“Businesses deserve two votes, not one”: the Liberal candidate for Sydney Lord Mayor

Shauna Jarrett, pictured, is running against incumbent Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore for the Liberal Party. Photo: LSJ.

Editor-at-large Gary Nunn meets Shauna Jarrett, the conservative candidate who has thrown her hat in the ring to run the city.

Shauna Jarrett, Liberal candidate for Lord Mayor of Sydney in the 4 December local government elections, arrives early to our interview – a habit, she says, of being a lawyer. 

She has been out campaigning, but has found the electioneering landscape irrevocably changed.

“We were out this morning campaigning near Town Hall, and there was just no-one around,” she says. “I think the switch to digital campaigning is well and truly here, and it’s never going back to the old way of doing things.”

“The problem is,” adds the conservative candidate, “people don’t like change very much!”

Accusations of being disorganised

Some media reports have claimed the Liberal Party’s process for selecting a mayoral candidate has been “in disarray”. Pundits have hinted the Liberals don’t want to rock the boat with independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich (who is also incumbent Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s campaign manager) because he provides supply and cooperation in state parliament on government bills when they need his vote. The Liberals, therefore, have run a candidate with a lower profile, the theory goes. 

Jarrett was voted in by local party members after the withdrawal from the race of Christine Forster, an LGBTQI campaigner and sister of former prime minister Tony Abbott. Jarrett says Forster has been “generous” with advice on the City of Sydney Council. 

She challenges the “disorganised” characterisation, saying that finding a room big enough to conduct a pre-selection with all voting Liberal members was impossible due to Covid-19 person-per-square metre rules, with the party pivoting to online methods.  

Rules around campaigning on election day have also changed in this twice postponed election due to Covid; Jarrett is concerned a ban on electioneering within 100 metres of polling booths will benefit Moore. 

“It’ll be much harder to move the incumbent on,” she says. “Because other new candidates don’t have her resources: email lists, rates lists, media staff and a constant period of time to tell people how fabulous they are.”

As such, newer candidates will have lower profiles and recognition, she says.

Never before held political office

Jarrett is one of these new candidates; she hasn’t held political office before, but has been around conservative politics for a while. A longtime member of the Liberal Party, she has previously undertaken work to support Liberal state MP Gabrielle Upton and is married to former Liberal state finance minister Greg Pearce.

She grew up around Canberra before moving to Sydney and took a “very nerdy” interest in parliament and politics when doing her law assignments: “I always liked the idea of being a debater,” she says.

Shauna Jarrett hasn’t held political office before but has been a longtime member of the Liberal Party and has previous behind-the-scenes political experience. Photo: supplied.

Policies: cutting red tape, speeding up DAs 

The Liberal Party’s local government policies are somewhat light on detail, both in this interview and on their mayoral candidacy website.

Increasing bin collection from twice a week to at least three times a week is mentioned, due to people working more from home now, as is cutting red tape for businesses.

“The council needs voices that’ll actually speak up and represent things that need to be changed, not 64 page colourful documents with endless, repetitive detail,” she says.

“It’s about enabling small businesses, arts groups, or community groups to survive, and then keep going. So if a shopfront closes down, you don’t wait three years for a DA (development application) to replace it,” she says of Sydney’s ghost-town like empty venues. 

“Someone wanted to extend their coffee shop hours in Martin Place, to seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and a DA had go in.” She rolls her eyes. “So the empty shop stays empty. There’s no building up of community life again. And the person who wants to run a different sort of business has to wait. It’s a waste of money. I want to cut that bureaucracy and speed things up for businesses like that.”

This red tape cutting, she says, would be her number one priority if she were Lord Mayor. 

“I’ve sat on arts boards over the years and we had to go through an enormous process to have the space approved for dance studios,” she says.

“When you look at Oxford Street and the current mayor’s plan, it’s no good saying we have a ten year plan, or looking at policies put together in 2013. There’s been a massive disruption since that plan was made. I want to look at what we can do now.”

