Ballina Cr Keith Williams has announced his team for the much-delayed local government elections in December, in which he hopes to become mayor. This time he’s running on an ALP ticket, and not as an independent.
The Labor for Ballina team includes Col Riches standing in Ward A, Keith Williams and Leonie Price standing in Ward B and Therese Crollick in Ward C.
‘Our candidates bring a wealth of experience from finance, health, law, community organisations, information technology, local government and environmental rehabilitation,’ said Cr Williams.
‘We are all long term locals. We want an effective and efficient council that plans for the future and delivers the essential infrastructure needed to support our growing community.’
Cr Williams has been a Ballina councillor for nine years and the Chair of Rous County Council for the past four years. The future of water across the region has been central to much of his activity in these roles.
‘Nine years ago I first stood with the aim of doing something about the declining health of North Creek and the Richmond River. I’m proud that Ballina now has a fully funded Healthy Waterways Program,’ said Cr Williams.
‘As the Chair of Rous, I co-authored the Northern Rivers Watershed Initiative which has been adopted by all six Northern Rivers Councils as the agreed strategy to address river health, flooding and climate change by slowing and storing more water in the landscape,’ he said.
‘In the last four years Ballina has attracted more coastal and estuary grant funding than any other local council in Australia. We have also secured substantial investment for the Richmond River from the NSW Marine Estate Strategy and more than one third of the Fisheries Habitat Action Grants in NSW,’ said Cr Williams.
‘This has funded more on ground rehabilitation works in the last three years than the previous twenty. Much more work is needed but this is a great start.’
Describing himself as ‘an outspoken voice for our community’, Cr Williams includes among his key achievements:
- Leading the successful ‘No Bloody Way’ campaign against an asphalt plant in Teven.
- Introducing dual-occupancy rights in rural zones.
- Supporting residents of Wardell and Meershuam Vale impacted by the highway upgrade.
- Protecting the community from the ‘sinister influence’ of the Universal Medicine cult.
- Improving facilities for dogs and dog owners.
- Protecting iconic living landmarks through a significant tree register.
- Supporting modern shark protection measures, rather than old fashioned nets with their devastating impact on marine wildlife.
- Reducing season ticket prices for pools and the ferry to make them more affordable for families.
- Curbing the use of bee killing pesticides by council.
- Supporting new jobs and industries through the release of industrial land.
- Building more shared paths and footpaths.
- Stopping inappropriate development and controlling the impacts of the rapid development that is occurring.
- Establishing a dust sealing program for rural roads.
- Supporting community and sporting organisations that make such a difference to local quality of life.
Why Labor, why now?
Previously elected as an independent, Cr Williams said, ‘I have been a member of the Labor Party for most of my life.
‘It reflects the personal values that I hold dear; putting people first by caring for the vulnerable and ensuring a fair go for all, supporting economic activity that provides secure local jobs, protecting our environment, acting on climate change and ensuring we leave the place in a better state for future generations.’
The Echo asked why then did he run an an independent last time, and on a Labor ticket this time?
Keith Williams responded, ‘I was given a political lesson from an unhappy voter late in the day at the last election that’s stuck with me: “You all claim to be Independent but that’s bullshit. What do you really stand for?”
“I’m a member of Labor,” I said, “but we’re not running a ticket.”
“Well you’re as bad as the rest of them then!”
‘With so many people new to Ballina, and many others unsure what the array of “independents” actually stand for, it’s good to know that Labor is on your side,’ said Cr Williams.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for Ballina going forward?
‘Population growth, affordable housing and climate change,’ said Cr Williams. ‘An enormous area of land was rezoned residential just before and after I became a councillor. This now makes it difficult for council to control the pace of development.
‘Lennox Head is really feeling the strain at the moment. We need good, thoughtful planning, driven by the community, to shape our future communities and ensure essential infrastructure is delivered when needed not a decade after the fact,’ he said.
‘Despite this rapid growth, house and unit prices continue to soar, leaving many families struggling to find anything available or affordable.
‘Ballina is already a rapidly ageing community, we need to be able to attract younger, working families and provide employment opportunities to ensure our community remains economically and socially viable.’
Cr Williams describes climate change as ‘a real threat to our community, increasing bushfires, droughts, storms, floods and abnormally high tides that will challenge what we need to do to keep our community safe. We need to rapidly cut our emissions, re-think infrastructure and use natural systems to help us adapt.’
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for the region?
‘The greatest strength of this region is the people that live here,’ said Cr Williams.
‘This is a beautiful part of the world, we attract some of the best and brightest from around the globe. Our future will be found by making best use of the energy, the ideas and the innovation to be found here.’
What decisions did you get the most flak for during your time on Ballina Council?
‘The only time I’ve been abused on the street was for speaking out against shark nets at a time when there was real fear in the community after a number of shark bite incidents,’ said Cr Williams.
