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Byron Shire
June 1, 2023

Byron Shire Mayoral candidate Q&A – part 1

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Let’s get cracking for the December 4 elections! 

Some councillors are seeking re-election along with new comers. So, who are these people that want to lead this extremely good looking and politically engaged electorate?

Candidate John Anderson (formerly known as Fast Buck$) declined to take part in the questions. While Tom Barnett claims to be still running for mayor, the NSW EC has rejected his candidacy application (despite first accepting it) and is in the process of appealing.

Who is your favourite artist, writer, musician and poet?

Cr Alan Hunter

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘We have so many talented artists in the local area, one of my favourites is Michael Cusack, my daughter studied at the Byron School of Art and she loved that experience. The Bee Gees have always been a favourite group of mine’.

Byron Shire Councillor Cate Coorey. Photo Tree Faerie.

Cate Coorey: ‘Way too hard – too many choices in all categories. Some names, randomly applied — Rosalie Gascoigne, Sydney Long, Andy Goldsworthy, Carlene West. Barbara Kingsolver, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Ford. Musicians – waaaay too hard to choose but as a start- Duke Ellington, Debussy, Joni Mitchell, Ella and Aretha, Joao GIlberto, Quincy Jones, Rabih Abou Khali (Lebanese Jazz musician), Anouar Brahem, Stevie Wonder, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Paul Robeson, the Beatles’. 

Duncan Dey (Greens)

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘Leonard Cohen if I have to stick to just one’. 

Asren Pugh (Labor)

Asren Pugh: ‘This may be a little trite, but I can’t go past some of the landscapes of my dad Dailan Pugh or Grandfather Clifton Pugh. They are simply amazing to immerse yourself in. I am a child of the 90s, and my music taste is eclectic, growing up in the country and for his support during the forest campaigns John Williamson always has a place, but Rage Against the Machine and 90s grunge are my go-to. I think we can also call Paul Kelly a musician and a poet and he is up the top of my list’.

Chris McIlrath. Photo supplied

Chris McIlrath: ‘Tarik Ali’.

Cr Michael Lyon

Michael Lyon: ‘Craig Ruddy, Tom Robbins, Thom Yorke and William Blake’.

Mark Swivel

Mark Swivel: ‘Arthur Boyd. Elizabeth Harrower. Cat Power. Robert Creeley. Yours?’


Bruce Clarke

Bruce Clarke: ‘Artists Salvador Dali and Del Katherine Barton, writers Peter Carey and John Steinbeck, musicians John Lennon & Bruce Springsteen, poet Kate Jennings’.


Where are your preferences going?

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘Have still to decide, but most likely to Cr Michael Lyon and then Bruce Clarke’s team,  ‘because he has the next most local government experience’.

Cate Coorey: ‘I’m still in the process of finalising but will be putting the candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to our community and to the environment and have experience in council first. Of course no-one has to follow my preferences if they vote below the line –  the voter holds the power’.

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘Cr Cate Coorey. Cate has consistently demonstrated decent values close to ours, which are about caring for environment, community and neighbourhood’.
Asren Pugh (Labor): Mark Swivels team, Michael Lyon’s group, Bruce Clarke’s team and finally Cate Coorey.

Chris McIlrath: ‘Not decided yet. I will listen to and/or read their blurbs’.

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘Bruce, Asren, Mark, Alan, Cate’.

Mark Swivel: ‘To candidates campaigning for change on Byron Shire Council and a more community focussed approach to local government. There’s a mood for change across the shire’ [Since the comment was received, Mr Swivel has formed an alliance with Labor leaning candidates – Cr Michael Lyon, Asren Pugh (Labor), and Bruce Clarke – Ed].


Bruce Clarke: ‘We are still deciding on our final preferencing arrangements’ [Since the comment was received Mr Clarke has formed an alliance with Labor leaning candidates Cr Michael Lyon, Mark Swivel and Asren Pugh (Labor) – Ed].

