1 Candidate details
Name: Keith Williams
Council: Ballina Shire
Number of years in shire/LGA: 5
Current councillor? No
Clubs/sports/interests: I have been living and working at Australian Seabird Rescue for the past five years with my wife, Rochelle Ferris.
Are you a member of a political party or an organised ‘ticket’? Yes
If yes, which party or who else is on your ticket?: I am standing as an independent candidate and am not receiving support from any party or group. I joined the Labor Party last year to support our great local federal member, Janelle Saffin.
Brief description: My young family and I plan a long future in Ballina. 20-plus years’ experience as a manager in non-profit organisations and local government. Economist by training. Environmentalist at heart.
2 What has motivated you to stand?
The steady decline in water quality in North Creek and the Richmond River estuary was my initial motivator. I pump water from North Creek daily for the turtle clinic at Australian Seabird Rescue. I know firsthand how acidic and dirty this water is.
Ballina, named after the local Aboriginal word for ‘the place of many oysters’, used to be one of the largest producers on the east coast up until the 1970s. Currently, the last remaining oyster farmers are struggling to grow anything. The bar must be dredged as a matter of priority, firstly for the safety of users, but also to increase the volume of water flowing through the estuary.
As I have started to follow matters more closely I have been dismayed by the performance of the current council and its failure to listen to residents and protect public open space. The Lennox Head land sale and Porter Park fiascos are just two recent examples. Our public open spaces are a vital part of our Ballina lifestyles, where we can enjoy our beautiful shire. They are not just pieces of industrial land that can be bought and sold to fund council’s budget.
3 What is your vision for the shire/LGA?
I envisage a Ballina that can sustain itself. A shire that uses its available resources wisely to the benefit and enjoyment of all its residents. A well-planned community that offers easy access to a wide a range of services; provides jobs for the young and care for those that need our help. There are fish in the river and at the markets where you can buy a range of good-quality, locally produced food. A community that decides to do a better job of looking after the place, using the proceeds of development and an increasing population to protect our special places like coastlines and foreshores, to clean up the river and creeks, and to connect up key patches of the remaining bush. Ballina – a shire that decides to be prosperous and remain beautiful.
4 In your opinion, how can council best balance the need for further residential development with the need to preserve the local environment?
The new Ballina council will have to cope with growth. The massive developments at Cumbalum Part A and Part B, approved at the last meeting of the current council, cannot be undone and will have to be carefully managed to reduce their impacts on existing residents and the environment.
Lennox Head will come under increasing pressure and council will need to work with residents to develop new plans to maintain a coastal village and deal with this increasing population. The major unresolved environmental concern of Cumbalum Part B is stormwater and its impact on the water quality of the critical fish habitat in North Creek.
It is possible to grow and improve environmental outcomes if we choose. It starts with good planning, that:
* takes account of future growth
* provides high-quality infrastructure
* meets the housing needs of an ageing population
* provides parks and open spaces
* identifies and protects rare and valuable habitat
* provides wildlife corridors to connect remaining bushland
* restores stream-bank vegetation
* minimises erosion.
5 What particular issues do you feel strongly about?
The number of recent business closures in Ballina demonstrates the urgency of implementing an economic development strategy. The failure of the current council to plan and implement a strategy to support the local economy following the opening of the Ballina Bypass is sheer neglect.
Prior to coming to Ballina I was working overseas as a professional yacht captain. Ballina has fantastic marine-studies programs in our local high schools; the professional maritime certification offered through Ballina TAFE is highly regarded throughout the state; but there are virtually no employment opportunities for young people here. A marina has been promised for a decade, but is no further advanced. The bar is dangerous and an absolute deterrent to visiting yachts and tourist operators. The Emigrant Creek marine precinct has been neglected but could be home to a thriving boat-building and maintenance industry, if council gets serious about attracting new business to Ballina. Millions of dollars of income for our town are literally sailing past.
We have also largely failed to capitalise on the movement of tourists through our airport. The largest regional tourism market in the state is half an hour to our north; we have daily flights to Sydney, but we have no effective strategy to attract business to our town. We need to look at the feasibility of developing conference facilities in the CBD and attracting other types of tourists. Such facilities could also link with a university in our region and provide support for distance-education students.
The current poor health of the river is a major concern. Every fisher knows the river has not recovered since the last major fish kill in 2008. The river used to support 120 pelicans. The population has been around 40 for the last four years. The mouth of the river needs dredging urgently, to save lives, and to increase the flow of water through the estuary. We also need to better manage drains to reduce acid build-up and re-establish vegetation on the banks of our creeks and waterways. We can restore the health of our river; we know what to do. Electing a council that sees this as a priority is the first step.
Safeguarding our community and council assets is one of the most important roles of the mayor and councillors. The current council has failed to protect the public open space it holds in trust for the community.
Their decision to lease Porter Park to the state government to construct a community centre is an absolute stinker. A public park should never have been considered as a possible site. There are many other vacant blocks of land in the town that could have been suitable. The sale of prime land near the beach and Lake Ainsworth at Lennox Head is another example of poor consultation. A revised master plan for the area should have been developed with resident involvement before any land deal was undertaken.
Council must stop undertaking land dealings that are contrary to good planning. Sticking a shopping centre at the back of an industrial estate (eg Harvey Norman), simply because council can make a deal on the land, has cost our existing retailers in River Street dearly.
Ballina also needs better planning. The Local Environment Plan (LEP) and Growth Management Strategy do not provide sufficient detail to effectively regulate development over the next decade. Both of these key documents need to be reviewed.
The next 15 years will also see a doubling of the number of residents aged 65 and over to two-thirds of the population of Ballina Shire. Council needs to ensure the right mix of housing types and services are available to meet the needs of our ageing population.
Most of all I want a council that engages with its residents, that listens to their concerns and involves them in developing solutions. The current council has stopped listening and has displayed a breathtaking arrogance in rushing through major decisions. None of the current councillors has shown a willingness to engage with residents. I want to turn this around and build a culture in council that is respectful, that invites input and is inclusive of a range of views.