Monday, September 29, 2014

What does loyalty mean to Myer?

I strongly believe that if there is to be any damage caused to Hobart City Council’s reputation from what our Annual Report reveals, it will be as nothing to Myer’s reputation and customer loyalty if it should decide Hobart is only worth investing in as either an online retail facility or their new FFS model (see below). 

Council has bent over backwards to get Myer back into the CBD given the threat of a new floor being built at Eastlands to house them or Myer moving out of the CBD for good. 

Council responded to enormous trader and public pressure at the time, and whatever arrangements were made, consider that the assistance package was agreed to in the economic environment of the day with the best of legal and economic advice.  The delays in building were not the fault of Council – the Aldermen and staff bent over backwards to get this store built - whatever delays occurred they can be sheeted home to the various business owners of the site.

Times have changed.  As has retail with the rise in the last 5 years of serious e-retailing (even Myer is now in on the act).  It is now more profitable for Myer to operate off-line rather than through a brick and mortar site and to change around how it does retail, away from flagship stores to FSS (free standing stores). 

It is public knowledge and well reported in the financial pages that Myer has been in difficulties, that it has been roundly slapped down over its bid for David Jones, and it has announced the closure of a number of retail outlets and stopped the upgrade of others.  It was expecting to have 80 stores opened by 2013 and now has only 67.  Its latest annual reporting bears out a contraction in regional areas and a delay by yet another year of the opening of the Hobart store.

Further, the financial press reports that Bernie Brooks and two other Directors have started a FSS process with Myer, so a layperson can only conclude that Myer aims to change how they do retail around Australia in the best interest of their shareholders. 

The financial pages report that FSS Retail is potentially being positioned to help Myer expand from its network of 67 department stores around the country by building free-standing stores that might be placed within shopping centres or along suburban retail strips.  Last financial year Myer's exclusive brands grew its sales by $40 million and now account for 20 per cent of the department store's $3.1 billion in annual sales.

The retailer has set itself a target of 1 per cent growth in its Myer exclusive brand category over the next few years and the bulk of that is expected to come from acquiring new fashion labels that bring with them a portfolio of free-standing bricks-and-mortar stores.  (Source: )

We can all be wise after the event.  Even the experts that advised Hobart’s Aldermen could not foresee the change in Myer’s fortunes.

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Servant leadership or media tart? What decides the tick on the ballot paper?

Now if you’re a candidate for local government, a fair bit of your time will be spent pestering the media.  Don’t despair if you’re not getting anywhere.  My early attempts at media releases rarely hit the jackpot in getting some column inches.  You can spend quite a bit of time polishing up a media release, for it to never be printed or a radio interview to materialise.  Some people have a knack for it, and seriously, they end up as Press Officers/Communications lobbyists.  The rest of us struggle on.

In between elections, it’s been head down and bottom up in getting on with local government stuff and these days the press release goes the way of all flesh in the decision of whether to add to the wastepaper bin at the local newspaper desk, or use the time more wisely.  Usually I just get on and do, because inevitably the media wait until the Council decision and then it’s the Mayor getting the calls and column inches anyway as “council spokesperson”.

What I’ve learnt is that the most important messages I’ve written have been the 100 words for the candidate statement each election.  These words go into the house of every voter at election time.  It’s a far better result than most other media, with the TEC logo being the golden ticket past the No Junk Mail on the letterbox.  You can tell a lot about a person’s style of leadership from the candidate statement.

If I might diverge a bit, after one particularly busy week of meetings at Council and out in the community, a local came up and asked if I was still on the Council, they hadn’t seen me in the newspaper lately, and thought I wasn’t doing anything.  I smiled quietly to myself and answered politely, yes I was still on Council and no, I really wasn’t comfortable being a media tart.  It had been a week when a few local government people had been behaving in a way not exactly edifying with their antics grabbing a few column inches. 

As one prominent conservative business leader said rather succinctly today, the only people you read about in the Tasmania media are whingers.  If Tasmania has problems, in his opinion, it’s because of the way the media portray the place.  Bad news, conflict, feral antics, human error and general all round whinging makes for media, not the good news stories.  You never heard the good stories.

All of which brings me back to the headline of this post.  Harking back to one of the eulogies at Tuesday’s funeral for Launceston’s Alderman Jeremy Ball, the comment was made that Jeremy personified servant leadership rather than the drive for ego-driven prestige and power so common in the murk of Tasmanian politics.  Jeremy was that rarest of leaders, a servant leader who consulted widely, who mentored others, who sought out the leadership possibilities in others.  The stuff that often rarely made it into the media but made for a better community.  The effect of Jeremy’s leadership was all around us, with Launceston’s Albert Hall packed to the rafters with people celebrating his life of service to the city and his fellow humans.