Can you please name the people funding you and advising you

Cr Alan Hunter: I am self-funded assisted by whatever we can raise from community donations. The decisions we make are after consulting my Alliance team.  

Cr Cate Coorey, ‘Just residents and friends from the community so far’.

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘Part of our modest budget comes from donors to the campaign. They are all non-corporate individuals. Our largest single donation is $1,400; we have a couple of $1,000 and many of $100 and less. The rest of our funding comes from Byron Greens’ work over the years. I take advice from Byron Greens members numbering over 150 local people, and from the broader Greens network of other local groups, and state and federal bodies. And we have a campaign team of experienced Greens. And I like hearing from the thousands of greenish locals. 

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘We have to raise all the money for our campaign ourselves, and don’t get any financial support from Labor head office. Just about all of the donations to my campaign have come from local grassroots individuals, with some friends and family chipping in a little. We don’t take donations from corporations or businesses. Overall, I don’t think we will be spending nearly as much as some of the other candidates (as far as I can tell by the number of ads they seem to be able to buy!)’. 

Chris McIlrath: ‘Wayne Wadsworth (‘Wadzy’) is advising me and is my campaign manager. Self funded so far

Cr Michale Lyon: ‘I am self-funding the bulk of my campaign with one or two larger donations from family and friends’. 

Mark Swivel, ‘Too many to list, but my colleagues at Barefoot Law, Mullum Neighbourhood Centre, Spaghetti Circus and Eureka FC are key supporters. My main advisers are our candidates Fran Hart, Venetia Scott, Jess Smythe and Xavier Hanckel-Spice, and the campaign team Shelley McNamara, [buyers aganet] Michael Murray, [broadcaster] Mick O’Regan and Nicolette Jackson’. 

Bruce Clarke: ‘We are for the greater part, self-funded. We did hold a fundraiser earlier in the campaign, which attracted some individual donations. My best advice comes from [my] BSAG team, Julie Meldrum, Janine Khosid and Gary Dellar. I’m also advised by David Jacobsen a local architect and experienced campaigner’.

If standing as an independent, do you have any affiliation with any political party, religious organisation or community group?

Cr Alan Hunter: I have no affiliation, formal or otherwise, with any political party in my council duties.

Cr Cate Coorey: ‘Byron Residents’ Group, Community Alliance for Byron Shire (CABS)’.
Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘not applicable’. 

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘Byron Bay Labor has just celebrated its 100 year anniversary and we are very proud to have been a part of this community through all its ups and downs over that time. We understand this community and the pressures it is facing. We can respond to these pressures in a way that respects our history but looks to the future’. 

Chris McIlrath: ‘Independent, no direct affiliations but talking to pro choice groups’.

Michael Lyon: ‘No affiliations’.

Mark Swivel: ‘No party affiliations (we are independent and non-aligned). I was raised ‘Catholic’ but went to state public schools from kindergarten to the HSC. Barefoot Law grew out of a clinic held at Mullum Neighbourhood Centre and Byron Community Centre. Our social justice focus is a strong influence on my candidacy. My principles are essentially Whitlam era Labor updated for the climate change era’.

Bruce Clarke: No affiliations with any political parties or religious groups’.

How do you respond to criticism?

Cr Alan Hunter: Criticism is part of the experience, however I try to identify the motives behind it and work on the constructive aspects of it. Constructive criticism is valuable.

Cr Cate Coorey: ‘Depends on how it’s delivered and whether it is warranted. If it comes via social media then I don’t respond’. 

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘I listen to criticism. It is just another point of view and an opportunity to improve outcomes. I do not shoot messengers, as has been the habit lately’.

Asren Pugh (Labor), ‘It is important to be open to criticism and the best response is to listen. More and more in modern life we can get stuck in our own bubbles, whether in social media or just our own networks that we listen to. Outside voices are essential to hearing other points of view, new perspectives and understanding the real impact that decisions have on people. The world would be a better place if everyone listened a little more’. 

