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Byron Shire
June 2, 2023

Fresh faces for Council elections

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Paul Bibby

A very distinct, black flat-cap has just been thrown into the ring for the upcoming Byron Council elections, pegged for September 4.

The headwear belongs to Mark Swivel, the co-founder of community legal service Barefoot Law, who also moonlights as the unofficial leader of Mullum’s famous Russian choir, Dustyesky (which is where the hat comes from).

Mark Swivel: A man of many hats

Oh, and he also launched a political party that made a Senate tilt at the last federal election.

Clearly he doesn’t have enough going on, so ‘Swiv’ as he’s known around the traps, has decided to stand for Byron Council as an independent at the elections in March.

Joining him on the team will be longtime local and sustainable tourism specialist, Meredith Wray.

There is talk that they may be joined on the ticket by Byron’s 2021 Citizen of the Year, Zenith Virago, but she is yet to formally commit to running.

The Echo caught up with Mr Swivel during the week (we had to run because he was moving quite quickly at the time) to ask a few key questions about his latest foray into the weird and whacky world of politics.

Byron Council aspirants Mark Swivel and Meredith Wray. Image Jeff DawsonLocal council

What is the main motivation behind your decision to run for Byron Council?

It’s time – this is a natural extension of what I’ve done in the community with Barefoot Law, Enova Energy, Spaghetti Circus, Eureka FC, and Bay FM. Meredith wants to bring her expertise in sustainable tourism to improve visitor management planning and leave a legacy after her long career here. 

Byron needs a storyteller to connect locally, in Macquarie Street and the wider world. We want to tell Byron’s story of energy, creativity and diversity – of where we’ve been and where we’re going as a community.

Arguably the biggest issue facing our community is the housing crisis. If elected, how do you intend to address that crisis?

We need to direct every policy lever to this genuine emergency – from DAs to zoning, from enforcement action to lobbying. Byron exemplifies the national problem of bad housing policy that favours the better off and damages our communities. 

We will support the push for a 90 day cap on short-term holiday letting and all policies that can deliver more homes in Byron Shire.

Do you support the implementation of paid parking in Brunswick Heads?

Should we have different policies for different towns? Paid parking makes sense across the Shire to raise revenue and meet costs. Locals can use parking permits. Visitors can pay to access our town centres as they do all over Australia and the world.

Are you willing to stand up and vote according to your principles even though it will at times mean angering dozens of locals and being pilloried on social media?


Do you support the attempt to put trains back on the tracks in the Byron Shire?

No, sadly. Discontinuing regional railway was one of the worst decisions in our economic history. However, the trains are not coming back. As in neighbouring shires, Byron should accept that reality and plan for a future that opens up rail trail corridors to locals and visitors, connecting the shire, adding to how we all get around and enjoy this place!

Answers by independent councillor candidates, Mark Swivel and Meredith Wray.

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  1. The ‘new’ Greens in this upcoming Election are not looking good .
    More opposition to take votes away from them .
    They seem to have decided to lose this Election when they selected their Candidates .

  2. Best wishes fro your election, Mark, but while i unfortunately agree we are unlkely to get a local rail service, there is still a need for an electric hi-speed rail joining Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. And this should be located near the coast where most of the people reside. Such a system would reduce road traffic enormously. Japan has hi speed express and also stop all stations for local travel. of course that would mean precision timekeeping which Aussie rail hasn’t got a good record for!
    Richard Swinton

    • Studies have shown that most people would still catch a plane because the distances in Australia are so large and the population so sparse between the metropolitan areas. They would not be financially viable without many billions of dollars of pubic money contributed to construction and running costs.

      Any high speed train would certainly not be following the old steam age corridor through the shire with its 400 metre and less radius curves . The Shinkansen railway in Japan has a minimum curve radius of four kilometres. I’ve travelled on one and while it is great for the passengers. I would not like to live near a line. The noise outside at 300 kph is incredible, especially when they pass each other in opposite directions.

  3. Fantastic. A team of candidates with worthwhile values and a realistic outlook who won’t support squandering millions on useless railway pipe dreams.