And that comment got me thinking about the hundreds of candidate statements that are going to be written, the accompanying pamphlets, the posters, the slogans, the media releases, in these local government elections.  Just what sort of leadership styles will dominate?  What will people choose?

In mentoring people running for local government, I try to get them to write 100 words about why they should get a vote.  It’s good practice.  It is perhaps the hardest 100 words (600 characters) that any candidate will ever write by the 29th of October.  If they do nothing else during the election, these 100 words will influence where the voting ratepayer places those 12 numbers.

(By the way, full points to the TEC for embracing social media by getting candidates to supply webmail/blog address as well as the usual mobile phone and email contacts, and allowing a candidate photo on the ballot material.  This time around, every candidate gets 600 character spaces and that includes spacing and punctuation, but no lists, no dot points to garner support from the voting ratepayer.)

600 character spaces to say why you qualify for their support.  I don’t know about you, but given candidates want to say so much, and have to condense it down so small, I figure most of us have sweated blood and irritated our nearest and dearest and bestest friends with the endless iterations. 

And how does the voting ratepayer make sense of it all?  One friend of mine works it out by eliminating anyone with lots of “I”, “I”’s, figuring they’re either on an ego trip or haven’t got out of the toddler demanding stage (a developmental stage best reserved for parliamentary politics where responsibility for what one says is protected by privilege).  First person, third person, past, present – nothing like a whole lot of I will, I shall, I think, I do, I’ve done, to get kicked off the shortlist.

Another judges by how much managerial bingo speak is present and eliminates candidates that way.  (You know the game, any more than five bits of managerial speak, and the cry of bingo! from the back of the boardroom is faintly heard.  Anyone using the words “proactive leadership” gets double demerit points.) 

Yet another sits down with every bit of written material on the candidates that can be found, and ask two questions.  Do the words sound sane, (which accordingly usually gets rid of around 50% of them) and what do they have in common with that person’s concerns and interests (and that does in around 40% of those left).  After that, it’s usually easy to fill out the form with a few circles and arrows after reading the paragraphs on each one.

And then there are those friends who, despairing at the choices to be made, ring me up in the late hours hoping I’m only half awake and not fully thinking by that time and ask what the people who have been elected are really like, compared to what their candidate statements say.  And thank God we don’t have the sort of phone hacking that went on in the UK in the Murdoch Press when I get these phone calls!

So here’s how I end up filtering all the candidate statements.  Because I vote too, and if I get re-elected, these are the people I’ll have to work with.

If the candidate’s 100 words use inclusive language, if you get the feeling that the person is grounded in their community, and genuinely wants to make some changes that benefit more than just one group, then put them on your shortlist. 

If you think that this reads like the sort of person you’d want to employ to work for you, put them on the shortlist.

If they sound open to change and don’t use obvious code words (“family values” is one that springs to mind) rather than being upfront in what they believe, put them on your shortlist.

It takes a bit of work sorting out if your choice of candidates will really represent what matters to you.  Local government elections attract all kinds.  From the media tarts, to those using local government as some sort of vindication of their politics or religion or personal beliefs, to those who see it as a career move up the political greasy pole.  And we have all sorts of ideas of what matters to us as well.

But if you think the 100 words are too good to be true, then think about these questions to ask, and phone them up for a chat to sound them out.  (Better still, if there are any candidate forums, try to get along and ask watch what happens when that person is under the stress of a public appearance.)  Do they think they are elected to make decisions for the community?  If they answer “yes”, ask what they think about consultation and when it is important.  And then ask them if they have ever relinquished a leadership position to mentor another?

This is where the servant leadership idea comes in.  Leaders often don’t have all the answers all the time and aren’t afraid to ask.  And often the best leaders look for others and encourage them before themselves. If your candidates are comfortable with these ideas, it’s a pretty good bet your local council will be in good hands.

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

If you're out to get someone, do you care about who gets caught in the crossfire?

Political Myer-Annual Report politics hurts Hobart.

It smears all Aldermen in one candidate’s political grab for position.

It destroys confidence in Hobart as a well-governed city open for business.

The insidious media and whispering campaign by various candidates for Hobart City Council is hurting confidence in Hobart.  It is smearing the Hobart’s brand, as a place which is well governed and open for business.

