Inner West Independent

Grassroots to global: Inner West Council Greens aren’t afraid to go big

Greens candidates Liz Atkins (left) and Kobi Shetty hope Inner West Council can leave its toxicity behind and the Greens can work together with Labor and progressive Independents for residents on council's approaching next term. Photo: Mark Dickson.

By EVA BAXTER

Inner West Council has one of the strongest representations of Greens on council in Sydney. There are currently five Greens on council, tied with Labor for the most representatives for a party.

In comparison, nearby Canterbury-Bankstown Council has one Green on council, and one candidate. City of Sydney has no Greens currently on council, but former Greens Marrickville councillor Sylvie Ellsmore is in the running for Lord Mayor.

There are five candidates for the Greens in the inner west vying for votes in the approaching election. The results will determine whether the Greens strong presence on Inner West Council continues.

Liz Atkins, Greens candidate for Damun/Stanmore ward told the Independent people resonate with the Greens platforms.

Greens candidate for Baludarri/Balmain Kobi Shetty echoed Atkins and told the Independent the Greens want to protect tree canopy and wildlife, have lots of great open spaces and bike lanes.

“I think that’s probably more appealing to people when they’re thinking about the neighbourhoods that they’re living in, than thinking about some of the things that might drive people to vote Liberal or Labor at a federal level,” said Shetty.

“I think with the other two major parties, a lot of the way that they operate at a local level is still very much directed from the top down.

“We want to try and bring it from the bottom up and have the grassroots involvement, where the community’s actually driving the decision-making and being a lot more involved with the ideas and the direction of council in their first instance, and that’s not always about us coming in with the ideas first,” she said.

Liberal/Labor liaison

At City Hub’s Inner West Council Candidates’ Forum earlier this month, Labor councillor Mark Drury and candidate Philippa Scott were asked if Labor and the unendorsed Liberal candidates should do a deal and select the next mayor.

Drury said, “once we’re elected, the Labor councillors will form a caucus and will consider what we do in terms of the mayoralty.”

Former Labor mayor Darcy Byrne has made public his desire to be re-elected as mayor.

Justine Langford, candidate for Midjuburi/Marrickville told the Independent she sees this election as an opportunity to reset the culture on council, and for residents to be proud of their council.

“I do think that there has been, up until the last few months when we’ve had Green mayor Rochelle Porteous, a very toxic and aggressive bullying culture on council.

“I think that the Liberal/Labor alliance that was formed in order to keep the Labor party in the mayoralty was actually really unhealthy for local democracy.”

Shetty said as a resident even before she got involved in local politics, she was disappointed by the Liberal/Labor arrangement because “it wasn’t a reflection of what the public were voting for.”

Atkins said, “there’s really no reason why the Greens, Labor and progressive Independents can’t work together, look at some of our policies, a lot of them are similar.

“One of the Greens four pillars is peace and nonviolence. […] I think that peace and nonviolence translate into treating everyone with respect and that then brings you to proper discussions in council about decisions that need to be made and a much more respectful council chamber.”

Greens unease

The Greens received some backlash from the public and other councillors and candidates online for a motion, which was eventually lost, to keep the inner west local government area nuclear free.

A series of actions were proposed by the motion including writing to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence Peter Dutton to express Inner West Council’s opposition to the presence of nuclear submarines in Sydney Harbour, and requesting Australia ratify the UN treaty against Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Criticisms included the relevance of this issue to local government, and whether its presence on the council agenda was wasting time.

Langford told the Independent, “I’m really proud that the Greens tackle the big issues, because the big issues affect everyone’s daily life and that’s where it intersects with council.

“Those values that we care about as local residents need to be reflected in our local government, and if residents are raising issues that are broader, such as having nuclear submarines come into Sydney Harbour, then it’s the role of councillors to represent our constituents and that may be a local, national or international issue.”

Atkins said although she probably wouldn’t have brought that motion to council herself, “I think there is a place for council to have a say. It’s not just submarines. Council has taken a role in advocating against the bills in parliament that are very anti-queer and anti-women.”

In terms of the powers of local government, the Greens believe in saying no.

At City Hub’s forum, Councillor Vic Macri said council should look “seriously” at addressing how council works with the state government, and that the staunch approach council has taken in its campaigns “weakens our position.”

Shetty disagreed, “when we’re looking at Callan Park, we have just said no, you can’t do this, we’re not gonna allow it, and we’ve worked really well collaboratively with the ward councillors in the Balmain ward, with our local member Jamie Parker and with the Friends of Callan Park, and it’s working.”

She said council can’t afford to go in with a soft approach, “it’s a real disaster for our community if we let these things happen and don’t stop it.”

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