As a Marist priest, Jim's ministry was diverse and included teaching, vocational and youth guidance, media liaison and the management of social policy programs. He also served as assistant parish priest in Queensland, Tasmania, and Victoria. He was sent to the US to continue his education at Loyola University in Chicago, where he graduated with a Master of Arts in organisational psychology in 1985. While in the US, he left the priesthood and began working as a training and development consultant for a large US corporation. Upon his return to Australia in 1986, he joined the recruitment industry and was responsible for establishing the Brisbane offices of national recruitment consultancy firms.
In 1990, Jim made the decision to enter politics because he strongly believed he could make a difference. A newcomer to politics, he ran a strong grassroots campaign as the Labor Party candidate against the high-profile Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane and, to the surprise of many observers, won a narrow victory in March 1991. He was re-elected by resounding margins in 1994, 1997, and 2000 before deciding to step down in May 2003.
The Lord Mayor of Brisbane presides over the largest local government authority in Australia, with an annual budget of $1.6 billion and a workforce of 7,000. The position is directly elected by a constituency of over 600,000 electors, representing 900,000 people, making it unique in Australia's system of government.
As Brisbane's second longest-serving Lord Mayor, Jim's achievements include:
- The development of long term strategic planning for the city, outlined in two major documents Livable Brisbane and Brisbane 2010, which have become blueprints for the city's future.
- Responsible management of the city's financial resources, including a balanced budget and a 20% debt reduction per capita.
- An unprecedented focus on environmental protection, including creating 600 new parklands and reserves, instituting a city-wide system of vegetation protection orders, preserving Brisbane's unique mangrove bio-diversity and putting an end to the 130-year long dredging of the Brisbane River.
- A re-orientation of Brisbane City Council services towards a customer-focussed business model, which has generated recurring annual savings of $100m to Brisbane rate-payers.
- A three-fold increase in long-term infrastructure investment for the city, leading to an infrastruc ture program centred on preserving Brisbane's unique lifestyle and environment while accommodating future growth.
- Helping Brisbane take its place as an international cultural centre by establishing the Powerhouse arts precinct, the Brisbane Festival, the Festival of Ideas, and the Brisbane Writers Festival.
- Positioning the city for international success through strategic linkages with governments, businesses and community organisations in over 40 countries, including establishing the Asia-Pacific Cities conferences at which Brisbane emerged as a recognised leader.
- Providing leadership for eighteen local councils in South-East Queensland to ensure a coordinated approach to urban planning.
- Promoting and practicing an ethos of inclusion whereby city resources and facilities are available for everyone, including the disadvantaged.
- Establishing the taskforce that went on to successfully purchase the Brisbane Airport.