By ALLISON HORE
City of Sydney councillor and former Member for Wentworth, Dr. Kerryn Phelps, has announced her intention to run for mayor in this year’s council elections.
Speaking to City Hub, Dr. Phelps announced her intention to run for mayor, an ambition which she said was five years in the making and included a “detour” to federal parliament. With current Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, having sat at the helm for almost two decades, it won’t be an easy run but it is a challenge Dr. Phelps is up for.
“Our city needs strong, fresh, informed and experienced leadership to take us into the future,” she said.
Dr. Phelps was elected to the City of Sydney council in 2016 as part of Clover Moore’s Independents Team. She served as Deputy Lord Mayor until 2017, when she resigned and stepped back from Moore’s team to become independent.
She told City Hub she joined the council with “a lot of optimism and enthusiasm to be involved in creating the city of the future” but things did not go smoothly.
“Things did not exactly go as planned, and that’s an understatement,” she said.
“The incumbent leadership has been there for almost 17 years. Good governance tells us it is just too long, and there is a need to hit the refresh button.”
Fighting for rights
Dr. Phelps is confident that her skills and “wide experience” makes her “uniquely placed” to take on the role of mayor.
Along with her work as a doctor and being the first woman to be elected president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Phelps has worked in the fitness industry, consulted to corporations, worked in broadcasting and print media, written books, lectured at university and been a fierce campaigner for LGBTQI+ rights.
“I enjoy working with people to find solutions to complex problems,” she said.
“We need to revive the economy and transform how the City is run so that we continue the best of the past, but reimagine a City that works for all Sydneysiders for the future. That will take vision, experience and determination.”
Throughout her career Phelps has been the recipient of many awards and honours, most recently she was the NSW winner for the Australian Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership in February last year.
In 2018 Dr. Phelps ran for federal parliament in the Wentworth by-election triggered by the resignation from parliament of Malcolm Turnbull. She was the first independent to win the seat, defeating Liberal candidate Dave Sharma. In the following year Phelps was defeated by Sharma in the federal election.
Despite her short time in the federal parliament, she said serving the people of Wentworth was “a great privilege” and “a remarkable experience”. For many, Dr. Phelp’s lasting legacy as Member for Wentworth will be the amendments she proposed to the government’s Medevac legislation. These changes gave greater authority to doctors to allow the medical evacuation of asylum seekers to Australia from Nauru and Manus Island.
The Liberal government opposed Phelps’ amendments, but they were able to pass the parliament with the support of the Labor Party, Greens and most of the other cross benchers in the House. Dr. Phelps said working with people across the political spectrum to push for those changes was a source of pride.
“I had the opportunity to work with a wide range of people from different political perspectives as we created the Medevac legislation and saw it pass both Houses of Parliament by one vote,” she explained.
“I know it saved lives. In fact, just today I received a message of thanks from one of the refugees who was rescued.”
A vision for Sydney
The true test for whoever comes out victorious in the September election will be how they navigate the city’s post-COVID economic recovery. Being a doctor, Phelps said she is “optimistic for the future” but stresses the city will need to navigate carefully through the coming years as COVID-19 will likely still be around for some time yet.
“Phase one is to survive, phase two will be to revive and phase three will be to thrive,” she said.
“Community wellbeing, both financially and in terms of physical and psychosocial wellbeing will need to be considered in all decisions.”
Looking beyond the pandemic, Dr. Phelps promises to run a transparent council where the unique skill sets of every elected councillor is valued, “not just the ones elected on a particular ticket or with a particular political affiliation” and community consultation is at the forefront of every decision. She also highlighted the need for budget transparency.
“One example was the Cloud Arch public art project,” she said.
“The initial budget was around $3m, then just a few years later we were asked to approve a new budget of $12m, and then shortly after there was an attempt to bump that up to over $20million. Ridiculous way to manage a public works budget.”
Dr. Phelps said she would be releasing detailed policy statements across a range of priority policy areas throughout the coming months in the lead up to the election.
“Sydney deserves a Lord Mayor who really listens to the community and truly understands the problems people face and who has the determination, the courage and the strength to face the challenging times ahead and to restore the city we love,” she said.
Local government elections in NSW are held every 4 years but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the 2020 elections were postponed.
The City of Sydney council election will be held on Saturday 4 September 2021.