Chris McIlrath: ‘With enthusiasm as in almost every case the criticism is based on false or grossly misunderstood information’.

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘If given in good faith, with an open mind and gratitude. If it’s mean-spirited then I ignore it’.

Mark Swivel: ‘It’s been my job as a lawyer to handle criticism since 1995. Ask the judges, magistrates, lawyers and clients I work with everyday. Handling and managing conflict is central to my daily work and has been since admission as a solicitor in 1995’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘I seek to be objective in determining if it is justified and I can learn from any criticism. If unfounded, I like to have a logical conversation with my critic and explain my position’.

Should those who seek power be trusted? If yes, why

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘Power is subjective as we all define it differently. In this case I will assume you mean an elected office. In the first place I trust the voters have given the position to someone they at least trust as I do. Trust for me is a sense of fairness in decision making and a basic priority. If by trust you mean they always get their decision correct? I don’t think it is fair to expect that’.

Cr Cate Coorey, ‘People who acquire power because of what they do in their lives don’t need to seek it. Respect and influence (as opposed to power) should be earned’.

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘Seeking power for its own sake is not a basis for gaining trust. Trust should be based on performance, especially if there are expectations or promises floating around as there are now. If a pollie has promised something, and delivers, they gain trust. Or if they can demonstrate why their promise failed, they’ll still gain some trust. If they do the opposite of what they promised, get rid of them! I am very careful not to over-promise. I take undertakings very seriously’. 

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘Whether or not to trust those in power is all about understanding their values and their motivations. I don’t know all the candidates who have put their hand up for this election, but I can say that just about everyone is putting themselves forward because they care for our community, even those I don’t agree with on policy. It is not a small thing to put your hand up for public office and serve the community. It is also a big thing to put yourself out in the glare of the public eye and requires significant sacrifice, but transparency and accountability are crucial to maintaining and building trust’.

Chris McIlrath: ‘Probably not to be trusted if they seek power. In my case, Wadzy pressed me to run and others have been keen to nominate me and support me re leafleting etc’.

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘Your premise seems to be that those who seek power shouldn’t be trusted. I don’t agree with that as an absolute, though granted there can be a correlation’.

Mark Swivel: ‘If I was in fact ‘seeking power’ I would be in business or higher levels of government. The limited agency of our local council means you can only lead by consensus, within a restrictive bureaucratic and legal context. My trustworthiness is there to judge from my conduct in a wide range activities across the Northern Rivers in law, arts and renewable energy’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘I believe most candidates stand with the best intentions.  Over the long run, it is apparent that some people do sometimes get seduced by power’.

Have you ever changed your mind on an issue, and if so, what?

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘Yes I have changed my mind on the need for an agricultural officer since so many of the recent purchasers of rural property in the shire have had little or no experience with weed, soil and creek bank management. I now support the need and activities of the officer’.

Cr Cate Cooorey: ‘Whether to have children; unfortunately the change of mind came too late – just kidding, I adore my boys. Otherwise, I change my mind often in Council – sometimes issues we are presented with look like one thing on the face of it but if you drill down through the documents and the evidence then you come to a different point of view’. 

Duncan Dey: ‘Yes, in my professional life when new information arrives such as a land survey. On Council, yes, generally after listening to others’ points of view. This is where Public Access is so important. It often shines a light on issues that staff and Councillors have overlooked’. 

Asren Pugh: ‘The biggest local issue I have changed my mind on is the use of the rail corridor. I used to catch the local train, including to get down to uni in Sydney when I moved out of home from Suffolk Park. I had hoped that the train would one day return. It is now clear that it is not coming back and an amazing community asset is slowly rotting away. We need to use the track for locals to be able to walk, bike, run, amble and get around and between our towns’.