Key battleground: Oxford Street

The battle to revive a once thriving Oxford Street has become an election issue. In a previous interview with the Sentinel, Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully claimed Oxford Street has always gone through booms and busts.

But the Liberals claim it’s “years of inaction and lack of vision”. Her running mate, Lyndon Gannon, has proposed removing or repurposing a heritage-listed public toilet in Taylor Square, and opening the lawns outside the Darlinghurst Court House.

Jarrett refers to Moore claiming the precinct was hurt by the construction of Westfield shopping centres in the CBD and Bondi Junction: “Blaming it on Westfield Bondi, which has been there for almost 20 years, isn’t right,” she says. 

“It’s actually that there are empty flats which the council owns but they haven’t spent money fixing them up and giving people affordable housing.” 

Thoughts on Clover

Jarrett believes Clover Moore has “done a very good job to bring Sydney along to being a modern city”.

She remembers a time when it was impossible to get a glass of wine after a night at the theatre. “They worked with the state government to help change licensing laws,” she says, “but now too much has got bogged down in bureaucracy.”

On other things, she’s more stinging and – knowing she’s an underdog to become Lord Mayor – would use a council seat, she says, to hold the current council to account. “Especially for the transparency of decision making,” she says. 

She particularly scoffs at the price tag of recently proposed public art works. 

“I mean, $50 million spent on a piece of sculpture? We’ve got affordable housing that’s not being developed. But they’re going to put a big archway outside Town Hall.”

For context, the divisive, unpopular and unnecessary postal survey on marriage equality forced upon the LGBTQI community by the federal Liberal party cost $525million, according to PwC,

Yet Jarrett is keen to talk up the progressive values of the Liberal Party. Her campaign website reads: “Remember we are the Party responsible for the abolition of the White Australia Policy, environmental protection powers, marriage equality and meaningful reconciliation.”

It’s a statement which might raise the eyebrows of any Aboriginal person hurt by the recent rejection of a voice to parliament and failure to adopt the Uluru Statement from the Heart, climate change campaigners and the broad LGBTQI community damaged by the widespread homophobia unearthed by the marriage equality postal survey. 

I mention that Liberal councillor Christine Forster had last year revealed to me that she supported Aboriginal woman Cheree Toka’s campaign to fly the Aboriginal flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge permanently, breaking ranks with then Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who refused to do so. “The Liberal party is a broad church” is all Jarrett says in response. 

Shauna Jarrett (centre) with the number two candidate on her ticket, Lyndon Gannon (left) and number three, Sam Danieli (right). Photo: Liberals for City of Sydney/Facebook.

“Businesses should get two votes – it’s not a gerrymander”

Jarrett absolutely believes businesses within the City of Sydney LGA should get two votes – a controversial change of rules which happened before the last local government election and is still in place for this one.

Clover Moore’s team, Labor and the Greens are calling it a gerrymander; Jarrett rejects this.

“Businesses contribute an awful lot to the City of Sydney,” she says. “There are households with five over 18s living in them – each of them gets a vote, but they pay one set of rates. That’s why businesses should get two votes.”

There’s something else she thinks is bad for democracy, though. 

It was Alex Greenwich’s early remarks of his expectation that the Clover Moore Independent Team could win a super 8 seat majority on council.

“That’s not democracy. That’s not representative of the community. That’s an arrogance – that the ticket they have represents the community,” she says. “It’s also politics, when you say things like that.

“We can all come out and say, I’m going to be Prime Minister of Australia. But you’ve got to actually do the work.”

With a lower profile than Christine Forster, no City of Sydney experience and a later entry into the race than other candidates, it’s clear there’s a lot of work ahead for Jarrett if she is to be successful on 4 December.

Gary Nunn is editor-at-large of the Sydney Sentinel. Twitter: @garynunn1.