Sydney City Greens councillor Irene Doutney is a fighter. She’s a public housing tenant and knows a thing or two about the dispossessed and disadvantaged. She is part of a rich council that sprawls from Millers’ Point in the north and Annandale in the West to Moore Park in the east to St Peters in the south. It also includes the much poorer neighbourhoods of Woolloomooloo, Redfern, Zetland and Rosebery.
Doutney is the Greens’ Mayoral and lead candidate in the council elections on September 8. Having spent four years on council she knows what she’s in for. “I’m not a ‘super leader’ — that won’t be the type of council I lead,” she said in a veiled reference to incumbent Clover Moore. “I’m interested in a more communalist-type council, where residents have a real say in council business,” she told Green Left Weekly.
Doutney is well known for her commitment to pursuing residents’ concerns about greedy developers, possible coal seam gas drill sites, parking and public transport issues. She attends residents’ meetings and stands on the picket lines. She’s a tireless campaigner for the underdog.
Doutney emphatically rejects the notion — now being peddled by some ALP candidate councillors — that it’s the job of councillors to stick to worrying about parks, roads, parking and gutters. “‘Core business’ can be anything that impacts on residents,” she said.
Doutney is a stalwart campaigner and has attended and spoken at many social justice movement events — including events held by anti-war and refugee rights campaigners.
But Doutney says forming precinct committees in the City of Sydney is her main focus. “It’s because they underpin everything else you want to get done on council,” she said. “It’s where residents have a genuine say in what is going to happen in the place where they live.
“Precinct committees would make a big difference to residents’ involvement and input into council business. The way I see it working is that residents would be given all the information about services and road upgrades and they would be able to discuss the options and come to decisions about what council should do.
“They would have access to the same information as councillors, but councillors would be at arm’s length from this process — although they could attend precinct meetings by invitation.”
Doutney said some councils already had precinct committees. “There are many models to choose from, like in North Sydney, but it would be valuable to analyse all models before deciding on what would work best for the City of Sydney.”
She said the precinct committees “would be advisory bodies, not decision-making bodies. But they would have a good deal of influence on council if they were running well.”
Doutney said the residents’ action groups — of which there are many in the City of Sydney — would remain just as important. She said many of these involve committed individuals who carry out research into issues that councillors mostly do not have the time to do.
Doutney told GLW she is very concerned about the state government’s planning Green Paper, which she described as “a sop to the industry associations. There were heaps of submissions from environment groups, but their views were not taken into account.”
The Green Paper’s so-called enterprise zones are of huge concern, she said. “No resident or community can stop a development in these special zones. No resident or community can comment, or ask for a re-zoning of these special zones. Bascially these zones are designed to give certainty to industry and developers.”