Chris McIlrath: ‘I used to think the media told the truth and politicians represented the electorate. Unfortunately it became obvious to me many years ago that main stream media is a gang of prostitutes, ultimately working for big corporations and/or the CIA – yes I have proof. See the senior European journalist in my video ‘Global Genocide for Beginners – available free on www.znews.tv My realization that many politicians, more at a state, national and international level, also act according to what suits the big corporations and largely ignore what their electors want’.

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘I’ve been swayed several times during the debates in Council. it is essential you keep an open mind and incorporate new information and new points of view when they come your way. One example would be at the start of this term and funding of the Byron Town Centre Masterplan. I was reluctant to spend money on the town centre improvements because when I came to Council I had the mentality of saving money wherever possible and investing in roads which had been so neglected. By listening and understanding the process that took place in the formation of the Masterplan Group, the hours and dedication that went into it, I changed my mind and now want to see these masterplans brought to life around the Shire because they are plans the communities have made. Thankfully, we have been able to have great relationships with State Government funding bodies to bring about much needed road improvements as well’.

Mark Swivel: ‘Yes. For example, I did not think Barefoot Law should do family law disputes because Legal Aid was available for eligible clients. I was wrong, there was a space for no cost and low cost services to address parenting and property issues in our community. I also once thought local government was not the best place to direct political energy. But the pandemic has made life more local and with climate change impacts to come, local government grow hugely in importance over coming decades. So I was wrong there too’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘Of course. Significantly I now regard the greater empowerment of local communities as an essential part of our democracy’.

Do you have any relationship/s with state or federal government MPs or bureaucrats, and if so, who are they and how will those relationships be of any benefit to the community?

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘I have an extensive network of state a federal MPs with whom I can consult if and when I have the need’.

Cr Cate Coorey: ‘I have a friendly relationship with Tamara Smith and Ben Franklin, but we are not ‘friends’ in the sense that we hang out or socialise together’. 

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘I work closely with my Greens colleague Tamara Smith, MP for Ballina (our state electorate). I also look forward to working with future Greens MP Mandy Nolan when she enters federal parliament next year. Vote 1 Mandy for Richmond! Through my membership and activity on several Council Committees, I have come to know and trust many Council staff members and several key state bureaucrats whom Council relies on to further its goals in areas like water management, roads and traffic. I was a Rous Councillor for Byron Shire 2012-16, so I know its workings and programs well’.

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘I have been involved in politics and public policy campaigning for a long time. I know how the processes and politics work to ensure we can get the financial support and policy decisions we need from state and federal governments. I know many politicians and bureaucrats from both sides of the political spectrum and can work with just about anyone in the interests of our community. It is also important to be able to call out bad decisions while maintaining the relationships required to get what we need for the Shire’.

Chris McIlrath: ‘I have exchanged emails with Tanya Davies Liberal NSW. We agree that people should not be coerced into being jabbed. I have not spoken to her’.

Michael Lyon: ‘I seek to have constructive and collaborative relationships with all people at all levels of government that cross my path in the course of my work. Having good open relationships helps ensure that issues can be raised and heard in a constructive light with a view to delivering outcomes on behalf of my community’.

Mark Swivel: ‘I know local politicians through my work and community engagement. At Spaghetti Circus we have worked well with Ben Franklin (Nationals) and Don Harwin (Liberal). At Enova I negotiated contracts with state government (and Arena and Tesla). I met many MPs in the years I advised to the mutual banking sector (credit unions). I know some of the key bureaucrats because I was at uni with them at Sydney University in the 1980s and 1990s, doing history, economics and law. The late Paul O’Grady (Labor) our first openly gay MP was a great friend of mine (but he never went to uni!).

Bruce Clarke: ‘I have connections with MPs on both sides of politics at both State and Federal level.  It is not appropriate to name them all.  Similarly, I have longstanding contacts with senior bureaucrats in Federal and State Government brought about by senior roles in major advisory organisations and as a Senior Adviser to the NSW government. My law firm, Allygroup, has day to day interaction with many Federal and State Government Departments and personnel. These connections are useful in finding ethical ways to deal with the appropriate decision makers and in best working for the Byron community’.