‘I had spent the previous decade of my life dedicated to saving sea turtles and marine wildlife and I couldn’t stay silent at the devastating impact of the nets and the better options in drones and smart drum lines.
‘I am grateful to be part of a community that listened and was willing to change its mind, with support for nets falling from two thirds to one third of Ballina residents over the course of the two year shark net trial. I’m enormously proud that Ballina became the first community in Australia to ask the government to remove shark nets,’ he said.
What was the most popular decision you were associated with?
‘I don’t know if it’s the most popular, but the issue where people still come up to me and ask to shake my hand in thanks, was changing the rules for dual occupancy in rural zones,’ remembered Cr Williams.
‘I could not see the logic that people could own a 40Ha block, but were required to build a secondary house within 15 metres of the existing house and have them physically joined,’ he told The Echo.
‘It took two years due to opposition from staff, but after one of my better speeches to council and a close vote, people in rural zones finally had the same development rights as someone on a residential block in town.’
What’s been frustrating, and why?
‘Councils by their nature are bureaucratic things,’ said Cr Williams. ‘There’s the Act, the other Acts, the Policy, the other policy, delivery plans, operational plans, development control plans, in fact more plans than you can poke a stick at, everything seems to be designed to ensure that you can’t actually achieve anything.
‘I’m grateful that I have worked at a senior level in a number of councils. I know how they work. It takes patience, it takes persistence, but change is possible,’ he said.
How difficult is it balancing your responsibilities on Ballina Council, with Rous, and with your life outside councils? How do you manage all this?
‘In hindsight, starting a new restaurant in 2019 was not such a great idea!’ said Keith Williams.
‘The last two years have been amongst the most stressful of my life. I’m looking forward to life beyond lockdowns.
‘To be honest, council work has helped keep me sane.’
Now that things have got so acrimonious, how can the different future water stakeholders be brought together?
‘The Rous Future Water Plan should not be controversial,’ said Cr Williams.
‘It’s 100% in alignment with the NSW State Water Strategy and every expert submission we received. Do not rely on past rainfall patterns. Focus on less rainfall dependent options, on adaptive management, innovate, trial new technology, respect and consult with traditional custodians.
‘We also have to keep the financial impacts on households as low as possible. The Rous Future Water Plan does all these things. It’s a plan I’m enormously proud of.
‘There is no doubt that elements within the National Party see the pro-dam campaign as an opportunity to promote sympathetic independent candidates in these local government elections.
‘How do you get 10,000 signatures at short notice? Email lists and mobile phone numbers don’t appear out of nowhere.
‘It’s also an advantage that you don’t have to be accountable for the outright lies told by the pro dammers,’ he said. ‘That it’s cheaper, there’s no alternative, that the traditional custodians support the dam. Absolute, unmitigated bullshit. But still they say it.
‘The Rous Council decision ensures there’s no sale of the site at Dunoon until after the next review of the Plan in about 5 years time. In the meantime, we will enter into genuine consultation with the Widjabul-Wiabul traditional custodians concerning the State significant Indigenous heritage present within the site.
‘This is the compromise position,’ said Cr Williams. ‘Anything less is giving in to the racists that like to pretend that Aboriginal people have not lived here for thousands of years. I won’t do it.’
Can you tell us a bit about your fellow Labor for Ballina team members, from a personal perspective?
‘Therese Crollick should already be a councillor,’ said Cr Williams. ‘Denied by a cruel flow of preferences at the last election, Therese is a powerhouse. She knows more people on a first name basis than I have ever met, supported more local community organisations than I can count and knows more about council history than I care to recall.
‘Col Riches is a live wire, the guy you’d want to catch up with for a beer. But his happy demeanour hides a wealth of knowledge in finance and insurance, keeping track of the dollars, making sure you focus on the risks and the priorities.
‘Leonie Price is the brains of the outfit. Razor sharp, the person that knows how to to do the things the rest of us wish we’d learnt, meticulous, organised. Leonie is exactly the kind of person that should run for council but almost never does.’
Cr Williams said, ‘We are committed to genuine community consultation, with council and the community working together to make our community stronger.
‘Our team is focused on the careful management of council finances and have committed not to support any application for a special rate variation in the next term of council. We will also ensure council charges for garbage, water and wastewater are kept to an absolute minimum to reduce the pressure on already stretched family budgets.’
Keith Williams says his team’s five key priorities for the next term of Ballina Council are:
- No more rate rises.
- Addressing the housing crisis.
- Footpaths and pedestrian safety.
- Job creation.
- and building the Barlows Rd extension to connect West Ballina and North Ballina.
Labor for Ballina will launch their campaign with a Meet the Candidates event at 6pm on Thursday 14 October at the Cherry St Sports Club, followed by a trivia night fundraiser commencing at 7pm.
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