As Myer burnt down, the pressure on Hobart City Council from all levels was phenomenal, to get the store back up and opened up quickly. There was a real threat of losing Myer to Eastlands.  Small business owners in Hobart and Liverpool Street especially, have suffered real retail losses without the full presence of a large department store.

Hobart’s Aldermen have done everything they can to get the store re-opened.  All Aldermen got the best advice they could.  All Aldermen checked the probity of what they decided, based on meticulous legal and economic advice. Aldermen have relied on Myer’s understanding of the retail environment, and the value it represents to other businesses as a people attractor to our CBD.

I even argued at one point we should buy the site ourselves to get it re-built as quickly as possible.  Delays from a combination of RBF’s business decisions on the land and the impact of the GFC on investment significantly held up the project.  Yet Hobart’s Aldermen worked quickly to get the development application through, and have repeatedly urged the landowner to get on with the project.

What no one could predict was the rapidity of decline in retail, and the shift to e-retailing.  Myer hasn’t coped well with this, so even they are now delaying opening until 2016.

All Aldermen had access to confidential commercial data and knew they were making the best decisions they could at the time to get the project up and running.  On one hand to vote in favour in Closed meetings based on legal advice, and then go out in public to use the unpredicted downturn in circumstances in a push for getting public office is simply, in my opinion, an appalling abuse of process and trust.  It smears all the Aldermen, just because one candidate is gunning for another.

Council was never not going to release what it is required by law to do.  To imply otherwise is a smear on all Alderman, living and dead, who have participated in the Myer decision process.  Council has had to walk a fine line between legislative rules on one hand and contractual agreements on the other, and at all times has done the right thing by Hobart’s ratepayers.

Those sitting candidates pushing for release know that much of the commercial in confidence information will not be available for new candidates.  What will be released is unlikely to be read in the full context of what has happened since Myer burnt down to current times.  This smear campaign takes new candidates for fools. It sets them up to make comments not based on the full facts.  It is a distraction aimed at confusing the voters.  Worse, it undermines confidence in what local government is able to achieve.  If Council had walked away and said it was all up to the free market to decide, then there would be no crane on the skyline and Hobart retail the worse for it.

Myer is currently reassessing how it does retail across Australia. If Myer felt they can’t talk business with Hobart’s Aldermen without being subject to political backstabbing during elections in the future, who would blame them if they decided to walk and invest elsewhere?

People are elected on trust.  Abusing this trust in election times degrades us all.

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Are we really serious about local government reform?

Post the October 2014 local government elections, four politically clear years stretch ahead for the State government and Tasmania’s councils to finally sort out some long-awaited and much-needed reforms.

No, not amalgamations.  Need I refer you again to the work of Dollery et al and numerous others that point out how pointless amalgamating is?  That joining up a series of financially challenged entities just means a bigger financial black hole and, worse, even less representation of community with consolidation of political control into the hands of a more powerful few?  Sorry Property Council people, you just haven’t made any testable economic arguments, which is surprising, given who you say you represent.

Reforms.  Yes, actually sitting down to sort out what it means to be a local government in the twenty first century in the Australian Federation.

Reforms which sort out not only who gets what, but as well, who does what. 

Not phaphffing around the edges with territorial adjustments and lengthening the unemployment queue by sacking a few General Managers – for Tasmania, given its spread of population and geographical restraints – territorial adjustments (for which we read amalgamations) are a zero sum game.  We did this in 1906, and in 1993 – raise your hands anyone who saw the much promised drop in rates and financial subsidies?  Hmm, I didn’t think so.

(And seriously Parliamentarians, do you really want two super-Councils of Greater Hobart and Greater Launceston?  Just think carefully of the political power that may deliver into that hands of party-based politicians using local government for their own ambitions.)

A quiet perusal of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report on cost-shifting from Federal and State governments to local councils is illuminating reading on how much this practice has affected Council’s bottom line and the rate of rates increase.

So what is cost-shifting?  As the PWC report defines it:

Cost shifting has occurred in Australian governance with two basic types of behaviour. The first is where local government agrees to provide a service on behalf of another sphere of government but funding is subsequently reduced or stopped, and local government is unable to withdraw because of community demand for the service. The second is where, for whatever reason, another sphere of government ceases to provide a service and local government steps in.

And it has been going on since 1901!  What makes it so easy is the pressure of local communities on local elected people to continue with services once the money has stopped or because there is no other way for the service to occur.  For which we read, the free market just doesn’t provide.  And for which we read, lots of promises from local government hopefuls come election time.

