Greening the city, more cycleways, fewer carbon emissions, sound economics and progressive policies are the hallmarks of Clover Moore’s pitch to voters ahead of September’s council elections, writes John Moyle, who interviewed the stalwart Lord Mayor for the Sydney Sentinel.
On Saturday, 4 September, residents of local councils across NSW go to the polls to elect their representatives for the next four years.
For the City of Sydney Council, which covers 25 km2 and has a population of approximately 246,000, this means electing ten representatives across the local government area, with the Lord Mayor being elected by popular vote.
Holding the office of Lord Mayor since 2004 (at 17 years, longer than anyone) has been Clover Moore, one of the most resilient political figures at any level of Australian politics.
At the 2016 election, Moore increased her majority by seven per cent, ending up with 57.83 per cent of the vote.
As the leader of the Clover Moore Independent Team, Moore this year is fielding a team of ten, including herself, in what some have referred to as the Melbourne Cup of local council elections due to the withdrawal of high profile candidate Kerryn Phelps, a one-time Deputy Lord Mayor under Moore and considered by the media to be her major rival for 2021.
Along with Phelps, the two currently serving Liberals – Christine Forster and Craig Chung – have indicated they won’t be standing and the slow grind of Liberal Party pre-selection means clear Liberal contenders are yet to emerge.
At time of writing, Moore’s highest profile challengers are Labor councillor Linda Scott and Small Business Party founder Angela Vithoulkas – both veteran City of Sydney councillors since 2012 – as well as Yvonne Weldon, a political novice who, nevertheless, has secured the endorsement of Phelps and who has already made history as the first Aboriginal Australian to run for Sydney Lord Mayor.
Asked if she held concerns about the relative absence of effective opposition (Vithoulkas has already opined it is “not good for democracy”), Moore told the Sentinel, ”I always say that it is a democracy and people can choose to run or not, and it is really up to them and it is up to the community to elect who they think can do the best job.”
Since 1842, this slice of Sydney has been considered the jewel of local politics and has been fought over with considerable vigour and, at times, extreme political sculduggery.
In 1981, at the beginning of her political career as an alderman for the old South Sydney Council, Moore was dumped by the state government when they amalgamated South Sydney with the City of Sydney.
In 1988, Moore entered NSW state politics as an independent and by 1991 she had increased her majority by 16 per cent, and with the visible support from the LGBT community, held her seat in the next two elections.
Then the dark arts of NSW politics struck with the ‘Get Clover’ bill.
“It was to make me choose between being a state member or being Lord Mayor,” Moore said.
This resulted in Moore resigning from state parliament but not before ensuring Alex Greenwich would be elected in her place.
“Then the Shooters and Fishers Party got the Baird Government to support their bill to give two votes to businesses compared to one for residents,” Moore said.
“The thinking was that business was not going to vote for someone who was seen as a resident activist and they would vote for the Liberal Party – but people could see that we were running the city responsibly.”
Cut to now and the forthcoming election that was postponed last year due to Covid-19, and the pandemic still looms large over the city and Moore’s 2021 policies.
“We will continue the work that we have been doing to help the city recover from Covid-19 and that means the business community, the creative community and our residents,” Moore said.
“We want to support our cultural life, and in particular our performance industries, which were recovering from the lockouts when we got the lockdown.”
Along with Covid recovery, Moore is adamant that she will be continuing the work already started on greening the city, dealing with climate change and committing to even more cycleways.
“We have made enormous strides in addressing climate change and have made enormous strides in greening the city but we want to do more and get a greater canopy into the city and complete the cycle network,” Moore said.
In a 2018 article for Impakter.com, Moore wrote that the City of Sydney had reduced emissions from its own operations by 25 per cent since 2006, and from the Sydney LGA at large by 20 per cent, despite the local economy growing by 37 per cent over the same period.
The City is aiming for a 70 per cent reduction on 2006 levels in greenhouse emissions from its own operations and the LGA by 2030.
Moore also sees that there is much to be done to make Sydney a fairer city, particularly when to comes to affordable and social housing, access to the harbour foreshore and green spaces.
“We have just been briefed on the proposal for Pyrmont and I am very concerned about the Blackwattle Bay proposal, which could end up like Barangaroo in creating a huge wall of buildings,” Moore said.
“The City will do everything it can to try and reduce and address what has been proposed there.
“The harbour belongs to all of us and it should not be the prerequisite site for government to make money out of or for very rich people to live there.”
The current plans by the state government to redevelop the housing estate at Waterloo into new private/social/affordable housing complexes represent another development flashpoint.
“The problem with more affordable housing on the Waterloo site is one of ideology because the policy of the Coalition is based on Communities Plus, which says on housing sites there should be a 70 per cent private and 30 per cent social and affordable mix, which is completely the wrong way around,” Moore said.
Waterloo Estate currently houses around 4,000 people, mainly in social housing, and it is planned that they will be rehoused onto the new estate after it is rebuilt in staggered stages.
Besides the debate over the new social mix for the estate, no-one has yet come up with a plan on where to house residents during the demolition and rebuilding phases.
The City of Sydney is also intricately involved in the planning for the Green Square precinct, four kilometres south of the CBD, which will eventually have 20,000 new homes and 40,000 new residents.
Moore is at pains to point out that much of what the City of Sydney does in planning and building can only be done in conjunction with the state government and that these days her relationship with Macquarie Street has much improved.
“Over my current term, I have worked very successfully with Transport Minister Andrew Constance, former Families Minister Gareth Ward and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet,” Moore said.
That Moore and her team can even contemplate many of her stated policies is only possible due to the strong financial position the City fo Sydney has been in over the past 17 years.
With its current account of $590m in assets against expenditure of $500m in 2020, it had an operating surplus of $90m.
“When I came in in 2004, knowing in the past that the City had gone bankrupt, I said one of our policies would be to have a strong financial position and we have been responsible in how we run our budgets and that has enabled us to spend $1.3 billion on social infrastructure, and we have the money in the bank to continue that for the next 10 years,” Moore said.
That, and the fact that the City of Sydney has been one of the few councils in NSW not to have attracted a whiff of corruption, puts it in a strong position for the future.
Speaking of which, Moore is now 75-years-old – a fact that inevitably gives rise to speculation about her own future. But she would not be drawn on her succession plans, telling the Sentinel: “I am going to the election with a team so when the time comes to hand the baton on, I can do that – just as I did with Alex Greenwich for the seat of Sydney when I was forced out of the state parliament.”
John Moyle is the associate editor and special writer for the Sydney Sentinel.
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