Councillor Malikeh Michaels, Auburn Council, NSW
Councillor Malikeh Michaels, Auburn Council, NSW
Q. How long have you been in Local Government?
I was elected at the 2004 Council elections.
Q. Why did you become involved?
I studied law and politics at university and was also part of an organisation called ‘Women into Politics’ for a couple of years. Their forums planted the seed that began growing my interest.
I was very active in the community, being on my eldest son’s Parents and Teachers School Council for five years and acting as President for half that time. I also spent five years on a committee aimed at raising awareness of refugee issues, and I had attended a ‘How to be a Councillor’ workshop.
All of these things fell together for the 2004 election when it was suggested I run for Council. I had also enquired about joining the Greens at some stage earlier and have an environmental interest from doing a few Environmental Law subjects as part of my law degree. I joined the Greens and ran for Council and am still here today!
Q. What do you most value about Auburn?
The obvious thing is the diversity of cultures in our area. We have one of the most diverse ranges of language groups and the highest number of new arrivals (refugees and migrants) in Australia. The area is very communal and people are friendly and connected. That is what I love best – people still talk to their neighbours no matter what their background or where they come from.
Q. What are the challenges involved in having such a culturally and socioeconomically diverse community?
Council issues, such as rubbish dumping and litter, are a huge problem. We have worked with Local Government and nongovernment service providers to put on special seminars educating people who are newly arrived in Australia about recycling, for example. These have been very successful.
Q. How does Council embrace and reflect its diversity in its day to day operations?
The Council administration itself has many multilingual staff and this assists us in servicing the community. We also have community barbecues and community pride events every three months in various locations around the Local Government area.
Auburn has a fantastic yearly festival and many community events, such as our new ‘Life Long Learning’ program. These are free education and workshop programs that run in community centres and libraries in the area. Events include things such as knitting, worm farming, jewellery and beading workshops. Many have ethnic themes, such as Moroccan Shoe beading workshops. Auburn Council also fosters youth programs and many culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) kids get involved in interesting programs like performances by local artists and DJ workshops.
The area is a real melting pot and we have many ‘great flavours’.
Q. What do you most enjoy about being a Councillor?
Being able to actively do something that helps people. I have helped keep the building height of the area down and recently assisted residents resist a company running B-double semi trailers down their street after midnight.
I have also been lobbying to introduce recycling in multi unit dwellings. We don’t currently have this, mainly because of problems with educating new residents about how to use the recycling bins. However, it is moving ahead and Council is actively working on programs to enable this service to begin soon.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
To try to make our area greener with more indigenous flora and a return of the fauna with that. To keep the Local Government area clean and safe and help educate people about being responsible community members. I hope we can have a healthy and connected community.
Mayor Mark Dusting, Uralla Shire Council, NSW
Q. Why did you become involved in Local Government?
I was chairman of the Uralla Community Safety Committee and a couple of the committee members asked me if I had considered becoming a Councillor. As there was a Council election coming up, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. I was unsuccessful in that election, missing out by 17 votes. However, in 2004, I was successful, and again in 2008. In September each year, the Mayor and Deputy Mayors are selected by fellow Councillors. I was selected as Deputy Mayor in 2006 and 2007, and as Mayor in 2008.
Q. Tell us about your Council area.
Uralla Shire is located at an altitude of about 1,000 metres in the New England Tablelands of northwest New South Wales. We have a population of 6,177 people and cover 3,230 square kilometres.
The Shire has its beginnings in the Gold Rush to Rocky River, being first settled in 1855. While the gold rush brought an increase in population and the permanency of the township of Uralla, it is rural industry that has been our foundation, producing some of the finest wool grown in all of Australia. Uralla also has two foundries casting brass, steel plaques and spare parts.
Q. What issues are important to you?
Uralla and Bundarra, the other major town within the Shire, are picturesque townships with buildings dating back to the 1860s. The towns’ main streets boast examples of various building styles and architecture stretching through the 150 years of our existence. So strong are these historic townships in building and layout, the New South Wales Heritage Commission often promotes Uralla as an example of ‘History on the March’. We consider that our heritage is vital to retain, but also that history does not stand still. We therefore look to the future and implement ‘best practice’ wherever possible.
Q. Last year, your Council noticed an increasing number of residents weren’t able to pay their rates on time due to the economic impact of the drought. What is Council doing to assist these residents?
Last year, many of our ratepayers experienced greatly reduced incomes due to the drought and the economic downturn (the value of superfine wool halved). The increased cost of fuel, chemicals, fertiliser and fencing materials, as well as the cost of complying with Government requirements has also made it extremely difficult for some of our ratepayers to make ends meet.
To assist these residents, Council has a plan of action in place. The plan empowers Rate Recovery Officers to reduce the rate of interest payable on overdue rates by affected landowners considered to be suffering hardship. This is provided a plan of action for that ratepayer has been implemented and a formal arrangement to pay has been made with Council.
Q. What other issues are affecting rural councils?
Uralla Shire Council recently held a Climate Consensus Forum, where members from our community could discuss the possible effect of climate change in our area. From that, Council has developed a plan to properly manage, develop, protect, restore, enhance and conserve the environment within the Shire, for which we are all responsible. Community members are enthusiastically beginning to take up these actions.
One example is the Solar New England Region Project, which includes Uralla Shire and aims to make this a ‘solar region’, using high levels of solar energy for power generation, hot water and heating. The rate of community takeup in Uralla has been inspiring, with the sixth highest rate of carbon emission reduction rebate applications in New South Wales. In just three months, nearly 200 residents have signed up for solar power – a fourfold increase across the region!
On 19 March 2009, the solar hot water stream of the project was launched in Uralla, and the prelaunch offer of 50 systems was taken up in only six days! The project is on track to achieve the goal of solarising three per cent of the homes in the region, which is a total of some 800 systems.