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Byron Shire
March 7, 2021

Ben Smith – Ballina candidate

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1 Candidate details

Name: Ben Smith

Council: Ballina Shire

Town/city: Ballina

Number of years in shire/LGA: 16

Current councillor? Yes
If yes, how many years?: 4

Clubs/sports/interests: motorsport, gym, bushwalking, photography, basketball, golf, self-development (very much a student of life)

Are you a member of a political party or an organised ‘ticket’? No

Brief description: I’m a small-business person, specialising in development of software and embedded systems primarily for the clubs industry. In the last term, I have added a younger voice to council. I’m chair of the facilities committee and part of the internal audit committee on council.

2 What has motivated you to stand?

The last four years, particularly for C ward (Alstonville, Wollongbar, Wardell), have been fantastic. We’ve got some really proactive community members up on the Plateau and it’s because of their commitment that we’ve been able to get a lot done: Main street of Alstonville, $1 million in Wardell, including the new wharf. I’m keen to continue the good work being done in my ward.

Secondly, there is a strong threat at this election that Ballina Shire will become a politically dominated council, governed by the Greens and Labor, who are both running candidates as part of their grass-roots strategy. Party politics should be kept out of councils; it’s bad enough at federal and state level. We don’t need local decisions made by political interests; local decisions are for the local community to decide. The less political councils are the better.

3 What is your vision for the shire/LGA?

We need to get some of the big-ticket items off the books. We’ve done okay this term, but government in general just seems to take too long to get things done. This is owed to a number of things (too long to explain here). In the immediate next four years, for my ward, I’m keen to finish off our work in Wardell; I’d like to see what we can do for parking in Alstonville; and get the markets happening (my partner has been pushing me for that). For Ballina we need to finish that main street; it needs to get sorted. We need to find funding from somewhere and just get it done; we’re working on it at least, but it’s been on the books for too long. In Lennox, I’d like to see something new and exciting that will include a new surf club; with the federal election coming up we will be hoping to get some federal money to get something done.

Despite the horrid economic times we’re all experiencing at the moment, the shire is still slowly growing and this needs to be managed accordingly.

Apart from all of the major infrastructure projects, the most important thing above all is to just balance the books and ensure we look after the basics, while acknowledging if we can do a little better than that, then we should.

4 In your opinion, how can council best balance the need for further residential development with the need to preserve the local environment?

Two things.

A good, solid, all-round LEP(Local Environment Plan, the primary planning instrument of council). Ballina Shire has one of the most comprehensive and reasonably progressive in the state; unfortunately the new version of the LEP is forced to be wrapped around a metro-designed state template, but the new government appears to be attempting to fix some of the issues, so in time we’ll have that.

Secondly, consistent decision making; it’s important for council to be consistent in planning matters, so that it’s clear-cut what the shire is prepared to accept and what it isn’t. The less politics involved in planning decisions the more consistent it’ll be.

5 What particular issues do you feel strongly about?

Firstly, After four years on council, I sometimes wonder whether councillors are a help or a hindrance in getting things done. I think it’s important that we keep things simple, promise as little as possible and deliver on the basics. The best way to balance the books and minimise the rate burden is to continually assess as a community whether item x is really a need or is it a want in disguise. We need to be brutally honest and just sometimes say no.

Similarly, it’s widely acknowledged that councils across Australia aren’t funding depreciation (except those with no assets). Councils will never have enough income to do everything that we would ideally like to do (the fundamental economic problem). Therefore, I believe we need to continue to find other sources of income beyond rates to minimise the rate burden and maximise infrastructure delivery. Ballina Shire is already doing this with its commercial services (property), which is a $29 million portfolio that has delivered $48 million worth of infrastructure in the last 20 years. It’s a good setup, doesn’t use rate income (ie built up from nothing) and has the income stream of equivalent of 10 per cent of our rates. We need to maintain this but also find other innovative ways to generate income.

Lastly, and I guess this is just a bit of humility, I’d like to see that whatever happens in this coming election that the shire elects a strong and fair mayor (not necessarily myself, there are a number of really good candidates

Phil Silver (our exiting mayor) … if you relied on heresy you might think he’s a bit of a bastard. If you ever get the privilege of working with him, you’ll know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Phil in this last term has been an extremely fair chairman, has showed patience, strong leadership and at times been the critical glue when it comes to getting things done. He sets an extremely high standard for the next incoming mayor. It’s been both an honour and a privilege to work with Phil, and I ask that the voters out there take some time to listen to some of the mayoral candidates in person, find your next mayor and continue that tradition.

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