The first election of Councillors for the new Midcoast Council will take place next September, 2017!
It’s going to be a very different ball game, with the new Council covering three former electorates, an area of roughly 10,000 kilometres, which approximates the area of a state or federal electorate. So, that means there will be only 11 councillors for a nearly 90,000 population. That’s roughly 8000 residents per councillor!
The next mayor will be elected from the new councillors, and will be elected by the council members, not the public – a plan engineered by the NSW State Government.
In some quarters, there is already the feeling that this interim Midcoast Council, under administrator, John Turner, is slightly top heavy with Great Lakes representation, and that the Nationals wield the most influence, given the machinations of Premier Mike Baird.
Therefore, perhaps it is timely to think about who would be best to stand for the new council, come election time. The current mob will have had a year to prove themselves and, while we expect them to have fulfilled their roles to the best of their ability, it doesn’t hurt to encourage new applicants.
It might seem premature but, if you’ve ever had a heart-to-heart with anyone who’s been a council representative, they generally admit that it was a huge learning curve, first time around.
Being on council demands a lot of time and attention for a modest remuneration (unless you are the General Manager, or of the Executive staff.)
Many business people can’t afford the time, don’t want to be hassled with the red tape, and the often petty-type power plays involved.
But, this is the time that we need people with skills and experience, or those who are prepared to step up and learn new skills – like dealing with the paperwork of briefs, rules and regulations, local governance ordinances, and a raft of seemingly bureaucratic red tape.
We need people who love where they live in our electorate, who are passionate and committed to improving and lifting our standard of life, promoting tourism and businesses of all kinds, supporting and caring for the community, the environment and local business, as well as seeking sensitive improvements in infrastructure, amenities and our lifestyle.
Each of us possibly knows someone who is a do-er, who gets things done, who networks and helps others, who can talk to people and who loves this part of NSW.
Given time, training, help and guidance, we could raise a new raft of inspiring candidates, rather than finding, two weeks out from election, that we have a bunch of people we know nothing about, who are hoping to be elected, perhaps for spurious reasons.
Whereas, over the coming twelve months, aspirants will have the chance to learn, train, raise their profile and market themselves, and figure out if this is what they want to do, before polling day.
There are guidelines and websites as to how to be a candidate for local government.
Mave Richardson, AM PM, former Manager of Community Services (1976-2004) and former Councillor of GTCC, is a pioneer of community development, having gone through the 1980 amalgamation of Wingham, Taree and Manning shires.
‘While it was a difficult time, initially, it certainly wasn’t handled as appallingly as the recent removal of the GTCC council, which was rude and chaotic,’ said Mave. ‘The new Midcoast Council area will be very large for 11 Councillors, when you take in Gloucester, Stroud and surrounding villages all the way through the Manning to Great Lakes. It’s a big area for Councillors to get around, to learn about issues, talk to constituents and attend meetings, rather than just being familiar with one’s own neck of the woods. Each area has its own lifestyles, needs and wishes. It will be a big challenge, with a new culture and new way of doing things, to achieve the best outcomes for the whole area, and to achieve equal membership and representation. The logistics will be difficult, as there are three different internal operating systems used by the three councils, which have to be merged into one effective system, and there’s no road map for that! The previous councils even had a different set of assessments, for things like road deterioration.
‘Everyone has to regard this amalgamation as an opportunity, there’s no going back, so it’s an opportunity to reinvent the whole thing for the better, for all of us. Hopefully.’
Councillor Kathryn Bell, sitting on the interim Midcoast Council added, ‘The role of a Councillor is complex and challenging. It’s balancing council rules, policies, plans, procedures, understanding legislative responsibilities, leadership and expectations of constituents, together with council colleagues. There are internal and external influences, competing interests and constraints, such as changing legislation, finance, governance, reviews and reform agendas. I think the required skills-set of an elected local leader, to effectively deal with these challenges, is broad. Councillors generally start with limited, or no, relevant experience, before being called on to make critical decisions.
‘I highly recommend that any potential candidate seek and discuss, with former Councillors, their experience, and read/research extensively, to understand expectations and decision making.
‘For me, being a Councillor, has been challenging and well worth the time and commitment. Taking-up the opportunity has provided me with much satisfaction, and personal growth from learning, and I feel privileged to have served my community.’
So, there are many things upon which to decide. Running on a ticket above the line, where one stands a better chance of getting a Yes tick by lazy voters, or from those who know you and your team, rather than running as an individual below the line is preferable. It’s a numbers game, and it’s a strategic game.
Voters are territorial, we vote for candidates we know and who are generally local, and whom we feel will do the best for us.
However, given the broad canvas of our new electorate, voters need to choose the best candidate, whether from their area or not, but who will achieve the most and have the most impact
upon the new council.
Voters will need to be unified, and vote for the better person for the good of all, whether that candidate be from their local area or not, which is why candidates need to start making themselves known as soon as possible, to as large an area as possible.
The bottom line remains that people will vote for varying reasons for the candidate of their choice.
But, wouldn’t it be good to be going into the polling booth, a little under a year from now, with an impressive, familiar, knowledgeable lineup of committed candidates that we care about, because we feel that they will care for us?
Step up! Or encourage someone you think worthy of our support. Your electorate needs you NOW, so we will not pushed around by Sydney and political parties with barrows to push. Then We can’t say we weren’t warned!