The most prevalent argument against Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore gaining a fourth term is that she’s been in the job too long. Sydney needs change.
It’s an argument that points to the difficulties in finding fault with a council that’s been in the black for the past 12 years, and a Lord Mayor who still enjoys popular support from her constituents, despite a relentless tabloid campaign to out her, and multiple gerrymanders by state governments to do the same thing.
Not to say that Moore’s 12 years have gone completely smoothly. On sustainability, there’s the widely publicised abandonment of the city’s trigeneration plan. Some in the industry put the failure down to the scheme being inappropriately transplanted from London by clean energy guru Allan Jones, a strategy that did not sit well with the needs of property owners.
Speaking to The Fifth Estate on Tuesday, Moore placed most of the blame on state and federal governments. Inflexible electricity regulations, changing NABERS rules to disadvantage precinct-based trigen and the removal of the carbon price killed the ambitious plan, she says.
The other criticisms levelled against Moore is that she doesn’t listen, runs an autocracy and has acrimonious relationships with other tiers of government.
The woman widely regarded as her main competitor, the Liberal Party’s Christine Forster, has been busy pushing these points in recent weeks. But while Moore’s independent team’s current majority in council could see her pass anything she likes without input, a cursory look at council meeting papers shows most plans have been passed with the support of all sides, including sustainability strategies such as the Energy Efficiency Master Plan, Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan and Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.
Regarding the council’s relationship with government, Moore is dismissive of Forster’s claims.
- See an article on Christine Forster’s campaign here, The battle for Sydney: How Forster stacks up on sustainability
“It suits Christine Forster to beat up the relationship issue, but it’s a beat up,” she says.
“I mean, yes, of course, if they’re doing something unsustainable like WestConnex, I’ll lead the campaign against it. And of course I’m not going to support losing the Powerhouse Museum. And of course I’m going to be concerned about the fact that [the state government] made a commitment to build a school on the Fig and Wattle site we owned before the last election then reneged afterwards. Of course I’m concerned. But I’m speaking up on behalf of the city. That’s not just being against the government.”
The city needs an independent champion
What the city needs, she says, is a champion.
“I know that if you have a councillor of the same persuasion as Macquarie Street, the council doesn’t champion the interests of the city and the city community, and I think that’s a vital role.
“I just don’t think council should be just responsible to act in the direction of the state.”
Though she says the council does enjoy a good working relationship with the environment minister Mark Speakman and planning minister Rob Stokes. There’s even a joint innovation statement in the works with Premier Mike Baird.
Though it is obviously a touchy issue, particularly as the council’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 goal of cutting the local government area’s carbon emissions by 70 per cent on 2006 levels will need state support to get there. The model where Adelaide City Council has been working with the state government to go carbon neutral is an example of how it could be, she laments.
“There’s an Adelaide committee where the premier and the mayor meet regularly. Work together. I’d love that.
“But [the state government has to] have the policies and the targets. We’ve proved that we are very competent and that we have achieved amazing results. So they know that. They just have to make the political decision to work with us.”
One of Moore’s major concerns, should she not be returned with a strong independent team, is that her sustainability policies would be wound back.
“I think the work we’re doing on Sustainable Sydney 2030 and the work we’re doing addressing climate change would be at risk,” she says. “I think that’s one of the serious risks.”
Christine Forster’s sustainability policies going into the election provide support for this concern.
While Moore is focused on the overall goal of cutting carbon emissions – which she says the science demands – Forster’s sustainability policy is a collection of “direct action” strategies for residents like rainwater tanks, solar rebates and more bins.
Moore’s not convinced.
“[Forster’s] not shown the slightest interest in our environmental policies over the last four years,” she says.
“[Her sustainability policy] was just media release stuff! The classic ‘I need a policy for an election so I need to cobble together something.’ But it wasn’t a long-term policy for a city. And she’d be laughed out of court if she took that to the C40 [Climate Leadership Group, a coalition of international cities tackling climate change].”
Criticism of international programs shows ignorance – these groups are highly valuable and influential
The C40 is yet another contrast between the two contenders’ approaches to sustainability, with Forster lambasting Moore for catering to the “international environmental elite” rather than helping her constituents become more sustainable.
Moore believes the work of groups like the C40 are crucial, however.
“Those sorts of statements show ignorance. C40 is a really important organisation made up of cities addressing global warming, and we learn from each other and work together. And we were the first government in Australia to introduce LED lights in our parks and in our streets. And you know where that came from? Los Angeles at C40 in about 2007 I think it was.
“And currently we’re co-chairing with Tokyo the Private Building Efficiency Network, and when we’ve completed that work it will be shared with the other C40 cities.”
The climate is about the future – it’s a top priority
Moore’s resolute about her high targets, and it’s clear climate change action is a conviction.
“I mean, there’s nothing more important. It’s about the future. So it’s at the top of the list of our priorities. And I’m really proud that we’ve met our targets. We’ve more than met them. We’ve reduced emissions in our own operations by 27 per cent, and across the city by 19 per cent despite unprecedented growth.”
For 2021 it has been bumped up to 44 per cent for council operations, with renewables to be 50 per cent of total power.
Forster says the focus on operational sustainability is to the detriment of the entire LGA.
“There’s absolutely no basis for that,” Moore says, pointing to successes of the Better Buildings Partnership and CitySwitch programs, managed by the City, that have helped commercial buildings cut energy use and carbon emissions.
“We see our dual roles as equally important – what we do and what we help others to do.”
Indeed the 70 per cent emissions reduction target is for the entire government area.
Moore also points to the BBP and grants for commercial solar as examples of how the business community has been engaged.
“Whilst we haven’t been able to say we’ve partnered with state and federal government on action on climate change, we’ve partnered very effectively with the private sector,” she says.
Forster faces legitimacy challenge if elected
Back in the papers recently was Forster’s suggestion to a local government review to excise major sections of the residential population from the LGA, which, as The Daily Telegraph put it, would “stop neighbourhood green agendas from overshadowing city needs”.
Her submission proposed cutting out Newtown, Glebe, Camperdown, Erskineville, Alexandria, Roseberry, Zetland, Waterloo and Redfern from the LGA, while keeping bayside suburbs like Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay and Rushcutters Bay.
Forster said the move would make the council “more responsive to its core constituency in the business sector”.
The suggestion made headlines again recently following accusations by Edward Mandla, a former council Liberal candidate who defected to Angela Vithoulkas’s independent ticket in dramatic fashion, that he had been approached by Liberal “factional chief” Don Harwin to do the exact same thing in 2014.
“Handing the keys to the city to the Liberal Party on September 10 would be to hand them to vested interests who have the ability to pay for policy.”
He accused the NSW Liberal Party of stacking the council ticket with “Liberal Party diehards and lackeys”.
“Handing the keys to the city to the Liberal Party on September 10 would be to hand them to vested interests who have the ability to pay for policy,” he warned.
Harwin denied that he’d approached Mandla. Forster also denies her plan was based on the suggestion of anyone else.
Regardless, Forster’s legitimacy in the eyes of the resident population will be her biggest challenge if elected. Many aren’t taking too kindly to the change put forward by her former colleague Mandla to give businesses two votes to residents’ one, nor her previous suggestion that those not living in the CBD or harbour areas be excised.
Nobody’s certain whether the multiple attacks on Moore for control of the city will succeed this time, though many expect this to be the last time she stands for election.
She won’t be drawn on the matter.
“Oh I never answer that! I’m always asked that. Who knows. There’s lots of work to do.”