Councillor profiles

A regular feature, this month we have interviewed two Councillors from the Northern Territory.

Alderman Jim Forscutt – Mayor Katherine Town Council, Northern Territory

Q. How long have you been on Council? What got you into Local Government?

I have been associated with Local Government since 1972 when I was on the town management board. Local Government formally came to Katherine in 1978 and I was first elected in 1982. In 1988, I was elected Mayor and I have remained in that position ever since. I got into Local Government to help the community and I think that is the best reason to get into the area. After 16 years as Mayor, I will be retiring to build up my retirement savings. I have been part time and earned very little with no superannuation. I think it is an issue that needs addressing.

Q. Tell us about yourself and your community.

I own a property outside Katherine, which is next to the river (and currently under water due to floods). This area has enormous potential as the food bowl of Asia. There are 400 million people to the north of the Territory. We can grow a wide range of food and already export lettuce to Singapore and to southern Australian markets. Grain production has increased and there is great potential for sorghum, sesame, mung beans, and hay crops. With the arrival of the Ghan, the number of tourists could grow to 400,000 people each year visiting the famous Katherine Gorge, which is just 35 kilometres from the town.

Q. Describe Katherine and its surrounds?

Katherine covers about 528 square kilometres and has a population of about 10,000. It is sited at the crossroads of the Stuart and the Victoria Highways. With the arrival of the Ghan, this area, along with Darwin, is set to boom. We are now connected to a fine port and the opening up of huge Asian markets for food.

Q. Which issues do you feel most passionate about?

I think Local Government needs to have recognition in the constitution. There are things that only Local Government can do, as it is closest to the people. It has a great future, but it needs to be independent and not responsible to the states.

Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while in Local Government?

I think making people aware of the potential of Katherine and the Territory. It has a great future and I think the Territory is now being looked at in a different way. We cover 46.2 per cent of the northern part of Australia that links into Asia.

Q. What are the aspects to being a good councillor?

I think not to take things personally and to remember that you are there to serve people, but you are not owned by them.

Many people knock Local Government but they are ‘would-bes if they could-bes,’ A lot of Australians are tall poppy knockers and you need to be able to put up with this attitude.

Q. How do you foresee the future of Local Government in Australia?

I think the future is bright. After almost 30 years in the sector, I see that you can do great things. I am very optimistic about it.

Alderman Robyn Lesley, Darwin City Council

Q. How long have you been on Council?

I stood first in 1975 and was unsuccessful. I stood again and was elected in 1978 retired to move to Nhulunbuy in 1984 and I stood again in 1996 and was elected.

Q. What got you into Local Government?

Originally I wanted to be part of the rebuilding of Darwin after Cyclone Tracey. When I was unsuccessful I continued to work with community based organisations, including Regional Council for Social Development where I was Chairman.

I successfully lobbied the Federal Government for funds for childcare in Darwin. They offered $600,000 but we needed a sponsor. I sought help from Darwin City Council. They rejected it so I stood as a candidate and the rest is history. I quickly became involved in pushing Council beyond the roads, rates and rubbish profile to one of the more forward thinking Councils in the 1980s. In 1996 I stood for Council because of my concern that DCC had lost the ‘edge’ of the 1980s.

Q. Tell us about yourself and your community.

I came to Darwin on my way overseas but settled and became very involved with setting up community based services which were available in Sydney – joined the Women’s Electoral Lobby, established the first women’s shelter in Darwin, post Cyclone Tracy single mother, middle manager in public service, first women Regional Manager (East Arnhem and Central Australia) working with Aboriginal communities, Local Government and other areas. I came from a community development base and grew into organisations with economic development background. I have extremely good networks in Darwin and the Northern Territory – diverse and broad in interests.

Q. Describe Darwin

Darwin is a can do place providing opportunity and great quality of life. It is complex – culturally and socially – but acts more like a big regional town than a capital city. It enables you to be relaxed or busy.

Q. What are the big local issues and how do they affect ratepayers?

Costs – how do people, particularly businesses cope with ongoing increases in government – all governments charges, change and reliability; maintaining jobs; itinerants; and alcohol misuse. Local rates are always the last in line – and sometimes the last straw – for businesses and people with concerns about making ends meet.

Q. Which issues do you feel most passionate about?

At this time my greatest concerns relate to a failure of governments to work together and get the best results for the tax dollar, the failure of planning and heritage arms of government to look after our public assets, and finally my concern about the future directions of Local Government.

Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while in Local Government?

Initially getting credibility as a single young mother in a council full of males. Selling the vision I had for Council as a service provider with Council staff and elected members working for common objectives. The frustration of things taking so long to implement.

Q. What are the aspects to being a good councillor?

Being an independent thinker, understanding the system (informal and formal) and how you get things done, working with others to sell the message and get support, having good connections in the community (as a check that you are in touch), staying interested in everything you do and not thinking you know all the answers.

Q. How do you foresee the future of Local Government in Australia?

Depends on whether it continues to attract committed individuals who are prepared to work for the community and have broad base of interests. It also needs to be consistent throughout Australia. My greatest concern is that people are not sufficiently aware of the benefits and roles of Local Government and that more and more we are seen as caricatures.