Have you attended Council meetings, and if so, how long have you done this?

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘I have been an elected councillor now for 9 years and estimate I have attend over 200 council meetings missing only one I can recall because I was in hospital in January 2018′.

Cate Coorey: ‘Well, there’s the last five years and prior to that I attended with monotonous regularity (and I do mean monotonous). I’d say maybe 15-20 times over four years of previous term – on many occasions representing Byron Residents’ Group or Community Alliance for Byron Shire and as an individual’.

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘I attended many Council meetings prior to my election to Byron Council in 2002. I attended all Council meetings in that half term. I attended many meetings between 2004 and 2012 when I was next elected. I attended all meetings of that Council except one. I have attended many Council meetings since 2016, and addressed Council many times as well as working with Councillor to improve Council outcomes. I have been on several Council Committees since their inception, some back as far as 1996 or so’. 

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘I have attended council meetings on and off over the last eight years, but have tried to attend as many as possible over the last 18 months. I currently work full time and daytime, full day Council meetings are not designed to be very accessible for working people. The move to streaming council meetings has made this process easier and we should consider further changes to make meetings more accessible’. 

Chris McIlrath: ‘I have attended council meetings and spoken at one or more but not recently as I have been in East Timor’.

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘I started attending Council meetings in the year prior to running at the last elections [2015].

Mark Swivel: ‘Yes, I’ve attended most this year, some in person in the chamber, and my law firm has engaged with Council on many issues since we started in June 2018. For what it’s worth, I think councils could benefit from having a speaker like our parliaments do – the mayor should not chair council meetings because a mayor should focus on advocacy not meeting management’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘A few in Byron, scores as Legal Adviser in Coffs Harbour and innumerable meetings as a member of the State Joint Regional Planning Panel’.

How long have you been reading Council agendas?

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘Nine years’.

Cr Cate Coorey: ‘Assuming you mean Byron – nine years’. 

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘I read my first full Agenda in 2002 and have read many since. It was a paper print in those days’.

Asren Pugh: ‘Fairly consistently for the last 18 months, but again, on and off over the last eight years’.

Chris McIlrath: ‘Sadly zero as yet. Those who have read them tell me they are extremely tedious to read. Will asap and obviously ardently if elected’.

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘As per above, a year prior to the elections’.

Mark Swivel: ‘Years, but the agendas are one important document among many in our corporate governance. Our shire’s strategic plans, budgets and policy instruments are as significant, and I have read and analysed them. We need to reform our corporate governance processes and performance reporting, in my view. Our agendas, board papers and Council reports could be made much clearer to improve scrutiny and community engagement. I’ve often worked on those issues, developing better strategic reporting for clients’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘Intermittently over the past several years, particularly when a significant policy issue is to be determined.  I reviewed all Council material regarding the proposed West Byron development and, this year, most of Council’s agenda’.

Have you been on, or are you on, any Council committees?

Cr Alan Hunter: ‘Yes, about six committees’.

Cr Cate Coorey: ‘Yep. For the last five years on:

  • Arakwal MOU Committee
  • Biodiversity Committee
  • Coastal and Estuary Catchment Panel
  • Communications Panel
  • Waste, Water and Sewerage Committee

Byron Council representative on:

  • Rous Water
  • Arakwal National Park Management Committee
  • Byron Coast Area Management Committee
  • Cape Byron Trust Management Committee
  • Cape Byron Marine Park Advisory Committee (second)
  • Richmond Tweed Regional Library Committee’.

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘see answers 9 and 10’ .

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘No. It will be good to have some new ideas and new blood involved in council coming out of this election’.

Chris McIlrath: ‘Nil’.