Yet in the absence of a decent public transport system that reaches into Tasmania’s rural areas, how else can a rural council ensure the travel safety of its young teenagers in the absence of a bus service to get them home late in the evening from work or events? 

When the State is asked to fund a local tourism travel centre to attract people to a region, and the State Premier says, we get them here, it’s up to you to look after them, what else can a local council do but divert rates for funding the same? 

And what else can local government do when the State is simply so debt-racked from its own mismanagement, or has prioritised funding for its own purposes, but step in, in the hope of funding down the track?

So what is needed is a complete rethinking of what local government means for Tasmania and indeed, just what responsibilities the State government needs to be taking back and delivering.  

The Local Government Act 1993 is so broad in stating what Councils can do, that local government now does all sorts of things.  Seriously, can’t so much of what local does be done more efficiently and socially and environmentally effectively at the State level?

Here’s some tests for deciding on the relevance of what local government does:

Does the issue or service affect everyone in Tasmania?  (employment, health, energy, education, clean drinking water, safe disposal of sewerage, maintenance of and building roads, environmental management, economic development, agriculture, tourism, as some starting points) 

Is the issue or service only relevant to the people and communities within a particular region?  (regional employment, water catchment, forestry, agricultural land use, just off the top of my head) 

Does the issue or service only really relate at a township level? (local history, local foreshore and parks, local festivals, streetscape planning, that stuff that you do to build community)

If you answer State to any of the first two, then we really need to question why local government has taken over any responsibilities in statewide or regional issues.

Remember the Australian Constitution?  When it was debated and finally signed off on, local government was expected to gradually disappear, that the new States would subsume into itself all the activities local government then carried out.

Well, it hasn’t happened. 

Local government still exists, and State by State, let alone Council by Council, is taking on more and more activities in the absence of effective State policy, or indeed, in spite of it.

And it’s not as if there is effective communication between the two tiers, despite all the attempts to get this.  So when State bureaucrats have thought bubbles about policy matters affecting local government and don’t bother to actually consult because they operate in silos, we get all sorts of unintended outcomes.  Let alone at times a reversal of the original policy intention. 

A small matter, but indicative of the wider problem.  Have a look at the debacle of solar panel installation regulations foisted on local councils to enforce after people are encouraged to install solar.  And yes, nice to have the income from compliance where people install more panels than the State government thinks they should, but isn’t that really a stupid approach that penalises people who want to be more energy self-reliant, who want to reduce the cost of energy to their family budgets? And doesn't it ruin the relationships between local councils and their communities in having to enforce a State Government initiated policy?

So here’s a radical thought:  In a State the size of Tasmania, does it make sense that twenty nine councils each deals with waste management, roads, financial planning, and overall planning and funding for assets that we all have, use and share (roads, bridges, stormwater, etc)?  Is it not time for a re-think of what local government can really mean, and do and achieve, and stop taking on the costs of State and Federal responsibilities?  What if local government was actually “local”?  What sorts of cost efficiencies and better planning in managing assets would Tasmanians actually then get?  What sort of structural changes are then needed to implement some meaningful reform that retains Tasmania’s famous attraction of local representative community?

After all, it’s not as if we are all born, live and die in the same hamlet these days, is it?  Hands up those of us who regularly travel through at least three municipalities for work each day?  Hands up those of you who live in one municipality, and work in another, or have a shack in another or holiday in another?  Hands up whose children grow up in one municipality and get a tertiary or diploma education in another?  Hmm, near on 99.999 per cent of you.  You have to ask, are territorial municipal boundaries even relevant anymore?

Local councils used to raise the funds and provide the management for health, education, cemeteries, surrounding roads and libraries and so on, until the State finally took on its responsibilities in these areas to sort out the duplication, waste and general confusion.  And some comments aside on policy success, generally having a statewide approach has been successful and got a better outcome for all us.

So, today, what does a municipality do well?  Outside of Greater Hobart and Greater Launceston, a municipality is usually made up of a collection of towns, separated by rural areas.  Lots of towns mean lots of identity.  And as we’re tribal creatures, identity is good.  It means we try to make the places we live in better.  We have pride in where we belong and the communities that we are a part of where we make our family homes.

So local government today is very good at delivering local programs (bushcare, park management, local festivals, sporting grounds) and facilitating people’s connections into the wider world (family health and well-being, internet hubs, local transport services).  Just a pinch of examples here – have a look at a few Council websites, and you’ll be amazed at the services and programs provided.  The question of course is, having the money to provide the quality of service communities need and ask for.

