After a year of Covid restrictions and lockdowns, Inner West Greens candidates are hopeful that a platform of expanding public spaces and establishing a greener council will break what they describe as a Labor-Liberal alliance. Eliza Spencer reports.
The Greens have announced their candidates for the Inner West Council (IWC) in September’s NSW local government elections, after last year’s elections were postponed due to Covid-19. As incumbent Councillors Colin Hesse, Rochelle Porteous, Louise Steer and Tom Kiat prepare to hand over the reins to fresh candidates, Councillor Marghanita da Cruz is seeking re-election.
The Inner West Council, which covers the area to Tempe in the south, Balmain in the north, and borders Dulwich Hill, Annandale, and Newtown, is one of the largest local government areas in Sydney after forced amalgamation by the NSW Government in 2017. The upcoming election has given rise to new calls for de-amalgamation of the council, spearheaded by the Socialist Alliance movement, but with some support found amongst the Greens.
Candidate for Djarrawunang-Ashfield, Dylan Griffiths, said de-amalgamation was one way to address some “serious questions for the community … how we ensure that we have a genuinely local democracy for such a diverse council area”, adding that “a lot of the pains of IWC can be pointed back to that amalgamation”.
Back to the basics in Ashfield
While the Inner West Greens are “still working on discussions and approach to [de-amalgamation]”, Mr Griffiths believes that this election, voters will be looking for those “bread and butter council services”.
“I think residents just want better upkeep in their community … whether it’s better footpaths, better services around rubbish collection – an approach that something doesn’t need to be broken to get some attention,” he said.
Improving those basic council services is what the candidate for Djarrawunang-Ashfield has based his platform on, drawing on study in Urban Planning at the University of Sydney to activate and expand public spaces.
“Either side of [Ashfield Station] you have areas that could be further pedestrianised … it really needs some activities to help activate those spaces; potentially night markets, or other festivals that could occur. Even at Dulwich Hill shops, it’s an area that shows that our village centres just need a bit more upkeep. Street tiles need to be replaced, for different street art to be preserved, and activating some of those laneways for both business and community use.”
Battling WestConnex in Balmain and Leichhardt
Looking for a prime example of a village centre, you can’t go past Balmain’s high streets. Between artisanal cheese shops, boutique yoga studios and heritage pubs along Darling Street, Greens candidate for Baludarri-Balmain, Kobi Shetty, is combining local knowledge with community development studies to bring residents’ concerns as far as state representatives.
“I’ve got a good working relationship with our state member [for Balmain] Jamie Parker. If we can have a council that can work closely with him, that will help us advocate for our residents,” she said.
Advocating for residents means listening first, according to Ms Shetty, and is key to any successful run for council.
“It’s not about coming in with your own agenda, it’s about the people that are doing the work in the community – the ones who have the knowledge and the ideas, we just have to listen,” she told the Sentinel.
Listening to residents has led to a campaign marked by recovery from – and rage at – WestConnex. The now privatised project is currently in the final stages of building the ‘spaghetti interchange’ at Rozelle, most notably tearing apart the Victoria and Lilyfield Roads.
“Trying to get over from this side of town to the city has been so difficult,” said Ms Shetty. “As a council we need to keep the state government accountable. If they’ve told us that when all this work is done, they’re going to put in cycle lanes, they’re going to put in the Rozelle Parklands, we have to make sure that locals are getting a voice in how that’s all done and that they do what they say they’re going to do.”
Despite assurances from the state government that locals would not be badly affected by unfiltered smokestacks from the WestConnex tunnels, Ms Shetty says residents have a right to be concerned.
“In the Rozelle Parklands [the state government] is saying that there will be playing fields but we’re still looking at smokestacks there that are going to be spewing the fumes out. Nobody’s going to want to play down there, feeling unsafe when there’s toxic stuff coming up,” she said.
No stranger to raising the alarm on WestConnex and its effects on locals in Leichhardt and Haberfield, incumbent Marghanita da Cruz is gearing up for re-election. Continuing her mandate to ensure better footpath access and public transport, improved community centres and a carbon-neutral council are the ‘bread and butter’ values that fellow candidate Dylan Griffiths believes will help move the Greens from the fringes to a strong coalition in the Inner West.
“We’ve had a history of high performing Greens councils,” he said. “The previous Leichhardt and Marrickville councils have a history of Greens mayors, that’s where they’ve been high performing in areas of childcare, housing, and the previous Leichhardt council was carbon-neutral.”
Ms da Cruz’s history of community engagement and activism makes her a key player for breaking what Ms Shetty describes as the “Labor-Liberal alliance” within IWC.
“The way things have been operating doesn’t reflect how people are voting,” said Ms Shetty. “It’s disappointing to see Labor voting as a bloc with the Liberals and other conservative councillors to get certain things through. I don’t see how that reflects what people were voting for … I would love to see the Greens have more of a voice and stop being overruled by this bizarre Labor-Liberal alliance that seems to be controlling council.”
Cleaning up the Cooks in Marrickville
Along with Ms Shetty, Mr Griffiths and Ms da Cruz, Midjuburi-Marrickville candidate Justine Langford hopes to join the IWC on a platform of cleaning up the Cooks River, revitalising live music spaces, and increasing access to affordable housing. The Marrickville local brings her experience as a community representative for the IWC Environment Advisory Committee to her candidacy, along with over three decades of local knowledge.
Speaking out for LGBT+ rights in Stanmore
Damun-Stanmore candidate Liz Atkins will be hoping to take the place of embattled incumbent Louise Steer, who in 2019 was accused of racism by Councillor Victor Macri after she requested he table his birth certificate during a heated council meeting to prove he was born in Camperdown, leading to a formal apology.
Ms Atkins is a lawyer and active campaigner for the LGBTIQA+ community, seeking to strengthen affordable housing policies within Council, increase tree canopies, and provide better access throughout Stanmore for residents living with disabilities.
The NSW local government elections will be held on Saturday, 4 September, 2021.