Phil Bradley, the first Greens councillor elected to Parramatta Council, knows the next period will be a testing time.
Over the next three years he plans to focus on supporting communities against overdevelopment; the preservation of green spaces and historical sites; housing and rental affordability; and environmental sustainability. But as the new council is made up of six Liberal, five Labor, two Our Local Community (OLC), one Independent and only one Green, nothing is guaranteed.
Bradley is a long-term union activist. He has been a civil engineer, a TAFE teacher and was assistant general secretary of the NSW Teachers Federation. He has been active in the campaigns for rights at work, against attacks on workers’ occupational health, safety and injury compensation and the cuts to TAFE.
Bradley’s election as councillor was challenged by Dr Alan Sexton from the Local Independent Party. When the NSW Electoral Commission decided against a recount, Sexton spent $11,000 of his own money only to find Bradley’s vote rose slightly. Bradley received 13.3% of the primary vote.
At the council meeting on September 25, the Liberals supported an OLC mayor. The Greens supported the Labor candidate for mayor and the other OLC councillor was elected unopposed as deputy.
The OLC is a mix of former Liberals, former Labor and others. Their policies — “strong community focus”, “genuine consultation”, “no party politics” and “no inappropriate residential development” — could mean anything.
Bradley’s description of OLC’s origins sounds exactly like big party politics. OLC was formed by Paul Garrard, a former Labor mayor of Parramatta. His daughter Michelle Garrard is the deputy mayor. The new mayor is Andrew Wilson, who was formerly a Liberal.
“The Urban Taskforce suggestion that the election of so-called 'anti-development' councillors would hinder housing supply was disappointing,” Bradley told Green Left Weekly.
“It’s very unfair to blame communities for expressing valid concerns at the ballot box about excessive development not being matched with the necessary social infrastructure in Parramatta.”
Urban Taskforce is the corporate entity promoting property development. It said the “swing towards ‘anti-development’ councillors” in the council elections “is bad news for any increase in housing supply”. It welcomed the NSW government’s Independent Planning Panels, which would “give some separation from anti-development councillors” but warned that “anti-development councillors” would still be having input.
“I’m not anti-development”, Bradley said, “but I stand by our call to support communities ahead of developers. Apartment blocks of up to 69 storeys high around Parramatta is not sustainable development.”
Getting the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct listed as national heritage and then world heritage is another passion for Bradley. “It is very important that the site be preserved, given its historical significance, and that there is no overdevelopment nearby.”
The Greens campaigned on an “empty homes levy” meaning that landlords would be charged extra for properties that remain vacant. “There are about 5450 unoccupied homes in the Parramatta area, according to the Census. That’s 7% of all properties in the area.
“Across NSW there are 280,000 empty homes, largely because many landlords are using them as a tax write off, because they can. This is unsustainable.”
Asked whether he would start a discussion on council about Australia Day on January 26, Bradley said he would consult with local First Nations people in Western Sydney. Having worked for many years with the local Reconciliation group, he believes they would support a change to reflect a real inclusivity.
“There is not a high percentage of Aboriginal people in the area but many do come to Parramatta for work and recreation. I’d like to reinstate the Council's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee,” he said.
Making the council more active on climate change mitigation and taking a stand on tollways and urban disruption caused by the multi-billion dollar WestConnex tollway are also priorities for Bradley.
Bradley advised that the Parramatta Greens are setting up a local government reference group, in line with the party’s commitment to grassroots democracy. While it would not have the power to direct his vote, Bradley said it would act as an advisory body for Greens' initiatives on council.