You are here: Home / Media / First impressions of life on Council

First impressions of life on Council

The City of Sydney has four new Councillors: Meredith Burgmann, Irene Doutney, Di Tornai and Robert Kok. The SSH asked them each to share some of their initial impressions and priorities for the next four years of their office. We expect to hear from Councillor Robert Kok for our next issue reports the South Sydney Herald of November 2008.

Meredith Burgmann (Labor)

Don’t know what I expected Council to be like. It is a bit weird ending up as the only Labor Councillor. Although we only lost 0.8 of a quota, we unexpectedly lost two positions because of the fact that we lost a little to the Clover Party and a little to the Greens, which put both parties just ahead of our second candidate.

Because the Wards referendum was also lost, I am now in the position of singlehandedly trying to service the 28 suburbs that make up the City of Sydney. This is an almost impossible task. I obviously have to set myself realistic goals, so I have decided that I will concentrate on the plight of the marginalised and dispossessed, and that mainly means the homeless in this wonderful city of ours.

I'm also absolutely committed to ensuring that the Aboriginal Housing Company's Pemulwuy Project actually gets built. The City of Sydney should be acting as a catalyst in the mix and getting the parties to co-operate over this essential project.

The final issue which I will concentrate on is climate change and I am especially interested in innovative ways to retro fit the carbon criminals of the past, the old skyscrapers which are responsible for so much of our carbon footprint.

The fact that I will be concentrating on these big picture items does not mean that I will be neglecting the more local issues. I am already holding street stalls in conjunction with Tanya and Verity, the Federal and State MPs for the area and have found that this one-stop-shop approach has been very successful.

Irene Doutney (Greens)

It is interesting for a grassroots activist like myself to be propelled into the halls of corporate power and I must admit it’s very exciting. There is so much to learn and get my head around, but I love the challenge. I must admit I was a bit disheartened after my first Council meeting, in the face of the Independent power bloc, but I believe it’s a progressive Council, unlike so many in NSW, and I will be able to get things done with their support.

I have already had very positive talks with Council staff and am working on my first motion which will be about ethical food. I have had talks about fresh food markets on housing estates and more support for seniors. I am also seeking support for a community day on the Block on November 6.

I have also been alerted to a problem with the needle bus in Hugo Street, which is currently parked daily next to a children’s playground. I will be investigating why it hasn’t been moved back to the position it was allocated in Hudson Street.

I joined the Deputy Mayor at the Northcott Building on Friday October 9 to talk about mental health issues, and spoke, the week before, from the Town Hall steps, for the Aboriginal Rights Coalition rally against the NT Intervention.

Thus, so far, I’m finding Council a powerful way to combine my social justice concerns and the issues that I believe I was elected by residents to represent, with the regular functions of a Councillor. It’s going to be long, hard work, but I’m looking forward to it immensely. My one big concern at the moment is how the global financial crisis is going to impact on Council’s finances.

Di Tornai (Independent)

As in any new job, I felt the early days should be devoted to clarifying my role and responsibilities – in an organisational sense, but also as defined in the Local Government Act. I interpret the role of Councillor as being likened to that of a Director of a Board. Firstly, it's essential that councillors see themselves as setting the policy framework in which the CEO works with staff to conduct the day-to-day business of the Council. In my professional career I've seen many instances where people have been confused on this front and in the main; this led to dysfunction and disharmony. I don’t want to go there!

Of course, I'm actively involved in an extensive range of issues, through representation on many committees. At present it's a bit challenging to bring myself up to speed on the enormous range of projects and strategies that the CoS has underway. I could do with an extra two hours of reading time each day. But I must say it's been a delightful surprise to work with people who have such a “can-do” attitude. As a resident I've always been aware of Council's strong drive to produce good work, and now that I’m on this side of the fence, my impressions have been strengthened even further. There're no quiet corners around here – the productivity level for everyone is high.

Even though it’s early days yet, I’m keen to work on the urban renewal plans to turn Green Square into a reality. Of course, this will require a strong level of consultation with all the residents in the suburbs affected – Zetland, Beaconsfield, and Rosebery. I’m pleased to say that already there’s been a stirring of interest to form a new group that better represents residents across the entire area. It is, in essence, a new community in the making. It’s quite exciting to think that only four kilometres from the CBD of Australia’s global city a new village is emerging, a place of new beginnings and new possibilities.

Source: South Sydney Herald November 2008