Linda Scott: ‘My sister spurred me into politics’

City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott is running for Lord Mayor in December's local government elections. Photo: supplied.

“I’m lucky to have a sister born with a disability … she’s perfect as she is,” City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott says of her sibling, Kylie, who opened her eyes to the importance of opportunities for all. She speaks to editor-at-large Gary Nunn.

Speaking to me from lockdown, Labor City of Sydney Councillor and Lord Mayoral candidate Linda Scott is reflecting on family as she home-schools her boys, aged 9 and 10 respectively. 

She’s specifically thinking about her sister, Kylie, who she describes as her “driving reason” for entering politics.

She describes Kylie as a “wonderful, clever and loving sister” with many talents: “She’s creative in different ways – she does a lot of painting and drawing – she’s a gifted artist.” 

“I feel lucky to have a sister born with a disability,” Scott tells the Sentinel (Kylie was born with Down syndrome). “She has enabled me to learn so much about overcoming adversity and seeing life through a very different set of eyes.” 

Kylie was born at a time when opportunities and outcomes for people living with disabilities looked very different from today. 

“They were still institutionalised,” Scott says. “Can you imagine being asked if you want to give up your child and have them institutionalised as soon as they’re born? It’s horrifying.”

At school, Scott remembers feeling “very protective” of Kylie. Her friends were enlisted to build a protective wall around her to fend off bullies. 

“She’s perfect as she is”

Scott says her own attitudes evolved with those of society. “When I was very young, I wished I could press a button to take the disability from her so I can live with it; so she’d have the opportunities I have,” she says. “But as I got older, I realised she wouldn’t be the same person. She’s perfect as she is.”

These changing feelings enlivened Scott to the politics of equality of opportunity, making her want to do something to ensure it was afforded to everyone: “Kylie was never going to be presented with the same opportunities as me. I realised the council has a role to play with supporting those most in need – whether sleeping rough, unemployed, isolated or living with disability. With Covid seeing inequality worsen … I’m so passionate about this area.”

Thanks to policies like the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Kylie was afforded unprecedented opportunities: “She was the first generation [of people living with a disability] to attend and finish public school, read and write, play basketball and tennis, go to Brownies and go on to live independently. She enjoys a happy, normal life,” Scott says. 

Kylie recently celebrated her 40th birthday and was gifted with a dog, Alfie, to prevent her feeling lonely in lockdown. 

“She still has challenges but thanks to the amazing NDIS support workers, she has help with shopping and planning daily support during lockdowns, which keep her safe.” 

These experiences have affected Scott’s political life – when I ask her what she’s proud of in her 9-year stint as a councillor, she immediately cites her input into the city’s new strategy for people with disabilities, which has a focus on employment. “People with disabilities can be fantastic small business people and employees,” she says. “There’s often a real drive to work and be financially independent.”

City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott (right) credits her sister Kylie (left) for spurring her into politics. Photo: supplied.

Championing the disadvantaged 

Learning advocacy skills on behalf of her sister “from a very young age”, Scott has translated this into support for minority and disadvantaged groups in her political life. 

She has long championed the LGBTQI community: from organising a giant wedding ceremony with a fee waiver for same-sex marriages to celebrate the legalising of marriage equality to her support for an LGBTQI museum in Sydney.

“Unfortunately the Lord Mayor opposed the T2 building as LGBTQI museum, then sold off the building,” she says.

Bringing fun back to Sydney 

If elected as Lord Mayor, Linda says she’d make Sydney “fun, fair and sustainable” with a focus on jobs, the economy and support for the vulnerable, post-Covid.

“People are losing their livelihoods,” she says. “We need to bring business back to the CBD.”

Outside of Covid, she names climate change as the most pressing issue: “As a global city, the City of Sydney has such an important role to play in driving down emissions and ensuring a just transition,” she says, adding that her goal is to commit to zero carbon emissions by 2030 – five years earlier than the City of Sydney’s stated target. She’d do this, she says, by incentivising the transition to electric vehicles.

She claims her unique selling point as a Lord Mayoral candidate is being President of the Australian Local Government Association. She says holding this position means two things. First, she wouldn’t take a salary as Lord Mayor. Second, if Labor is elected at the next federal election, an Albanese government would offer that person a cabinet position. “That’s a unique opportunity to have Australia’s global city take issues to the federal government on a regular basis,” she says.

One thing it’s pleasing to see in her topline manifesto is the word ‘fun’– something Sydney has really missed out on – first due to lockouts, then due to lockdowns.

How would she return fun to the city?

Her vision is for special precincts supporting artists and creatives, and loaning them underused spaces that are offices by day, so they have access to night-time rehearsal and performance spaces. She wants to encourage a start-up culture by setting up a mentor program, and wants to instigate an annual showcase for theatre performers. In addition, she says she’d reduce red tape for live performance events.

City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott (pictured) says she wants to bring fun back to Sydney. Photo: supplied.

No fighting 

In terms of taking the fight to frontrunner Clover Moore, Scott is reluctant.

“I’m not here to talk down other candidates, I’m here to put forward my own positive vision,” she says.

Having said that, she adds that the Lord Mayor is “currently providing the balance of power to a deeply conservative state government” and claims that “if people are looking for a progressive team, then Labor is the only answer”. 

She has, however, taken the fight to Moore before. In 2017, hers was one of the voices that successfully called for the cancellation of the Lord Mayor’s invite-only New Year’s Eve party, calling it “a party for the Lord Mayor and her mates”. Funding for the party was abolished as a result, although not without a parting shot from a spokesperson for Moore’s team: “It’s disappointing that Cr Scott is making baseless claims despite having access to the facts.”

Today, when I ask her what she thinks about Lord Mayor Clover Moore, she’s more generous.

“We have a strong working relationship,” she says. “There’s no doubt that over the many decades she’s been in politics she has achieved some positive results for the City of Sydney. Her record for standing up for action on climate change is something city residents have always welcomed. But this election isn’t about the past; it’s about the future.”

The future 

And so we look to the uncertain and ever-changing future. 

Last month, it was announced that the NSW local government elections would be pushed back from 4 September to 4 December. 

Scott maintains that a gerrymander applies to the City of Sydney LGA, in favour of conservative interests, whereby businesses get two votes and individuals get one. This occurs in no other NSW LGA, and she renews her call for it to be undone, saying it’s “complex, costly and has no clear public benefit”.

At the last election it backfired spectacularly, with an increased majority for independent progressive incumbent Clover Moore.

Scott has a clear suggestion for City of Sydney voters this time: “They should send a message to Liberal candidates and the state government – by putting them last.”

Gary Nunn is the editor-at-large of the Sydney Sentinel. He can be followed on Twitter at @GaryNunn1.