Five years since The Greens last had a seat on the Ballina Shire Council, the party is the first to publicly announce a campaign in September’s local government elections.
The Greens lost their seat on the Ballina Shire Council in 2016 when Councillor Jeff Johnson left the party to become an independent.
But after a prolonged absence from the council thanks to the state government postponing local government elections by a year, The Greens hope to capitalise on state and federal voter support in the area.
The Greens won the Ballina state electorate in 2015 after 27 years of more conservative representation by Don Page for The Nationals, who still control the federal division of Page that includes Ballina.
Ballina Shire candidate Kiri Dicker ran as an independent in the 2012 local government elections but says her political values have become more clearly defined since then and align with those of The Greens.
She and her two party colleagues, Simon Chate and Jason Shrieves, were the only candidates to have announced campaigns for the Ballina Shire Council election as of end of day Sunday, compared to more than 20 candidates in the Byron shire next-door.
Environment, gender politics and housing drive Ballina candidate
‘Ballina does tend to be a little bit less changeable, especially in my ward,’ Ms Dicker, representing Ballina’s B Ward, says.
‘We have three incumbents who have been on Council for a long time.,’ she says, ‘often it’s just the three incumbents plus The Greens who contest’.
Ms Dicker says she was 30 when she first ran for the Ballina Shire Council and spent the next decade advocating for women and girls on the Pacific Islands.
She saw first-hand some of the most devastating impacts of logging and mining, including child marriage, and says environmental protection and gender politics are her two biggest passions.
Back in the Ballina shire, Ms Dicker lives with her four-year-old daughter in on Lennox Head in a rented garage that she says has been converted into a granny flat.
Her type of housing is just one that should be encouraged, Ms Dicker says, to help counteract what she calls a ‘dual-crisis’ of housing affordability and availability on the Northern Rivers.
Local government can do more to address housing crisis, says Greens candidate
‘Other innovations like house-splitting that you see is a really good solution for retirees,’ Ms Dicker says, ‘they want to downsize but they don’t necessarily want to leave their home’.
‘We need to be reducing our carbon footprint, so we need to be living in smaller houses,’ Ms Dicker continues, ‘but the average size of houses is getting bigger and bigger’.
‘Not only does it contribute to emissions, but it also promotes this social isolation and loneliness, gone are the days of front yards and no fences’.
Ms Dicker says ‘good community outcomes’ should be at the centre of planning decisions, ‘not profit’.
‘I do think there are developers out there who have shared values around affordable housing and environmental sustainability,’ she says, adding that she thinks local government should be working with such developers and investigating options for incentivising the offering of long term leases instead of short term holiday letting.
‘I think it starts with maybe doing an audit of council lands, you know, like you guys in Byron are doing some really innovative stuff around using council land,’ Ms Dicker says.
‘I know there’s a real problem with homelessness, more so in central Ballina, particularly among indigenous people and older single women, for example,’ she says, ‘I would definitely like to see Council exploring opportunities’.
The Greens driving an end to 4WD tourism in Ballina
As well as addressing the global issue of climate action, Ms Dicker says The Greens wants to see an end to 4WD tourism on Seven Mile Beach.
Two recent motions aiming to protect Seven Mile Beach from 4WDs have recently been thwarted at Ballina Shire Council meetings.
Former Greens member Cr Johnson had initially hoped to restrict access to local shire residents and to abolish single day passes and then to change the fee structure to encourage six and twelve-month passes.
The independent failed to gain majority support for either motion but Cr Dicker says The Greens want 4WD access to Seven Mile Beach phased out in order to protect coastal wildlife, particularly in the dunes.
The Greens support former party member mayoral bid
Ms Dicker says Cr Johnson will be running as an independent for the position of mayor in September’s local government elections and has the support of The Greens, who aren’t running a mayoral candidate.
‘Having none of our candidates ever served on council, I think we ultimately decided it was a bit too much to ask,’ Ms Dicker says, ‘even if the chances of us being elected were nil’.
‘The level of perhaps scrutiny and criticism that you would open yourself to isn’t really worth it,’ she says.
The Greens candidate says the party hasn’t always supported Cr Johnson for mayor in the past but this year thinks he’s the ‘progressive leader that Ballina Council needs’.
Cr Johnson was yet to formally announce his candidature in the Ballina Shire Council election as of end of day Sunday, with local government nominations due to close 4 August.