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Adjournment Speech: Local Council Elections

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Sep 2017

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

On another matter closer to home, on the Saturday just passed, local government elections were held in New South Wales. These local government elections certainly bring out a lot of colour in many areas and some really considered issues. In recent years there has been a real push by the Liberal government in New South Wales to bring about forced amalgamations. There have been a number of corruption issues. We still have the very serious problem that real estate agents, developers and property speculators can stand for local government. But, barring all those problems, there was a huge showing of people deeply committed to their local community, running on some excellent platforms and out there working really hard to win the votes of the local people so they could represent them on council.

I do very warmly congratulate the Greens election teams that worked hard in 45 councils across New South Wales. This wasn't all the council areas, because some of them had been done in previous years, but the results are very pleasing for the work of the Greens Party. Generally, we saw that the Liberal Party did not do well, which I think is indicative both of how they operate at a local council level and also of this issue of forced amalgamations and how out of touch the Berejiklian government is.

On my own home turf around Waverley, we had the pleasing and very important result that the Liberals were voted out. Sally Betts, who has been the mayor, seemed to have a bit of a magical touch. Her name was always pulled out of a hat, so she became the mayor, even though it was a fairly evenly balanced council. One of the very damaging platforms that they developed was to privatise and further commercialise Bondi Pavilion. Forty years ago, in 1987, we won this against a previous Liberal council under very similar circumstances. It was a Liberal controlled council then under John and Carolyn Markham. They came forward with a similar plan with lots of restaurants—'We'll turn Bondi Pavilion into something that the people want'—not acknowledging how many restaurants are in that area and that Bondi Pavilion is effectively the only town hall, the only community space, we have in the Waverley municipal area that does the most amazing work in terms of music workshops and providing space for dance, physical activities, a whole lot of theatre work and pottery. The place buzzes with activity. Also, there are the tourists and beach-goers who come and go. The council wanted to abuse this centre and be able to lease it out or sell it off to their mates.

Labor and the Greens, who now have a majority on the council, ran on a very clear platform: this is a community centre. Today, it was pleasing that this chamber passed a most important motion calling on the government to fast-track legislation to put in place protection for future generations. In '87 the Liberals came along and tried to privatise it. We saw it again in 2016-17, and again it was an ill-thought out plan. I hope no generation has to fight that again. Bondi is a world-famous beach. It is a heritage building that people love and it serves the local community as well as international visitors. It needs to be set aside as a public building for the future. It is certainly time that was achieved.

It was a really big achievement, with a 7.9 per cent swing to the Greens in Waverley. There was a 9.7 per cent swing in Woollahra and a six per cent swing in Hornsby. The issues that we ran on are issues that really resonate with so many people. I had the opportunity to join many of our teams on the election trail, doorknocking, working on pre-polling and working on election day. The talent and the creativity never ceases to amaze me. We're not a party that takes developer donations and we don't take corporate donations. We're fortunate that we have people with dedication and commitment to their local community. That is how it should be for all parties.

The issues we ran on included planning for people, not profits, and putting the community ahead of the developers. That involved some fantastic programs around preserving the precious trees in our community—something that was once taken for granted, but, if you live in Sydney at the moment, you'll see trees being knocked down left, right and centre. It's now an issue that needs clear attention and much stronger protection. The issue of affordable housing was taken up by many of our teams. There is a great deal that local councils can do around ensuring that everybody has a home. We're certainly looking at the issue of empty homes and an empty-home levy for those currently held by investors for capital gains. This is where councils can really make a difference in their own community. Sadly, in Sydney we're seeing the number of people who are homeless increasing. More and more, these people are spreading into different areas as their chances of finding a home become harder and harder.

An issue that all our candidates took up—and certainly those who have been elected are very passionate about this—is action on climate change and really looking at a renewable energy revolution. Many of the councils are looking to join together to own solar farms in rural and regional New South Wales. It was in rural New South Wales where we picked up a lot of support. We picked up seats in Wollongong and Newcastle and a number of regional areas in the Central West, in Orange and in Armidale. We already have representatives in Albury and a number of other areas as well.

Another issue that was taken up very strongly by our local people is returning democracy to local government. I was concerned to hear about a number of councils that had removed their precinct committees, particularly once they were amalgamated. It seems that, when councils get to a certain size, they forget that they're there to serve local people and they seem to be more willing—too often—to remove local advisory committees and precinct committees. That's certainly something that I know our newly elected Greens are very keen to work on.

I think that local government elections are a lesson for people like us. We are fairly isolated in this place. But, at a local level, people are very close to what matters to people. Yes, there are always those essential issues about parks, roads and garbage. What also came out in this election—a big one for us and for many of the other candidates as well—were issues that resonate around the nation. This time it was marriage equality. People had their platform for the local election and their plans for local council, but they were also urging people to make sure they voted for marriage equality. All this talk about local councils should not do anything outside their own area is so out of touch. I'm looking forward to working with our new councillors. I congratulate them very warmly and, in fact, congratulate everybody who was elected. Everybody works pretty hard to get onto local council.

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