liked what the council was doing in terms of its long-term strategic planning,” she said.

“In particular with jobs of the future and their focus on sustainability and the courage of the council to build a new CBD and to think in very big picture ways about how people move within different places throughout the region.”

Ms Thomas grew up in Perth but moved to Queensland in 1999 when she worked for Boeing.

Sunshine Coast Council's new CEO Emma Thomas.

Sunshine Coast Council’s new CEO Emma Thomas.


She has also worked for the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.

“I fell in love in Queensland,” she said.

“I’d moved away for various jobs, with my husband who was in the air force, but always had this great yearning to come back.”

Ms Thomas is a keen cyclist personally and professionally has been involved in road and rail projects in the past.

While she was not involved in PwC’s Interim Findings Report on the Sunshine Coast Mass Transit Plan, she was keen to address congestion issues.

“How we move around is really important,” Ms Thomas said.

“If you do have good transport connectivity it has an important impact on the economic energy of a place.

“It helps pick up business and creates economic development.

“That’s what I’d be looking for as we start to explore the best options – that we get a good balance of economic energy, liveability and great urban design and in the midst of that we pick the right transport solution.

“We need to be open-minded about what we’re trying to achieve and pick something that will give us the best quality and performance.”


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