Can council be a voice for change?

From top left to right: Phoebe Corke, Lynn Maclaren, John Strachan and Chris Jenkins.

In recent months Perth’s only daily newspaper The West Australian has ramped up its assault on progressive local governments. It has been a regular drumbeat: councils should stop “playing politics” and focus on the “three Rs” of roads, rates and rubbish.

It started as a frantic attempt to overturn Fremantle council’s decision to drop its Australia Day fireworks as a gesture of respect towards Aboriginal people, then turned to condemnation of councils that campaigned against the Roe 8 freeway. Most recently, the newspaper has insisted local governments should not make climate emergency declarations or even set emission reduction targets.

Green Left interviewed four progressive candidates in the October 19 council elections: for City of Cockburn, Phoebe Corke (West Ward), and in City of Fremantle, Chris Jenkins (Beaconsfield Ward), Lynn Maclaren (Hilton Ward) and John Strachan (South Ward).

What is your view on the role of local council?

Phoebe Corke: There has been a spate of articles in the media criticising councils: There’s too much red tape; they’re telling people what they can and can’t eat, when they can and can’t celebrate — the list goes on. It seems fairly apparent that this relentless criticism is all part of a bigger picture.

Yes, councils need to look after the three Rs, but they are only one part of what councils are there for. Otherwise why have a council in the first place? Why go to the expense and bother of elections if it is only a services administrator?

I see council as the mouthpiece between ratepayers and the state government; as advocates and influencers; as a managing body that looks after the wellbeing of residents and protects their interests.

Chris Jenkins: As the closest level of government to people's everyday lives, local council is important to ensure that essential utilities that everyone needs are well run and maintained.

Councils must also be proactive in promoting social engagement and interaction, through their own projects and events and by supporting initiatives of local people and organisations.

Where policy matters affect local residents but fall outside of the jurisdiction of local council, it is still important that councils take these up, in an advocacy role, with the relevant authorities at the state and federal level. Through such advocacy, local government can actively effect nationwide consciousness and have a meaningful impact well beyond the local area.

Lynn Maclaren: I'm looking forward to working as a local councillor because this is the level of government closest to people and, theoretically, it should be the most responsive.

I've found councils lead change in many instances where state and federal government have failed. The fightback against GMOs is a prime and timely example.

Today, Bayer is scrambling to meet the massive payouts expected in the wake of legal losses for the carcinogenic impacts of RoundUp. Formidable campaigns at federal and state levels failed to get RoundUp off the shelves, but many local councils stopped using it and went further by declaring GMO-free zones.

Local government decisions impact how we live; beyond roads, rates and rubbish, there are libraries, fences, parks and a host of other significant matters which make life richer.

John Strachan: My aspirations are for local government to be true to its name and provide government and services to our local communities.

I believe councils are usually the best tier of government to provide services such as community legal centres, domestic violence services, destitution and aged support services. They know their community and have the skills, contacts, financial acumen and agility to provide them.

But such services must be fully funded. This would not represent an additional cost burden on the taxpayer as it would in many instances be cheaper than the status quo. Constitutional recognition for local government would allow the federal government to fund them.

Local government is not, and has not been, a collection of regional road boards for over 50 years; anyone who purports a return to this is deluded. Local governments are sophisticated, efficient organisations that should be respected and supported by other tiers of government and our community.

What are your priorities?

Phoebe Corke: First, to get elected! Then, to learn the job so I know what I can, and can’t, do.

I want the City of Cockburn to recognise the climate emergency; to change planning regulations to stop moon-scaping for infill development; to exercise better control over developers — I never want to see a cut and fill development in an urban area ever again.

New developments have to be environmentally sustainable. The City needs to develop a tree retention policy and look at transport solutions that actually work.

That’s just the start.

Chris Jenkins: My priorities are to promote the participation of residents in discussions on local issues, both through a revitalised precinct group, a community garden for Beaconsfield and by speaking with residents, particularly those in public housing on how best to promote their rights and interests in the midst of the Heart of Beaconsfield redevelopment project.

I want to explore options for City of Fremantle to involve the broader community in its budgeting process to encourage real participation and collective ownership of local decisions.

I am also keen to pursue opportunities for the council to continue to promote and celebrate Walyalup's indigenous history and culture, through the Reconciliation Action Plan and supporting community events.

Lynn Maclaren: I have a demonstrated commitment to genuine consultation, so actively engaging in the ward will be central to my role. Bringing the voices and aspirations of people in Hilton Ward into council is a key priority.

I want to renew local events and ensure we benefit from changes to the port and our contributions to council coffers.

John Strachan: One priority is addressing climate change with abatement, adaptation and advocacy.

For Fremantle Council, I feel the main priority is to continue the work done over previous years. Fremantle eventually gained the confidence of business and government and is realising the fruits of that confidence.

Candidates wishing to overturn that work, or who aspire to be elected solely for change will undermine all that has been achieved, damaging Fremantle significantly.

[For more information about the council elections visit fremantle.wa.gov.au/election and cockburn.wa.gov.au/elections.]

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.