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘Yes, in my role as Councillor I am on the Finance, Audit, Coastal, Water waste and Sewer, Floodplain management, and Sustainability and Emissions Reduction Committees’.

Mark Swivel: ‘No. However, I was company secretary at Enova Energy for five years until November 2020, involved in the board meetings and committees of the parent and other companies from its first AGM. I was previously a director of, and chair of the finance committee, at Sydney Mutual Bank. I have also run my own businesses, including a Sydney CBD law firm employing over 30 people’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘I was appointed as a Conduct Reviewer to several Councils including Byron Shire Council’.

Please identify any other experience in local government:
Cr Alan Hunter: [did not answer]

Cr Cate Coorey: ‘Worked as a Communications Officer at Randwick Council for a while’.

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘As a Councillor I have attended many Coastal and Local Government Conferences. I have attended Hydrology and Floodplain Conferences (my core professional field). As a flood hydrologist, I have prepared designs for projects seeking approval by Councils. I have also done hundreds of designs for stormwater and on-site sewage systems, many of them in Byron Shire’. 

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘My main exposure to local government has come from working with and talking through issues with my dad in his extensive engagement with Byron council and most of our pressing local issues, from the Becton development where Elements now is, to West Byron, to Koala plans of management and coastal zone management issues at Belongil’. 

Chris McIlrath: ‘I have been observing the functioning of local government for 50 years. This is why I am running as a candidate, clearly we cannot just let local government do whatever they like. It appears that in Byron Shire, like other shires, is much under the control of the senior bureaucrats and those chappies are often rather too close to the big companies and contractors that supply the council’.

Cr Michael Lyon: [did not answer]

Mark Swivel: ‘Depending on your definition, much of my legal and community work has overlapped with local government. I have engaged with our council on many issues as a lawyer from tenancy arrangements at Byron Community College and insurance disputes to projects like the West Byron the sewerage treatment plant and residential planning approvals. More generally I am experienced in corporate governance as a company director and advisor since the mid 1990s. In Sydney we worked closely with local councils especially the City of Sydney and Leichhardt Council when I was chair of Legs on the Wall, a leading theatre company’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘For 16 years I acted for the Coffs Harbour City Council and some other nearby Councils. For eight years as a State appointed member of the Joint Regional Planning Panel. I had a role similar to Council in that local Councils provided a Secretariat and our Panel were decision makers throughout the State on development applications and gateway determinations’.

And lastly, what do you do for fun?

Cr Alan Hunter: Everything I do is for fun! My farm, my business interests, my family, even council.

Cr Cate Coorey: ‘Not enough. Mostly read, swim, drink and eat with my family and friends, walk in nature, travel when I can – especially to visit people’.

Duncan Dey (Greens): ‘In my spare time I contemplate how wonderful the world could be if …. To defrag I go body-surfing at Brunswick Heads when the sun is shining and dinghy racing on the Richmond River on Sundays in all weathers. Can I add dancing, and singing in the shower?’

Asren Pugh (Labor): ‘My go to is to get out into the bush. Whether it is a nice long bush walk through some of our local World Heritage rainforest or camping for a few days with family and friends, being in nature helps you reset and gives you time to ponder the bigger questions of the world. Of course, you can never go wrong with a swim and play in the waves at any one of our perfect local beaches’.

Chris McIlrath: ‘I have a bright young wife and an eight year old son and daughters nine and 11. Spending time with them is extremely delightful. I also enjoy relaxing in the forest and listening to the sounds of nature and watching the bush turkeys chasing the goannas and bathing in the lovely rainwater in the local rockpools. A good laugh with friends is highly invigorating. Did you hear the one about…’

Cr Michael Lyon: ‘Hang out with friends, eating, drinking and being merry, playing sport and gardening’.

Mark Swivel: ‘Swim in the sea. Sing with Dustyesky. Play football with Eureka FC’.

Bruce Clarke: ‘My morning run and swim, socialising with friends and whenever the opportunity arises, scuba diving’.

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