So isn’t it time local government was exactly that?  Isn’t it time to give up the territorial markings and think about local government as a service entity and what reasonable outreach it can provide in its communities?

Dare I raise the idea that we talk about local government reform in terms of people catchment and a more fluid approach to what people need to keep their local communities, rather than sticking with outdated municipal boundaries as borders?

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just what scale of development do we really need at the Springs?

I’m on record, from well before getting on Council, as unhappy about various development proposals at The Springs and on kunanyi/Mt Wellington. 

I’m also on record as being in favour of development.  In particular, yes to interpretation, yes to track improvement, yes so upgraded toilets and picnicking shelters, and yes to sorting out just how much of the Springs should be a car park, and just how much should be set aside as opportunities for tourism experiences that are inclusive of public use of the Springs.

No, I’ve said, no, to the large scale accommodation/resort/conference/restaurant styles of development.  And for darn good reason.  Living on the Mountain at Fern Tree for twenty years sharpened my appreciation for how easy it is to spoil a natural place.

So distracted have we all been by various cable car and resort proposals for kuyanyi/Mt Wellington, by continuous reviews of the Wellington Park Management Trust’s Management Plan, that, really, we’ve often missed opportunities to capture appropriately scaled development that is both the benefit of the bio-reserve that is kunanyi/Mt Wellington, as well as all the people that want to go there. 

For twelve years nothing was done while Council chased the ephemera of a so-called eco-resort development then a cafe/restaurant development while the existing public facilities deteriorated and car parking started to clog the Springs out.

What’s really important?  Does anyone disagree that we want to see conservation of kunanyi/Mt Wellington’s natural and cultural values?  That we want to manage any risks to visitors from the natural events of fire, snow and all-round unpleasant windy weather that happens most days? That there is the need for public facilities that promote the public use of The Springs?  That there is a need for permanent visitor information and interpretation, and some small scale food and beverage provision?  That there is the need for meeting points for small scale guiding and interpretive activities?  That there needs to be a traffic management plan for cars, buses and bicycles?

Call me optimistic but I doubt anyone would disagree with these things are needed when you encourage people to visit – it remains one of the top visitation places in Tasmania.

And why do people travel up the road?  Some would say, to get to the top, to see the view.  Others because it’s amazing that such a natural place still exists within such close proximity to a city.  Others, because it’s Hobart’s playground, catering for just about all ages, given the variety of tracks and mountaineering challenges, the opportunities for snow play a few days of the year, the amazingly beautiful places to just stop and look, to picnic, to listen to the birds and watch the clouds scudding across.

Yet it’s not just a place to visit and play.  It’s part of Hobart’s water catchment.  It’s a valuable bio-reserve of plants and animals and a geological wonder to boot.  It’s the most distinctive landscape that sings in the heart of so many Tasmanians.  And it’s a public place that lives in the memories of so many because, for such a wild place, the top of the Mountain, and the flat areas of The Springs, are so accessible for families to visit.

Is it any wonder then that privatising the most publicly accessible parts of kunanyi/Mt Wellington creates controversy?  It’s inevitable that when private corporations are leased parts of wild places, the public, unless they pay, are excluded from what was previously freely enjoyed by all.

And it saddens me that what we’ll see into the future, under the guise of “eco-tourism”, is the loss of these accessible flat areas at the Springs.  Unlike the top of the Mountain where 60 km/h winds are the norm for much of the year, and the wind chill factor is a distinct deterrent to staying out of doors, The Springs area is relatively sheltered and provides some wonderful places that are easily accessible for families.

Worse still, to facilitate the scale of development that developers require to get a return on capital investment, so much of the flat places will end up as carparks to service the cafe/interpretation centre/restaurant/conference rooms/eco-lodges.  All these have been proposed in the past of various sizes, and I suspect there will be more again. 

And perhaps the bit that very few people think about, is that the flat open areas of The Springs are scarce habitat for marsupials, birds, lizards, insects, invertebrates.  With the loss of the grasslands and “grooming” of the surrounding bush, where will their food then come from?  With the noise and lights of developments, what impact then on their lifecycles and the web of life that The Springs area supports, and consequent flow-on into the rest of the Wellington Reserve?

And ask yourself this, how do we replace the loss of the flat snow play areas once the accessible areas of The Springs are built out and leased into private hands?   Where will ordinary families freely picnic in the summer months once the flat areas are turned into carparks and hived off into private development affordable only for the well-heeled tourist?

