BY ANITA SENARATNA
The Liberal Party’s reign in Waverley officially ended last Tuesday night as the council elected Labor councillor John Wakefield as Mayor and Greens councillor Dominic Wy Kanak as Deputy Mayor, signifying a new working relationship in which Labor and the Greens now hold a majority on Waverley Council.
Prior to the September 9 local government election, the Liberals held the majority with seven councillors, a number which has since dropped down to five following their controversial Bondi Pavilion proposal and the NSW State Government’s attempts to merge the council with neighbouring Randwick and Woollahra.
Both policies were deeply unpopular with the community, who made their feelings known at the ballot box after their campaigning appeared to fall on deaf ears, as then-mayor Sally Betts pushed ahead with the plans against residents’ wishes.
But Mayor Wakefield is determined to change this. He says fairness and transparency will be the ‘catch-cries’ under the new Labor-Greens council and he wants to ensure everyone who was elected has a say. Having held the mayoralty previously in 2011, he understands the importance of allowing open debate.
“One of the tenets that I hold to is that it’s a chair’s job to create an open environment that all people participate in fairly and eagerly. That means in practice that my role becomes neutral, independent of the political party I was elected to represent,” he said.
“We had the numbers and the right to exclude the Liberals from committees and functions on council, but we didn’t. That hasn’t been done on our council for years. The Liberals excluded us from every committee. We weren’t allowed on them!”
Mayor Wakefield also intends to introduce live video streaming of council meetings, and an independent committee of councillors from all parties specifically in charge of planning and development, which means that discussions that might have previously taken place behind closed doors will now happen in public with official records.
With regards to the Bondi Pavilion, he confirmed they would be rejecting the Liberals’ previous plan, in particular the loss of community space on the building’s top floor. He said the council was “starting to draw up new ideas for the pavilion which retain its community and cultural use.”
Mayor Wakefield has spoken out against overdevelopment in the Waverley area before, and he intends to use his new role to stand up to developers who might not have the community’s best interests at heart.
“We will be very firm about sticking to our development control plan,” he said.
“The mayor is a significant role and it enables the holder to stand for a community and say ‘No, we will not tolerate this overdevelopment you’re proposing, we will fight you in court.’”
Deputy Mayor Dominic Wy Kanak said he was also committed to “creating an open and transparent council with less secrecy, and having councillors more accessible to constituents.” He sees his role as “helping balance the Mayor and my colleagues towards putting the community first and meeting their trust in us as their elected representatives.”
In addition to reevaluating the Bondi Pavilion upgrade and fighting overdevelopment, Cr Wy Kanak and the rest of the Greens on council want to put issues like climate change and affordable housing on the council’s agenda by supporting renewable energy initiatives and housing assistance schemes for the “poor and vulnerable” in the community. Cr Wy Kanak also intends to advance the council’s Reconciliation Action Plan, focusing on the Bondi Pavilion’s expanding integration of Aboriginal historical values and the Council’s Crown land co-management strategies.
Mayor Wakefield says he is committed to making sure no political party on his council feels they were “badly done by” during the democratic process. He said excluding the voices of opposing parties was ultimately “counterproductive to good governing.”
“Everyone who’s been elected has the right to have a voice. But they might lose some arguments in a democratic process and that’s fair. Good, healthy democratic processes are vital to making everyone feel like they’re involved,” he said.
“If at the end of that involvement they haven’t got exactly what they want, at least they feel happy that it’s been fair to them. That’s what keeps people interested and that’s what keeps people wanting to be involved.”