Councillor profiles

A regular feature profiling two Councillors form new South Wales.

Councillor Denise Wilton, Mayor Mosman Council, New South Wales

Q. How long have you been on Council?

I was first elected to Mosman Council in September 1999. For the first time in Mosman, there were more women elected to Council than men with a ratio of seven to five. However, this was not a reflection of equal gender representation through the State, where women are still very underrepresented at a local level – just as in the other two spheres of government.

In the last New South Wales Council elections in March 2003, only 27 per cent of successful candidates were women. Mosman Council now has an equal balance of six to six. I am the fourth female Mayor in over 100 years. The first was elected in 1993.

Q. Why did you want to become involved in Local Government?

I have lived in Mosman for over 30 years. My children grew up here and I was always involved in community issues such as the Parents and Citizens Association and environmental concerns.

When controversial issues arose regarding public land and a community building, I joined a group fighting to keep the building for the people instead of being leased out for 21 years. Council won, the objectors did not.

The other lobby group I joined fought Council’s decision to approve a deal which would have seen private housing built along the ridgeline at Georges Heights on land that was being vacated by the Defence Forces. Fortunately the objectors won and the land is now being managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. The Trust will hand over the land for all people to experience the bush walks and spectacular views of Sydney Harbour.

I decided to stand for Council and have some real say about private ownership of public assets. I joined many Councillors who are motivated to become candidates by some such catalyst.

Q. Can you tell us about your Local Government area?

Mosman has a population of about 28,000 people. It is about ten kilometres from the centre of Sydney, yet has a lot of bushland, open space and a National Park within its boundaries. The Defence Forces saved much of this land by stationing themselves in a strategic position on the harbour over 100 years ago, inadvertently saving it from development and for future generations to enjoy. We also have Taronga Park Zoo with harbour views framed by lush native plantings.

Q. What are some of the challenges that you have faced in Local Government?

Mosman has a coastline of 24 kilometres, with beautiful swimming beaches and Middle Harbour where sandstone and bushland rim the deep and tranquil waters. A challenge for Mosman is to retain the green spaces and the heritage of the area against powerful market forces of development.

Our biggest problem is traffic which streams through our suburb from the peninsula, choking our streets and stressing commuters and residents. A holistic and regional solution must be found, which will not be the bandaid proposal to put two more lanes on the over loaded Spit Bridge.

Q. What are the key aspects of being a good Councillor?

I believe that a good Councillor acts in the interests of the wider community and bases decisions on benefit for the majority. Councillors should be available and willing to listen. They must be fair and listen to both sides of the story. The best are proactive and use their responsible position to instigate and implement improvements for their community.

Councillor Nick Berman, Mayor Hornsby Shire Council, New South Wales

Q. How long have you been on Council?

I was first elected to Hornsby Council in September 1999 as a Councillor and served in that capacity until March 2004. I was elected Deputy Mayor in September 2002. During my first term on Council, I was a member of a number of committees including the Hornsby CBD Steering Committee and the Hornsby Mall Consultative Committee. In March 2004 I was elected as the Shire’s first popularly elected Mayor.

Q. Why did you want to become involved in Local Government?

Having been involved in sport for most of my life, I was aware of the important role Local Government plays in providing people of all ages with opportunities to lead active lifestyles. After buying my first home and paying rates for the first time, my level of interest in Council affairs increased significantly.

Q. Can you tell us about your Local Government area?

The Shire of Hornsby is the second largest Local Government area in the Sydney region, covering 510 square kilometres. It is known as the Bushland Shire, with diverse areas reflecting urban, rural, bushland and river settings. Hornsby has around 150,000 residents. The Shire’s traditional owners are the Darug and Guringai Aboriginal people.

There was little development in the Hornsby Shire area before the building of a railway. The main economic activity at this time took place in the southern end of the Shire, between Hornsby to Pennant Hills and Epping, where fertile land supported orchards and pastures for stock. The opening of railway lines from Strathfield to Hornsby in 1886, and the North Shore line from St Leonards to Hornsby in 1890, increased land values. Subsequent development followed the railway lines and ridge tops.

Hornsby Shire was proclaimed on 7 March 1906. When the first Hornsby Shire Council elections were held that same year, only 1,364 people were eligible to vote. This year Hornsby Shire will celebrate its centenary. Council’s program of events includes an old fashioned Country Fair and Steam Train Day, community recognition awards, two music in the park events, a dinner dance, a street parade, and children’s events.

Q. What are some of the challenges you have faced in Local Government?

To start with, there is a steep learning curve awaiting most new Councillors irrespective of their background. There are also difficult decisions to be made, particularly those relating to development, which people can be particularly passionate about.

Q. What are the specific issues currently facing your Council?

All Sydney Councils will be required to prepare Local Environment Plans (LEP) following the long awaited release of the State Government’s Metrostrategy late last year. These LEPs will map out the nature of development in local areas for the next decade. Issues considered as part of the LEP for Hornsby Shire will include a residential housing strategy and the future of the former Hornsby Quarry site. Following the opening of the new M7 road in Sydney, Hornsby Shire Council is urging the State and Federal Governments to progress plans for a link from the F3 freeway to the M2 motorway to reduce congestion on Pennant Hills Road. Council will continue to push to finalise the project in a manner that is acceptable to the community.

Q. What are the key aspects of being a good Councillor?

If you do not enjoy meeting new people and working with them, you certainly should not become a Councillor, as that is an integral part of the job. This requires patience and being a good listener, qualities that are regularly tested. Your underlying passion has to be a desire to make the community a better place to live for its residents – there is little room for anything else.