Yes, maintaining the currently low level, modest facilities for visitors on the Mountain costs money and we could spend a bit more in improvements and design.  But seriously, if most of the public, flat, accessible areas of The Springs are lost to private development, where then is the public benefit? 

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Is local government nothing more than a political stepping stone?

By sifting through the Local Government Census results we can work out that the norm for the elected local government person is someone older than 45 and unlikely to be an endorsed party member.  Yet it will be no accident that when the nominations for local government close for this political duck season that a number of younger candidates, especially in urban areas, will be endorsed Greens.

It’s the party that attracts young people disaffected by the Lib/Lab politics that dominates Tasmania’s political landscape.  The appeal of a party that doesn’t caucus votes, isn’t dominated by economics to the right of Genghis Khan and allows elected members to vote in ways that doesn’t toe the party line is drawing young people whose loyalties are to values, not history. 

But will they succeed in attracting the support of the predominantly older voters? 

It’s a bit of political realism that sitting Hobart Green Aldermen, all well known and this time running for Lord Mayor or Deputy as well as Alderman, will all likely be re-elected as Aldermen although reliant on just enough preferences of three other largely unknown, and young, Green candidates.  So for the remaining three, the chances of election are highly optimistic. 

What then the future for non-sitting young Green candidates waiting their next opportunity in four year’s time? 

There is a strong temptation to think that that local government elections are likely to end up as a useful training ground for the party cadres, as a means of raising profile.  One certainly gets the sense of this, given Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson’s comment to the media outside the 2014 Party Conference, that local government is “a critical stepping stone to State and Federal politics”. 

It raises the question – just how serious then is any party member of any political persuasion in participating for the long term in local government?

It’s not as if local government hasn’t been used by other people of various political hues as a stepping stone – the history of Tasmania’s Parliament is littered with ex-local government people, and until a recent legislative change, could serve at local and other tiers simultaneously. 

And has party politics a place in local government?  Local government is about the best interests of all in our community.  Once elected, an Alderman serves the whole community, with the myriad of beliefs and values present, not just a narrow segment.  There is no Treasury or Opposition benches, no portfolios, no parliamentary privilege, no party rooms, no party vote.

And here’s the nub of it.  Recent legislative changes mean that a person can only serve in one tier of government at any time.  Elections will now only occur with all in-all out four year terms.  And anyone can now run for Mayor or Deputy, without any experience in local government.

So if a young person really wants to be a municipal leader, they will have to make a significant commitment of time, money and effort to running, especially if they are not successful first time around and still want to contribute as an elected person to their local community.

But what if their ambitions lie elsewhere?  And in order to get sufficient media to build a profile for a State or Federal election, they nominate for Mayor or Deputy as well as for Councillor/Alderman?

If young people are encouraged via any party machine to use local government only as a means of getting elected to State and Federal politics, will this cause ratepayers to lose confidence in voting for other young people?

More so, as anyone now can run for Deputy or Mayor, if any political party uses local government to simply up the profile of its members for single terms, is local government eventually the loser in attracting a diverse set of committed community-based candidates?


Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Just how diverse can the role of an Aldermen be?

Recently folks have been asking about my interests on Council and what I’ve been doing since first elected.  Looking over extracts from the Annual Reports from 1999-2014 the following lists emerged.  And I have to say, if nothing else, making up the lists reminded me just how diverse the role of an Alderman can be, and the sorts of opportunities to meet different cross-sections of the community that present themselves.  And these were just the things being done as an Alderman - the lists don't include the other community groups and organisations outside of Council.


Membership and Chair of Standing Committees

Policy and Intergovernment
Strategic Governance (Chair, 2007-2014)
1999-2009, 2010-2011
Parks and Customer Services
1999-2002, 2005-2014
Finance and Corporate Services
2002-2005, 2006-2008, 2011-2014
Development & Environment Services (Chair, 2002-2004)
City Services
Infrastructure Services


Membership of Council’s Internal Committees

Audit Committee
Heritage Account Special Committee
Queen’s Domain Advisory Committee (Chairman)
Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Group
Access Advisory Committee (Chairman 2003-2008)
Battery Point Advisory Committee (Chairman)
Aldermanic Code of Conduct Panel Member


