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Friend or foe Sartor has final say - 15.07.2005

New South Wales Labor MP Frank Ernest Sartor, in his early years as a Sydney City councillor, described The Block in Redfern as: "the most difficult problem I have ever had to deal with". Today, as a minister, he heads the Redfern Waterloo Authority. JOE CORREY profiles the man who now has extraordinary power to change all of Redfern not just its notorious streets. (Southside News Issue 3/2005 pages 12-13)

From the moment Frank Sartor became Minister for Redfern Waterloo speculation began. Newspaper reports said he wanted to turn the area into the new North Sydney and this would mean limiting housing for Aboriginal people on The Block.


There was also speculation that the former Independent city councillor had a high personal stake in the Redfern Waterloo Authority. ALP insiders suggested that while there was still tension within the party over his recruitment and quick ascension through Labor ranks, if the Authority was successful he could be seen as a possible successor to Premier Bob Carr.


If that happened it would be an ironic final twist in the career of a man who started his political life as a vociferous opponent of Labor and a strong defender of the types of communities some fear he might now decimate.


In 1984, Sartor and a group of nine Independents created history when they were elected to Sydney City Council shifting the balance of power from the ALP.


It was the first time Labor had significant opposition from Independents on the council. As well as that, the energetic Councillor Sartor had strong community connections and was making sure they were aware of council business.


He had arrived on the political scene in the late seventies as part of a local-based resident group fighting the construction of a multi-storey apartment building.


But despite the outward enmity, former Labor alderman, Terry Murphy said even then relationships were being formed that would pave the way for Frank Sartor's entry into the party.


He said that as early as 1985, Labor councillors were within a few days of convincing Sartor to join. "He always had a close relationship with some of the Labor councillors. That's why Clover Moore was offside with Frank because she said he was compliant with the ALP.


"The Labor councillors were massaging his ego so we could

get the numbers in council, which we'd lost with the rise of the Independents. Frank would have joined, but then the Liberal-Labor deal happened, which scared him off," said Mr Murphy.


The Liberal-Labor deal involved the two major parties co-operating to elect a mayor free of Independent influence. The balance of power in Sydney City Council again shifted and so did Sartor. He became more outspoken against the ALP.


At the same time, he began to receive praise for his work on the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. From 1983 to 1986 he was executive director of the committee - a body that acted as a watchdog for spending in the public sector and reported directly to the NSW Government.


In this role, he developed relationships with many influential

government figures, including Mr Can.


However the relationships were not strong enough to protect him. The State Labor government readvertised the job he was doing on the Public Accounts Committee. Anyone applying needed a law degree and this made him ineligible. He is a qualified chemical engineer and accountant.


The Liberal Party speculated at the time it was Labor payback for Frank Sartor's attacks in council.


His tentative association with the Labor Party was also damaged when the Government sacked the council in 1987.


Frank Sartor ran against the ALP candidate for the state seat of McKell in the following NSW election and lost resoundingly.


He was however, re-elected to the Sydney City Council in 1989. Two

years later he became Lord Mayor and declared: "I want this city to become a cultural and intellectual centre of the world?".


He remained Lord Mayor until 2003.


During his reign, the Living City plan was introduced, and Sartor's legacy was laid down: 21,000 residents in the city, old buildings restored, heritage buildings protected and the creation of new parks.


Just like now, these changes did not come without opposition.


The plan to widen footpaths infuriated city retailers, Cook and Philip Park swimming pools were said to have destroyed parkland, and he was accused of having increased the city's population to shore up his voter base when the Carr Government amended the City of Sydney Act.


The Act gave city residents and business people the right to elect the Lord Mayor by popular vote.


Lucy Turnbull, now on the board of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority was. deputy mayor to Sartor.


She said: "A lot of the construction was controversial and there were complaints at the time. But, I think that there is a widespread appreciation that the public domain of the city is of a much higher quality and better designed place thanks to Frank.


"At the same time he never lost his support base of city residents who lived in then working-class suburbs such as Pyrmont, Ultimo, Millers Point and The Rocks."


Despite his achievements Sartor was not satisfied with the size of the council. He believed that the Sydney City Council boundaries should be larger to make the city viable.


One ALP source told Southside News, that Sartor appealed to the NSW Government for an amalgamation of South Sydney Council while he was still Lord Mayor. It was said he was paying his path to join the party.


Former South Sydney Labor Councillor All Lay said party members on South Sydney Council realised there would be a voter backlash and voiced strong opposition to the plan.


Shortly after Sartor left local Government, South Sydney Council and Sydney City Council were merged. As predicted, the ALP lost support, and Clover Moore became Sydney Lord Mayor through an alliance with the Greens and other Independents.


In 2003, Sartor was elected into the safe Labor seat of Rockdale; a year later he was made Minister for Redfern Waterloo.


It was yet another big move up in the world for a man whose view of life was no doubt formed by childhood experiences as the fifth of eight children in a newly settled Italian family.


He once told an interviewer, his childhood was the "usual migrant story: Tough background and poverty. They make you more determined not to fail because you know what it is like on the other side of the fence".


Mick Mundine, CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Company, which owns The Block, said: "Frank isn't the right person to head the Redfern Waterloo Authority. The NSW Government put him there because he is a muscle man, but if he doesn't work with the people in the community, he'll get nowhere."


Mundine is not the only person to question the former Lord Mayor's approach.


He has a reputation for a short temper and for being domineering.


Former council associates Dixie Coulton and Kathryn Greiner spoke frankly to the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2004.


Coulton said: "He yelled, bullied and belittled people." Greiner went a step further, and said: "He has a very short fuse. His management

style is pure dictatorial, which is why the staff just turned over all the time.,,


Lay however said the bottom line was that Sartor's temperament should be looked at in the context of his achievements.


"Frank is a can-do person. He is very determined, dogged and opinionated. That's why he was given the job of heading the RWA. Love him or hate him, he's an intelligent man. You don't get to do the things he did, or move through the system as he's done, if you can't evaluate and make things happen," she said.


"But for Frank to make the right things happen he must listen to, and be guided by, the Redfern Waterloo community, unlike what happened when the NSW Government merged South Sydney Council."


Sartor was unavailable for interview.


Southside News wanted to ask: Will he be more guided in his new job by his experience as vice-president of the Olympic body SOCOG and as a board member of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority where tough development decisions often bulldozed local obstacles, or by the community bonds of his distant past?



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