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Letter from Australia Why an Independent Won Sydney

Why an Independent Won Sydney

by VANESSA JONES

Well, co-editor Alex, you are asking me to do a piece on the Sydney City Council elections, after I forwarded some articles summarizing the surprise election results for Lord mayor 3 weeks ago. I am a bit washed out after an Easter vomit bug. Then the toilet broke down and the plumber should come tomorrow. The kids are having their night time story- Eric Carle’s "The Very Busy Spider" and Angela Banner’s old classic "Happy Birthday with Ant and Bee"- an originally 1964 published book, reissued in 1999. The current federal opposition Labor Leader, Mark Latham, recommends reading kids 3 books a night- but I’m sure there are nights when he also only manages 2.

So- I am wondering why you are so determined to get a story up about small town Sydney. Could it perhaps be an example of democracy in progress- a hope for an upcoming US election? Independent Clover Moore goes against the Labor party machine and wins- a "green" minded Independent can actually become a Lord Mayor of a major city?

Well, I do have a love of Sydney and yet I hate a lot of what’s happened to it over the past 10 years. A huge increase in high-rise development, traffic congestion, little commitment to public transport, a lack of affordable housing and a long wait for public housing. Sometimes it’s hard to write about something you love- something you see as worsening. Deteriorating. It’s interesting that a city like "third world" Cairo has built a superb underground metro in the past 10 years, but no such public transport progress has happened in "first world" Sydney over a similar period. But Clover Moore’s win 3 weeks ago gives hope to Sydney.

To find out something about Clover Moore- go to her website or check out this Sydney Morning Herald article.

The Sydney Morning Herald is a very chunky and heavy newspaper on Saturdays. It has a huge part of its weekend Saturday paper devoted to classifieds advertising, the famous "rivers of gold" which try and sell real estate, cars, advertise jobs, lease units and houses and announce births and deaths. Within the paper you will find a bit of journalism within all these ads. It is Sydney’s main broadsheet, with Murdoch/ News Corp’s national broadsheet The Australian its prime broadsheet rival. You won’t find in these papers many reprints of articles from The Independent, as The Canberra Times often carries. No big rush to reprint Robert Fisk or Patrick Cockburn or Robin Cook. Sydneysiders are better off dialing up The Independent online if they hope to get another perspective of the world. Or perhaps Counter Punch! Or even Al Jazeera! Thank God for the Internet! Perhaps one day we’ll even be able to dial up God himself.

So, within this city, the New South Wales Labor Party, led by Bob Carr, decided to forcibly amalgamate 2 nearby councils. Sydney City Council, and South Sydney City Council. They got it into one super council, and they wanted to get a Labor guy, Michael Lee, elected to the position of Lord Mayor. Many said that this was a way of adding to Sydney’s over development of residential units, and these developments would be used as a cash cow, property rates flowing each year to the new mega council. Now, the Labor party was trying to get out of towner Michael Lee into office with buckets of cash expended on this project. Now, the funny thing is that one day, I met Michael Lee by surprise. I was living near his electorate on the Central Coast- a seaside commuter zone one and a half hours north of Sydney. Many people go there for affordable housing, the clean air and the seaside lifestyle. I was there with young kids for pretty much those reasons. I was in the upmarket store David Jones which is perhaps like Peter Jones in the UK. It is pretty much the most upmarket department store in Australia.

Well, my family and I were about to go on a trip to France, to visit some dear friends. And it was October. Autumn on the other side of the world. So I’d looked around for a black skivvy for my partner, and of course, I ended up in DJ’s, as it’s known. Black skivvies (like turtle necks) are not sold in all men’s stores in Australia. I won’t go into that now. Another cultural issue. Well, I was standing in a queue at the counter, when Michael Lee, this year’s Labor Lord Mayor candidate, was in line behind me. He was contesting his federal seat, and he was buying a suit. A new suit. A day or 2 before elections. Well, he is a good looking man, a bit smaller than me, and we started talking about local politics and local Labor supporters who faithfully display Labor posters each elections, outside their home. I told him that the posters of himself were displayed well at a particular local site, with wide exposure for all passing traffic. These Labor supporters were known to both of us, and he had a funny tale of having a few drinks with one of them. Knowing the chap involved, it made a good story, as I could imagine the passion of his opinions and arguments, and knew of his commitment to Labor party ideals. It was an odd chat- he walked away with his suit, and I drove home with my black skivvy.

