She might be running for Lord Mayor, but Yvonne Weldon doesn’t see herself as a politician.
“Until I decided to run at this election, I never intended to seek public office. I am a political activist and that runs in my blood.”
Weldon’s resume includes a string of government and non-government roles rooted in improving the lives of others. She’s deputy chairwoman of the NSW Australia Day Council and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Weldon also sits on the board of Domestic Violence NSW and Redfern Jarjum College, which helps First Nations children who struggle at mainstream schools. Her current job is as the manager of the Aboriginal unit at Youth Justice NSW, tackling the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in detention.
Political activism runs in the family: her great-aunt was the activist and social worker Colleen Shirley Perry Smith – affectionately known as Mum Shirl – while her uncle, Paul Coe, was a prominent human rights campaigner who co-founded NSW’s Aboriginal Legal Service.
Yvonne (left) standing next to her uncle, Indigenous activist Paul Coe, as he speaks at a protest in 1978. Photo: Supplied.
“Sydney has given me opportunities to succeed,” Weldon says. “But now Sydney itself has lost its way. I’m running to give all Sydneysiders the same opportunities that our city gave me.”
Weldon can’t understand why, after 17 years in power, there are still so many undelivered promises at Council.
“The Council has not done enough on public and affordable housing. When Clover was elected, Sydney had 447 affordable dwellings. Seventeen years on, and we only have 1,028 homes. That’s not even one-tenth of the number promised by 2020.”
In relation to climate policy, Weldon worries about the City’s dependence on gas, which now powers 45 per cent of Council’s operations.
“Gas may be a transition fuel, but it is not green. Even the new $100m Gunyama Aquatic Centre is powered by gas.”
If elected, Weldon will look to electrify more of the Council’s operations and use renewable power. She would also consider planning mechanisms that assess the green credentials of proposed developments, rather than relying on carbon offsets to meet emission reduction targets.
Weldon acknowledges that she faces an uphill battle to beat the incumbent Moore, but reckons it’s time for a change.
“Under Clover Moore as Lord Mayor, the City of Sydney Council has lost touch with those it represents,” she says.
Recently, mayors in Western Sydney achieved fantastic results when they rolled up their sleeves and got out among locals to encourage vaccination. But in the City of Sydney, rates have been sluggish: the LGA still hasn’t reached the 80 per cent second dose milestone.
The failure affects disadvantaged people most: public housing residents at the Waterloo Estate and Camperdown were confined to their apartments, and vaccination rates among First Nations people lagged even further behind the rest of the population, exposing them to greater risk.
“Bottom line is, our most vulnerable residents were left behind – there was no consultation, no outreach. Community groups and charities used their own scarce resources to set up vaccination clinics and get people to go out and get the jab.
“It is hard to imagine an issue of greater importance in the city’s history than COVID,” she says.
“However, the current Lord Mayor was just missing in action and the results speak for themselves. Not just vaccination rates, but empty shop fronts, struggling local businesses, and a strangled music scene and nightlife that are crying out for funding and support.”
Does she believe she can defeat Moore?
“I look at my two-year-old grandson, Tailan. I ask myself what kind of city he will inherit. It doesn’t take 17 years to fix Sydney’s problems, it takes political courage.”