Council’s Representative on External and Advisory Committees

Battery Point Community Centre Association Inc. Hall Sub-Committee
Local Government Association of Tasmania Reference Group (proxy)
Trustees of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (proxy)
Lenah Valley Progress Association Hall Trustees
Wellington Park Management Trust (proxy)
City of Hobart Eisteddfod Society Inc. (proxy 2002-2014)
Salamanca Arts Centre Inc. Oversight Committee
South Hobart Community Centre Management Committee
City Heart Business Association (proxy)
Cornelian Bay Working Group (proxy)
Kalang Avenue Residents’ Traffic Committee (proxy)
2001-2002, 2005-2014
South Hobart Residents’ Traffic Committee (proxy 2001-2002)
Tasmanian Library Advisory Board
Tramway Working Party (On-Trac)
2001-2002, 2005-2014
West Hobart Local Area Traffic Management Committee (proxy 2001-2002, 2006-2007)
2001-2002, 2009-2014
Mount Stuart Residents’ Traffic Committee
West New Town Local Area Traffic Management Committee (proxy)
2001-2002, 2007-2009
Greenhouse Reference Group
Cat Control Taskforce and Steering Committee
Migrant Resource Centre Board of Management
Southern Tasmanian Councils Natural Resource Management Sub-Committee (proxy)
Southern Tasmanian Councils Board (later Authority, later Think South)(proxy 2001-2011, Lord Mayor’s nominee 2011-2014)
Local Government Association of Tasmania General Management Committee (proxy)
Local Government Association of Tasmania General Meetings (proxy)
Tasmanian Polar Network
Sandy Bay Shopping Centre Traders’ Traffic Committee
Corporate History of the Hobart City Council
50 & Better Centre Advisory Committee
Friends of Soldiers Walk Inc. (later Friends of Soldiers Memorial Avenue)
Glebe Residents’ Traffic Committee
Hobart Water (proxy)
2005-2009, 2010-2014
Lenah Valley Residents’ Traffic Committee
Southern Waste Strategy Authority (proxy)
Stopping Places Project Working Group
Hobart Coming Out Proud Community Liaison Committee (proxy) (later Greater Hobart)
Hobart Cenotaph Reference Group (proxy 2011-2014)
Lenah Valley Residents’ Traffic Committee
Inner City Action Plan-Project APO1-Trader Advisory Group (proxy)
Hobart City Council-Launceston City Council – Memorandum of Understanding Joint Working Party

Friday, September 19, 2014

Will old age and treachery always overcome youth and inexperience in getting a seat in local government?


(c) Patrick Cook 1985


Well, not treachery, as such, but old age is an issue.  A cursory glance at the demographics of local government reveals very few people below the age of 45, let alone female or the young, are successful in being elected to local government.  When you next sit with a coffee, download the .pdf versions of 4 census reports from the Local Government Association of Tasmania  The data has been gathered since 2004.  As a comparison, have a quick squiz at the ABS data on the people who make up Tasmania, and look particularly at age, employment, education and gender.

Notice some differences?  Here’s a potted summary:

If you are male, say between 56 and 65 years, a primary producer or in small business, if you live in a council area with less that 10,000 people, if your education tended to stop post-apprenticeship or after high school, if you were born in Australia and spoke English at home, if you are married, and the kids have flown the coop and you’re not yet looking after your parents, if you don’t mind continuously serving a few terms on the Council, and have the time to spend around 20 hours a week on Council matters outside of your other employment and in contact with the public, if your big issues are planning and development and rates and roads, if you are in a service or sporting organisation, then you’re in.  You’re representative of Tasmania’s local government elected members.

So what’s wrong?  The young, the disabled, the unemployed, women, and people with different cultural backgrounds are missing.  With no disrespect intended towards knowledge and experience, the average elected member is not exactly representative.

And I have to ask, where are the younger people?  Is the idea of community service predominantly one shared by folks well into mid-life and wanting to give something back?  I know that isn’t the case – so many young people are serving as volunteers and giving much of their time to social justice, humanitarian and environmental causes.  That gap year is no longer spent on the beaches of Bali for many.

Or is it that our local government institutions and processes, effectively unchanged for hundreds of years, are finally in need of an overhaul if we’re to encourage some more diversity around the Council table? 

Councils are yet to make the transition to webcasting as the norm, to moving council meetings around the municipality, to effectively using social media to communicate better.  It’s taken the best part of ten years with me pushing and shoving for changes for electronic delivery of Council agenda papers, and still, there is cultural resistance.  Just what is the problem with polling the electorate via social media?  We have the technology for safeguards against multiple voting and hacking of the results.  And still, the model is a physical meeting in a hall somewhere where only those able to attend can make it and so be counted as opinion (and we see very few young people at those meetings, I can tell you).