That was 5 years ago, or 6, and now that federal seat is no longer Labor. The area has changed- house prices have increased, and Michael Lee was gonna have a go at being elected the Sydney Lord Mayor.
But it didn’t all pan out that way for Michael Lee. Clover Moore- ex school teacher, is now Lord Mayor of Sydney. She is also the state independent politician for the inner city area known as the state seat of "BLIGH".

You asked in you email, Alex, "Why did she win, what are her policies and what will she do for Sydney?". I think she won because the people in Sydney City Council and South Sydney Council didn’t like the state Labor government amalgamating 2 local councils into one super size council and then trying to get one of their own voted in. Like me, probably a lot of people were sick of seeing cranes at street corners, building gigantic apartment buildings which ordinary people cannot afford to buy, and hearing about developer donations to the state Labor party, while people saw no improvement in public transport and local services. It was possible for people to vote in a local Independent because it was a localized issue. Getting up committed independent candidates state wide or nation wide is harder, and there is less independent media state wide and nationwide. When issues are local there seems to be more chance of an independent getting in, and the local diverse media can express independent voices. For her policies, check out her website- they spell out, for example, transport, parkland and development policies. I think a lot of locals would think that just to freeze development for a while would at least be a good thing. As for what she will do for Sydney- of course citizens hope for the best, but with politics, what is promised is not always what eventuates. What she will do for Sydney remains to be seen. Check out her website for what she claims to have done in the past, at state level. One huge issue is bringing back light rail to Sydney. There used to be trams in Sydney, but there are none now, except a small light rail line to a middle class/ yuppie area. It is a more a tourist gimmick to the fish markets. A trip to Melbourne will show the affect of trams- the traffic feels like a country town, compared to Sydney, but services a similar population.

Clover Moore said of her win, "There is a rejection by the Sydney community of the thuggish sacking of a democratically elected council and the attempt to install a candidate who moved into our area last September–there’s been a real rejection of that," she told her supporters.

"Secondly, I believe people have embraced our positive policies of open and accountable local government that will support responsible planning that will protect our harbour foreshores, that will have progressive social policies for the people most in need."

Now, one of the simple reasons that Clover Moore won seems to be that she is able to communicate well with people and listen to what they say, what they need, and she seems to do something about it. The seat of Bligh is a seat edging the city, Centennial Park, and the Sydney Harbour foreshore. Many in her electorate are gay, and they like her a lot. Her electorate encompasses the rainbow district of Oxford street- famous for its Mardi Gras parade. People handed out her leaflets at the latest election for free, while other parties had to pay for people to hand out party "how to vote cards".

So, Alex, that’s a plain and simple story about Clover Moore, and how she won against the Labor Party. After 4 months in Sydney this previous summer, we’re back "home", out of Sydney. This piece just makes me miss Sydney, its beaches, its buzz, and from a distance, I forget the traffic, the stress, the tired look on people’s faces. The separation of desirable areas by who can afford to live there. The traffic problems make the city inaccessible for those who don’t live near where they want to go. A distance of 10 kilometers can take an hour to drive, at times. Thinking of Sydney makes me just wanna drive down Anzac Parade, along Darley Road, beside Centennial Park, down Clovelly Road, and plunge into the sea. I’m too far away, but I love it still. I suppose that’s what the people of Clover Moore’s state and local electorates feel. It’s a city they love, and when they go to the ballot box, they follow their hearts, as well as their minds, and tick or number the box next to her name. Nothing too complicated. Somehow they must know that she’ll do a better job looking after their city, and the humans within it, than a Labor party or Liberal party member.

Best wishes,

Vanessa

VANESSA JONES lives in Sydney. She can be reached at: post4@bigpond.com