The importance of local government is often understated, despite it being the level of government that is closest to our day-to-day lives. It has significant impact on the cities, suburbs, towns and regions in which we live – particularly since its remit has developed past the old stereotype of rates, roads and rubbish. Councils have financial firepower too, with a combined expenditure of $4 billion in Western Australia in the 2019-20 financial year.
As we approach local government elections this weekend, here’s a quick snapshot of three battles for mayor which could shape the direction of their respective local government areas for the years to come.
The City of Fremantle
With former mayor Brad Pettitt’s election to the Legislative Council earlier this year, Fremantle has been without a mayor for almost six months. Under Mr Pettitt, the City of Fremantle clashed with the Federal Government over the council’s plans to shift citizenship ceremonies from Australia Day.
The next mayor will play a key role in advocating for the local community’s views for the future of Fremantle, with plans progressing to deliver a new container port at Kwinana. As a result, the State Government has established the Future of Fremantle Planning Committee to explore opportunities for Fremantle Inner Harbour, which includes representatives from local government.
Mayoral candidate Hannah Fitzhardinge is a director and senior consultant with a leadership development consultancy, who previously worked for WA Premier Geoff Gallop. She currently serves on council for the Beaconsfield Ward, and her commitments include developing a new agreement between the City and Notre Dame University. Her council colleague from the South Ward, Marija Vujcic, is also contesting. She’s a human resources consultant campaigning against a rate increase above CPI. If elected, Freo local, health professional and business owner Martin Douthwaite has committed to donating his mayoral wages to the homeless in his first year. Arguably the highest profile candidate is former state MP Adele Carles, who held the seat of Fremantle from 2009 to 2013 for the Greens. Rounding out the crowded field is Rod Grljusich. He ran as an independent for Fremantle at the 2021 state election and played in the WAFL for South Fremantle.
The City of Joondalup
The City of Joondalup is one of the largest local government areas in terms of population in Western Australia. It’s home to key infrastructure including Edith Cowan University, Hillarys Boat Harbour and the Joondalup Health Campus. It’s key infrastructure like this which make it a destination for those who live outside its boundaries. Whoever is successful at the weekend’s elections will have an important role to play in working with the State Government through Development WA to deliver the Ocean Reef Marina.
Albert Jacob is seeking to serve as a second term for as Joondalup Mayor. The former State MP served as the Minister for Environment in the Barnett government, and was the Member for Ocean Reef from 2008 to 2017. Mr Jacob’s election commitments include upgrading street lighting and underground power, developing a proposal for an artificial surf reef near Mullaloo Point and a upgrading the Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club.
Mr Jacob’s challengers include current Central Ward Councillor Russell Poliwka. He is a former deputy mayor and is currently the principal of First Western Realty in Joondalup. Mr Poliwka ran for mayor in 2017 where he placed third with 16 per cent of the vote. Mr Poliwka notes in his candidate’s statement that “spiralling salary costs & extravagant vanity projects must end”. His endorsements include former Member for Hillarys Hon Rob Johnson OAM.
The third candidate is local nurse Ziggi Murphy, who received 484 first preference votes as an independent running for Joondalup at the 2021 state election. She also contested the federal seat of Moore at the 2019 federal election, where she received 2.7 per cent of the votes. Ms Murphy’s campaign commitments include removing penalties for partial rates instalments, reducing costs for small business, and overhauling planning and zoning.
City of Subiaco
The City of Subiaco has experienced significant changes in the past five years, driven by the switch from Subiaco Oval to Optus Stadium and opening of Bob Hawke College. One key project driving the area is Subiaco East. This plan involves rejuvenating the 35 hectares surrounding Subiaco Oval, Bob Hawke College and the former Princess Margaret Hospital site. There is bound to be strong continued debate at a local level about the increased density this plan will bring to the local area. Additionally, the new mayor will have to grapple with the well-publicised challenges faced by Hay Street. These are just some of the ongoing challenges and opportunities that the new mayor will face after current Mayor Penny Taylor announced she would not be contesting the upcoming election.
Two candidates are in the running to become the City of Subiaco’s new mayor: Julie Matheson and David McMullen.
Ms Matheson has run for parliament on a number of occasions, most recently to represent the Mining & Pastoral region for the Western Australia Party at the 2021 state election. The certified financial planner’s commitments include preserving Subiaco Oval and reviving Subiaco’s high streets. She notes in her candidate’s speech, “who do you trust as the full-time Mayor to maintain pressure on the State Government to promote development in the right areas?”
Mr McMullen is an experienced commercial lawyer specialising in the health and aged care sector who has represented South Ward since 2017. Mr McMullen says he is not affiliated with a political party and he is not using the mayorship to achieve higher office. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and Bachelor of Arts (Communications Studies) from the University of Western Australia, as well a Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance from the Governance Institute of Australia.