It is time we stopped saying the young people of Hobart are the City’s future, and acknowledged that they are here presently, and we do actually want to keep them here and to nurture their possibilities.  So why not a better interface with local government institutions?

Here’s a radical thought: why not take a percentage of the Council budget that is used for youth and festival programs, and actually hand the decision making for how it is spent on programs over to anyone interested between the ages of 18 and 25.  No elected representatives interfering or over ruling.  And yes, some assistance and guidance, but only from Council officers, and preferably ones in a similar age bracket.

I did suggest that at Budget time to the Council some years back.  The howls of “we’re elected to make the decisions” from the over 45 males was particularly in the majority.  As it actually is.  And so no change.  And given the inventiveness and cultural innovation that comes from being younger, an opportunity was missed to make Hobart more attractive for this age group by this age group. 

Funky.  Vibrant.  Hardly words to describe the current crop of Hobart Aldermen representing Hobart’s citizenry.  In fact, one candidate recently commented local government was boring, the meetings as dull as possible, that he thought it was intentional, to disengage the voters.  Fair point, I thought.  Is the way we do business no longer relevant?  Hobart has committee meetings and then decisions from these go up to Council for ratification.

Here’s another radical thought:  What about giving the Aldermen the ability to electronically vote for issues, and where there is agreement, star those parts of the agenda, and spend our time then purposefully discussing that which we don’t agree on?

Suggested that one also, but again, got slapped down, because the majority wanted to be seen to be making decisions, to the often non-existent public gallery.  It’s not as if people don’t come in when there is something controversial, but the rest of the time, much of the agenda is tick and flick, especially when the meeting stretches to three hours and mental fatigue has set in.  And you know, sometimes a decision has to go through multiple levels of meetings.  It’s at times a criminal waste of people’s lives and I can’t say multiple levels of meetings often adds to the quality of the decision!

We know there is always a lag time once cultural and political change starts to take effect.  It’s slowly changing for women, although still well below a representative sample of population, and it still makes the local news as an exception when a woman makes a play for either Mayor or Deputy.  In the 1990s there were quite a few young people standing for public positions across the tiers of government.  Some succeeded and went on to greater glory.  Yet we’ve still to see young people consistently standing for or elected to local government. 

There hasn’t been any one below the age of 30 in Hobart since Greens Alderman Mat Hines and he didn’t last his whole term either.  But he certainly made it clear that what mattered to his demographic was yet to get on the radar of the older Aldermen.  His concerns were deeply green and people centred.  He saw local government as the policy arena to get some change for how young people were treated in the City.  His values, and how there were to be applied, were very different from the sitting Aldermen.  The look of purple outrage on the face of one Alderman when he commented that he would never likely own property and so didn’t have any interest in local government policy about it, was fascinating.  You’d think he’d uttered some heinous blasphemous curse, given the reaction, and yet, there it was. 

What matters to the young is not the same as matters to the demographic currently in the chairs.  Below 25, and most likely you were renting, footloose and more interested in changing the world one protest at a time.  The young complain that Hobart is a boring place, that it lacks the vibrancy of other cities, that it needs more parties.  Above the age of 25-35 it and the ever time-consuming dance of mortgage, family, superannuation and insurance til you’re dead, matters more.  As also, safe footpaths, shared cycleways and playgrounds.  After all, you’ve probably got a small family by now.

And granted, Council has shifted a great deal in addressing the issues of youth and cultural diversity, with actual policies and programs and a Futures Youth Advisory Committee.  (see )  There is a lot of support given to young people, and I sometimes wonder if those complaining are aware of the limits of what local government can do?

It’s one of those darkly enjoyed political jokes, that old age and treachery will always overcome youth and inexperience.  But if the young don’t engage with local government, find out how different it is to State and Federal government, when none of the 18-25 year olds are around the table when the final budget decisions are made, what urgency will then be given to the changes they want to see implemented in their city?

So here we are.  From 14 -28 October, we’ll all be asked to choose 12 people to represent our city.  And don’t get me wrong.  I’d consider it an honour if people chose me to represent them for another four years in Hobart, because it is a City of many possibilities and opportunities, and that’s what I’m asking to be a part of.  Yet this time, if you decide to fill out the non-compulsory postal ballot paper, have a think about how the whole Council should represent the whole of the City.  Wouldn’t it be good to see more young people and more women, to get more diversity around the table?  And perhaps then, we’ll get less complaints about living in boring old Hobart.


Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart.