Tweed shire has its first Greens mayor after Cr Katie Milne’s name was drawn out of a box in a surprise election ballot last night.
Cr Milne’s luck was sealed when a tied 3-3 vote with factional opponent Cr Warren Polglase had to be split by council’s returning officer Neil Baldwin drawing a piece of paper with her name on it from a plastic tub.
The packed public gallery at the council meeting erupted in cheers at the result.
It’s not the first time the lucky-dip method has been used to determine the yearly mayoral vote, with Cr Polglase now having lost the top job that way four times over the many years he’s served as councillor and National Party warrior.
In a further twist soon after, ex-mayor Cr Gary Bagnall was elected deputy mayor after his name was picked out of the bucket, having drawn 3-3 as well, this time with Cr Polglase’s ally, Cr Phil Youngblutt.
The gallery again erupted in cheers: many of them had earlier staged a rally at the council chambers calling on Cr Bagnall to be returned as mayor and seemed stunned when the popular Murwillumbah cafe owner did not nominate for the position.
Cr Milne, who was backed by Cr Bagnall and Cr Barry Longland, will now lead the shire till next September.
In a prepared speech when she first took her position in the mayoral chair, Cr Milne thanked fellow councillors for their endorsement of her in the ‘very important role’, saying she would try to follow the example of previous mayor Cr Bagnall who had done an ‘extremely’ good job as mayor.
Ironically, the now mayor and deputy made headlines some years ago when they were charged with code of conduct breaches after they jumped through a council fence while investigating a major pollution event.
But the charges, brought by then general manager David Keenan who was later sacked by councillors, were quietly dropped.
As a result of the two councillors’ quest, remedial action was taken by council to prevent pollution by a former council quarry of a nearby creek.
Cr Milne, first elected to Tweed Shire Council in 2008 on the back of her staunch and successful fight against a mega marina proposed for the Tweed River, said she was extremely honoured to be the mayor, which was an ‘exciting role’ to undertake.
Her passionate stand for environmental causes on the Tweed made her a popular figure for politics and the Greens offered to back her into local government seven years ago.
As mayor she said she would ‘always be open to any questions or any calls, my door is open to everybody’.
Cr Milne told media outside the chamber that she hoped there was a ‘healing of wounds across the whole shire’, in reference to suggestions there had been a split in the progressive faction, which had the majority in council for the best part of the past three years.
She said she intended to be ‘a very conciliatory mayor and I have always tried to work with all groups’.
‘Politics can be very divisive but the one thing that unites this community, and I believe, makes us a community, is our common love for this land’.
Meanwhile, north coast Greens spokesperson Dawn Walker said the Richmond federal electorate ‘now has two Green mayors, which is indicative of the growing strength of the party’.
Ms Walker said Cr Milne’s election ’positions the Greens as the main alternative to the National Party on the north coast’.
She said Cr Milne ‘has proved that as Tweed’s first Green mayor, she will work tirelessly to better our shire in everyone’s interests, not just the big end of town that want to exploit Tweed at any cost’.
Mayoral acceptance speech
Firstly I would like to thank my fellow Councillors for endorsing me for this very important role.
It will be a hard act to follow the extraordinary job that Cl Gary Bagnall has done as mayor. His contribution has been invaluable and he went far beyond the call of duty to serve this community.
I would have loved him to continue in the role but it was not just up to me.
As the first Green mayor of the Tweed Shire I am extremely honoured and humbled.
I started advocating for the community of this shire about 15 years ago and haven’t stopped since.
In my first foray into politics I spent the Christmas of 2001 on the side of the road in Fingal taking surveys to stop over development of that beautiful seaside peninsula.
Before I caught my breath we had to move round the corner to Chinderah to protect the Tweed River in a legal challenge against the mega marina.
It was heartening to realise from our efforts that justice could prevail, that the community had our backs, and that we could make a change if we threw our heart and soul into it.
Over that time I developed a deep love for this incredible environment and a deep appreciation for this amazing community.
When the Greens offered me a position as their candidate for Tweed Council in 2008 I took the plunge.
What motivated me ultimately to make the commitment to local government was the terrifying prospect of Climate Change. I felt that we all needed to step up to this monumental challenge, and if I didn’t why should others?
Council is in a great position to be a leader in combating climate change at the local level, and in combating the dangerous complacency the deniers advocate.
Politics can be very divisive but the one thing that unites this community, and I believe, makes us a community, is our common love for this land.
We are blessed to live here, but with that we have a responsibility to care for this very fragile landscape.
Our shire has the worst record of loss of species in Australia already, and with hundreds more on the brink of extinction we can’t afford to be reckless.
I am very aware that we also have major social and economic challenges. I am pleased that I was able to initiate council’s new Economic Development Strategy that has set a clear pathway to guide council into the future.
I am also pleased to have put on council’s list of reforms new plans for Murwillumbah and Fingal Head, and a strategy for our National Iconic Landscape to protect our scenic views.
I will continue to advocate for the community, and for a new style of development that enhances our well being and helps to keep our planet and our community as safe and prosperous as possible.