    With the current council, Byron is in real danger of reaching 2024 and wondering why there is still no train, no trail and no money for anything else. Fortunately Simon Richardson isn’t standing again, leaving Basil Cameron as the new ringleader who would have the backing of Duncan Dey if he gets back in.

    Never forget that this was the trio who refused to consider the offer from Tweed Shire to include Crabbes Creek to Billinudgel in the Tweed Valley Rail Trail Project. Such a shame because the Arcadis Dual Use Study categorically rejected including this section of the corridor in any rail project as it was obviously unviable . The trail would have connected to the existing cycle ways in New Brighton right through to South Golden Beach and Brunswick Heads. Little wonder that Tweed wanted that section included.

    What an incredible lost opportunity for the people of the villages in north Byron Shire who could have had thousands of extra visitors arriving without making traffic in the shire even worse. I do hope the voters of Byron remember this in September and vote for Mark’s team.

  4. Best of luck, Swiv (and running mates)!
    Perhaps your running will give me the option to vote, because on principle I NEVER vote for parties, regardless their colour; and there are no current “independents” – unrepresentative swill – on Council whom I’d stop to extinguish if I were to find them burning on the roadside.

  5. Traffic congestion in Byron Shire is getting as bad as Sydney and a simple way to help the problem is the railway. I think it’s good to get fully informed about the issue before making decisions. Happy to help. Northern Rivers Railway Action Group.

    • Most of Byron’s visitors come from South East Queensland. The old railway would make no difference whatsoever to to the number of cars coming from there. Neither does the railway go anywhere near Tweed or Ballina, while people in Goonellabah are not going to drive down to South Lismore to wait for a slow expensive train when they could be most of the way to the M1 in the same time.

      Even if the railway connected to where they need to travel, people prefer the convenience of a car that allows them to travel anywhere they want at any time they want rather than being limited to a timetable and worrying about being stranded by missing the last train. A car also provides somewhere to store all their gear while they enjoy the beaches and other attractions they have come to see. They certainly don’t want to be walking from the railway station to their destination while carrying everything in their arms then hide their valuable behind a bush,

      Visitors flying in from Sydney or beyond can hire a car for a week for less than it would cost in return train fares to Murwillumbah or Lismore for a small family making a single trip.

      Bringing back the train means spending hundreds of millions of dollars proving luxury travel to a tiny proportion of the regional population who happen to live near and need to travel to place along the old railway. That extravagance cannot be justified, no matter how much spin is applied by Northern Rivers Railway Action Group, which has been a primary source of misinformation about the old railway for many years.

  6. Great to see “Sustainable tourism”, on the table. Poorly managed tourism has become an issue world wide. The days of “open slather tourism”, are gone if we want a good, strong community.
    Good luck Merideth.

  7. I think Meredith Wray needs to identify her input into the Destination North Coast tourist plan, which promotes, more tourism, including more tourism in rural areas, mega festivals, private tourism in National Parks etc etc, and the only focus on the environment being that it needs to continue to be attractive for tourism, with the only “Stakeholder” input at the Ballina workshop being tourism operators and Byron Council – no body representing environmental, community or local Aboriginal groups.

  8. I agree there are some pretty good answers here but I’d hate to think that there is a general impression that the whole present Council is out of touch with reality. It was Labor’s rep, Paul Spooner, with Cate Coorey, who introduced the idea of using the rail corridor for the bypass. Who knows, pursuing this option would likely have given us a more extensive and superior bypass that would cost less, give us better bike paths, not destroy Butler Street and wetlands and be a little less cavalier about a critically endangered species.

    It was also Cr Spooner who questioned why a report on the multi-use of the corridor, that cost Council around $300,000 should be kept confidential and asked the sensible questions about the thought and planning that may be required before Council went headlong into the reinvigorated rail service.

    Jan Hackett has also made a stand for strategic planning and good process. We could do worse than take a good look at the views and values expressed by the Labor ticket that will put themselves forward in September.


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