The only group in the December Local Government Area election for Lismore that doesn’t have a mayoral candidate, is Group F, the Animal Justice Party.
Headed by Alison Waters, the team includes Saskja Marx-Hahn, Naomi Woodgate, Christine Hahn and Craig Woodgate.
A compassionate voice for animals, people and the environment
Waters says she would like to be a Lismore Councillor because she thinks there is a space for someone who can be a compassionate voice for animals, people and our unique natural environment. ‘I have been a social worker and community sector worker in Lismore for 20 years, so I do have a strong commitment to social justice.
‘I also have a strong commitment to supporting people whose voices may not often get heard or are often disregarded. That’s something I do in my work every day as an advocate for women who’ve experienced violence. Also, I’m aware that animals also experienced violence, I’m also an advocate for animals and have been for a long time.
Waters is the manager of the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service in Lismore. ‘Clearly, I am a vegan. I do care about animals, but as someone who’s been a social worker for 20 years, I chose to study social work because I do have a commitment to social justice. That is something that I feel strongly about also.’
Waters says her mother Isabel Waters (nee King) is Lismore born and bred. She went to a tiny primary school with 12 kids then Lismore High. ‘I spent childhood holidays here, and I grew up with stories from my mum about living in Booerie Creek and North Lismore and Hunter Street and would regularly visit my aunt uncle’s farm at Tucki Tucki.
Love for the Lismore region
‘I developed a love for this region and as soon as I was old enough, as soon as I finished university I chose to move here and make this my home and I chose to have children and raise them here with where their grandmother was born.’
Waters says she is interested in all aspects of Council – the roads, the rubbish, the floods, the water supply, the Indigenous community and business – everything.
‘I’m a layperson. I have no experience with being on council, but I do have experience as a manager of a team of 12 women in the domestic violence service – I work in a multidisciplinary team so I work with the finance manager, a centre manager, managers of other services within the Community Legal Centre. Within that, I’m responsible for a budget.
I don’t have all the answers
‘But I guess the thing is, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know all the answers. I will obviously be reading the materials, of which I know there is a lot, and I will be taking the expert advice and the information that is provided, and making decisions based on that. This is something I do every day in my work – balancing big amounts of money and complying with a funding agreement.
‘I understand governance. I’m on the board of the Animal Justice Party in New South Wales. I’ve been on that for three years. That’s a governance role.
‘I’m not going to pretend that I know everything, but I know infrastructure is really important to people and living in Dunoon, I regularly try and swerve around potholes and I’m apologizing to my car and my children when I don’t miss them – we don’t have footpaths and I regularly see young families mums and dads pushing prams right on the road, little kids riding their bikes on the road, so I know the importance of infrastructure.
‘It seems that from what from my understanding is that local governments have been expected to pay for more and more services more and more infrastructure and haven’t had the money coming from the state and federal governments that they actually need to run those services properly.’
Lismore’s AJP 2IC brings a different perspective
Waters’ 2IC is Lismore resident Saskja Marx Hahn – a young person, she’s a part of the LGBTQ community and she works as a veterinary nurse. Waters feels that as she is in her 40s and Saskja in her 20s, it gives her team a different perspective. ‘She’s a very impressive young woman. She’s bought her own property, she was raised from a very young age in a single mom household, so she is very aware of the needs of many in the community.’
Why isn’t Waters running for mayor? ‘The reason I’m not running for mayor is I strongly believe that someone needs to have served at least one term on council before they would put themselves up to be mayor.’
The big Lismore issues
Waters is aware of the big issues and she has thoughts on them all. ‘Were opposed to the Dunoon Dam because it will destroy Widjabul Wia-bal cultural heritage, habitat for wildlife and rare rainforest; we feel we need to listen to the voices of the Indigenous community and they will tell us what they think we need to do – I think probably we haven’t listened enough; we can improve infrastructure on so many levels – the fact that a lot of the villages don’t have footpaths and young families are walking on the roads, atrocious roads – these are some of the key issues that need to be addressed.
‘We need to look at the business community – I regularly use small businesses in Lismore. I’m not going to pretend that I know what the issues are for them. I would be interested in consulting and hearing what the issues are for them.
‘As far as flooding goes, we know we are a flood town, but we clearly have to do more in the climate change mitigation space, because we’re only going to face more frequent storms and floods and that’s really going to impact on these more, we’re vulnerable.
Being on Council would be a steep learning curve
The AJP team know it would be a steep learning curve to be on Council. ‘We fully acknowledge that. But I think if you come into something with the right motivation and the right value system, also acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers, and you’re open to listening and balancing all the information and then making the best decision that you can with the information you have, you’ll get it right.’
Waters says that if she got on to Council she would reduce her other work commitments – including a lesser level of time requirements and responsibility. ‘I feel very connected to the community and the struggles that people day-to-day are experiencing. Having been an advocate, I am someone who understands the value of listening and consulting – this is something that I can bring Council.’