Image for Suzy Cooper: What I stand for ...

While thinking about today’s Live Blogging [ Mercury website: 12.30pm – http://www.themercury.com.au/ ] I started dreading the predictable questions about Myer and Macquarie Point and the Battery Point Walkway. Does talking about these things really tell us anything about a person who will represent the community? Are these things distractions from other important things we could be doing right now?

I’d much rather discuss and hear other people’s ideas about the following sorts of things – especially if, in generalising the subjects, I have grasped the wrong end of the stick and am wielding it wildly:

1. The Basics are People: some candidates call for a return to ‘the basics’ [which, at first flush sounds Very Sensible] and then say council should focus on roads, rates and rubbish. I’m wary of people who use Three Word Slogans [eg Stop The Boats]. I think the basics are: looking after the people in our community – we are a large group of PEOPLE living together. We need to make sure we can all live with human dignity without trashing everything around us. If we look after the people and the natural environment then we’re doing well. Let’s leave things in a better state than we found them. That is what I call the basics. Yes, we need to remove rubbish – actually, I’d like to see Hobart try to become a Rubbish-Free city, but that’s another conversation – and fix roads. But rubbish removal and road fixing can be contracted out. We shouldn’t contract out our care for people.

2. Money: Council gets its money from only a few places: Federal government, state government and rates. As I understand it, money raised from parking is supposed to go back into parking (staff, buildings, meters, etc – I’m sure if I’m wrong on this someone will correct me). Council spends its money on providing things and services to the community. There’s no big room full of money. It’s not run as a business, it’s a mechanism that’s supposed to distribute wealth. Council taketh and it giveth back. We need to focus on who it gives it back to.

Rates can be calculated in different ways. You often see some angry letter-to-the-editor-writer saying rates increases are unfair, immoral and un-American [hang on!] – OK, if council doesn’t get money from rates then where can it make money? I’m glad you asked. Councils are allowed to raise money doing almost anything – they can actually run businesses, invest in energy generation to reduce their costs or do almost anything they like – whether we want them to spend their time doing those things is the question. Some interstate councils run childcare centres, for example. But if they’re limited in the ways they can make money then they’re limited in what they can spend.

Councils can also encourage businesses and new developments, which return rates. But are these businesses that add to our collective wellbeing? I think that should be a consideration.

3. Transport – how we get around. It’s a biggie. How is Council going to reach one of its stated goals for 2025: ‘In 2025 Hobart will be a city that is highly accessible through efficient transport options’? We need to make some decisive changes to work with the state government to get Metro services to meet our needs, so more people see they have options other than just getting in their car. I want to see people happy to walk, cycle, catch the bus, catch taxis, use the water taxi and sometimes drive – and easily able to do all those things. Petrol cars are old technology using a dwindling energy source.

4. Suburb-Love: Hobart’s not all about the city and waterfront: how we can make our suburbs places where we enjoy spending time, so we stop feeling so damned isolated? Do you have a couple of parks near your house where you can go and read a book outside? Can your kids ride to the shops without you worrying? Are there safe places for teenagers to hang out, the way they have since Day Dot? Do people say hello when you see them? Can you walk your dog in beautiful places, without the constant whoosh of passing cars? I want us to be happier where we are, rather than having to cross town to get to a park or a cafe. Quality of life doesn’t have to cost a stack of cash.

Future-proofing

5. Future-proofing: is there a plan for how we’ll tackle any natural disasters or interruptions in our fuel supply, considering we only store about a week’s worth of petrol and we’re a bit stuffed if the re-supply ship doesn’t arrive? I grew up in Darwin where each household was expected to be responsible for itself in the event of a cyclone: enough water and food and medicine to look after itself for at least a few days. Are any of us encouraged to do that? No. We’re reliant on a fantasy idea that everything will continue to work perfectly and someone else will take care of things. Basic preparation for fires and storms, and the ability to take care of yourself and your family, is a personal responsibility.

6. Climate change: don’t even get me started on this subject. Council needs to lead the way, not with talk but with helping us all to change as soon as possible. We’ll be facing changes to do with storm surges, food availability, water availability [possibly] and extremes of weather. We live on an island. We don’t grow all the foods we like to eat. We’re not buffered from these changes. Climate change is the most democratic process we’ll face as no-one can hide from the effects. We have all the information, but no-one wants to be the one to do anything because people will get upset. I warrant they’ll be more upset when they find out that governments have known for decades what we needed to do to prepare ourselves. Hobart’s climate action plan expired last year and hasn’t been updated.

I haven’t even talked about ensuring access to as many buildings as possible for people with mobility issues [which might be any of us at any given time in our lives], drop-off and pick-up zones in the city, frequent cross-town and around-town bus services, supporting our small and medium sized businesses with the things that will help them most [by asking them what those things are first], working to encourage landlords to modify houses to suit students [no slum landlords need apply], actively encouraging groups of people to pool their money and become developers of great medium-density housing, encouraging useful development along the northern railway line [regardless of whether we get light rail, we need to keep that access way open], and shifting our spending from cars and exorbitantly expensive roads into less expensive ways of getting around. We need an active and visible arts community so people want to see and buy what we produce. Value-adding and producing unique things is our edge, since we’ll always have the big overhead of freight costs.We have scientists and researchers and great minds galore working on projects that would be valuable to us and to others if we made them our focus.

I’m not promising bread and circuses – if I get in to Hobart City Council, even as Lord Mayor I’ll still only have one vote out of a room full of 12 people. However I’ll have access to experts and amazing staff who will have ideas on all these things and so much more. It’s not actually up to the aldermen and Lord Mayor to come up with the ideas. They should provide direction and oversight and be open to all the amazing ideas other people have about how we can get to where we want to go.

I’ve written this so you’re clear about the sorts of things that are important to me. Yes, council should still do all the practical, daily things – but I think its core business is helping each of us to flourish, because that is what will foster the good health, vitality and circulation of wealth we need as a community that has a bright future.