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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

Cr Elly Bird: ‘I am so grateful that I am part of such a brilliant, creative and unique community’

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The 2021 NSW Local Government elections will be held on Saturday, 04 December, 2021. Candidates have until noon on Wednesday, November 3 to register with the NSW Electoral Commission.

The Echo is inviting all of the Lismore mayoral candidates to a photoshoot and to answer the same 20 questions.

Lismore Councillor Elly Bird. Photo Tree Faerie.

Cr Elly Bird is running for Lismore Mayor on the Our Sustainable Future ticket. Cr Bird has already served on Council for five years.

1. What are your intentions and hopes for the December election and beyond?

I hope to be elected as Mayor of course, and I hope to be returned as Councillor. I have dedicated myself to ethical, responsive, and inclusive leadership in the last term and that is my intention into the next.

I am absolutely focused on building resilience in our community and within Lismore City Council as an organisation.

It is critical to carefully balance environmental, economic, social and governance issues and to work in partnership with the community and with key stakeholders to build a future we can all be proud of.

2. What do you see as the biggest challenges for the Lismore LGA going forward?

We have a lot of challenges ahead, many of which are escalating. These include: economic recovery from Covid and managing the ongoing effects of the pandemic which is a long way from over; the critical housing affordability and availability crisis; climate resilience and disaster preparedness; and food and water security.

3. What do you personally see as the most popular decision of this council?

Council’s decision to join local governments around the world in declaring a Climate Emergency and our subsequent work to move towards a Climate Resilience Strategy is critically important. It’s popular and it’s also incredibly urgent.

4. What do you personally see as the most unpopular decision of this council?

Year on year we have had to make budget cuts and to shrink our activities. This has included a reduction in the amount of funds Council can spend on maintaining critical infrastructure – including our roads. We know that roads are the most important issue of concern to our community and that it causes significant frustration for residents that Council isn’t able to afford to keep up with the maintenance that many expect.

5. What’s been frustrating, and why?

Our term has been shaped by crisis, with the 2017 floods happening only six months after we were elected. Not long after that, we discovered a range of financial issues that we needed to solve; we have had to recruit a new General Manager twice and have had changeovers in our executive directors; we have had destructive and biased social media commentary that has targeted a number of us personally, myself included.

We have also had to manage Councillor dynamics that have been difficult with all of us under significant and sustained stress.

Councillors play a critical role in our community that is often disrespected and misrepresented in the public domain and that is very challenging to manage and counteract. The misinformation and misrepresentation has been significant in negatively shaping community conversation and dynamics – to the point where many good people don’t want to stand as a Councillor.

6. What could Council do better?

We can definitely improve our processes and improve efficiency across a range of activities.

Careful work is underway across our whole organisation and has been for a couple of years now but we still have some way to go. There is steady progress underway and we need to maintain that dedicated focus.

We also need to implement better uses of technology and systems that will efficiently meet the needs and expectations of our community.

We can also improve our communication with our community so that people have a better understanding of the complex and critical role local government plays in so many areas.

7. Are you interested in representing Lismore on Rous CC?

Water security is a critical issue. Our current Rous Councillors are well informed and have been doing an excellent job but yes I would be interested in representing our community interests on Rous given the importance of water to our future and our community.

I am also passionate about flood mitigation and catchment management – I have been a member of the floodplain management committee for four years and I have a unique perspective on flooding and disaster recovery that I gained through managing ‘Lismore Helping Hands’ the inspiring community-led flood recovery effort we delivered out of the Lismore Train Station after our devastating floods in 2017.

8. What is your view on the Dunoon/Channon dam

I am absolutely opposed.

We need to build drought resilient and diverse water systems that will provide water security in a changing climate.

The Dunoon Dam would risk core koala habitat; destroy sacred Widjabul-Wia-bal sites; and destroy precious, unique ecosystems. All that for a single solution that all the experts and the NSW government’s own water strategies agree is fundamentally flawed.

We can’t put all our eggs in the one dam basket – we need to be smart and strategic about finding solutions to a complex situation.

Recycled purified water, water tanks on more houses, and system-wide water conservation strategies are the way forward and must be urgently prioritised.

9. How do you see Council’s relationship with the business community?

Unfortunately, it is strained. The business community are often frustrated by DA processes. Timelines for approval can be drawn out and have been exacerbated by Covid – there has been a huge uptake in DAs being submitted and this has put significant pressure on our planning department.

It is a costly and detailed process to put in a DA, with onerous requirements stipulated in NSW planning law and this has recently been made worse by the NSW government’s implementation of their planning portal which has increased the bureaucratic burden.

These factors have also been exacerbated by an oppositional sentiment from some Councillors and a number of refusals of DAs in the Chamber that I think should have been supported. This has led to investment uncertainty.

We need to promote and support sustainable economic development for the benefit of our whole community and to continue to support our business community to bring new ideas to the table.

We have a newly strengthened economic development team who already do an excellent job providing support and information and who will continue to do so.

I am totally committed to supporting our businesses and working in partnership with our local and regional Chamber of Commerce as we navigate our way through this critical economic recovery period.

10. What do you feel is the best way to deal with the issue of flooding?

Lismore is a flood city. It is a reality that it will flood again – not if, when.

Community preparedness is fundamental to our resilience. Infrastructure solutions only go so far. The only option that will provide a higher level of protection to the CBD is to raise the levee which will make the situation worse for South and North Lismore. There are a number of mitigation solutions being worked on right now as part of the next iteration of our floodplain management plan.

For me the focus needs to be community awareness and planning as well as delivering funding programs that assist businesses to floodproof their premises – I already advocate for this and I will continue to do so.

Council recently administered some State money to businesses to make flood preparedness modifications – it was highly successful and oversubscribed. I want to see more initiatives like that. And, more broadly as a community, as individuals and as businesses we need to develop emergency and disaster plans so that when a disaster happens we have a plan we can act on.

11. Why did you originally decide to get involved with local government? 

I ran for Council off the back of the Gasfield Free Northern Rivers campaign. I was the regional coordinator for that campaign for the last few years, I organised rallies and helped to drive political advocacy and action.

I saw the important role that local government plays and the influence we can have, as the level of government most closely connected to the community. I was inspired to step up and to become a decision-maker so I could represent my community and further our shared goals of sustainability and resilience.

12. How do you feel about that decision now?

Being on Council has been incredibly challenging but more importantly, it has been incredibly rewarding, humbling and meaningful work.

I have grown so much in the last five years, deepening and developing my networks within the community and expanding my knowledge and understanding of all levels of government and how they intersect, and how we can exert influence to achieve change.

Serving on Council is a deep honour and I am proud to be able to stand up on issues that matter on behalf of our community.

13. Do you have any political ambitions beyond local government?

Ten years ago if you had told me I would be a Councillor I would have laughed at the thought because it was well outside of anything I pictured for myself. If I have learnt anything in the last few years it is that the unfolding path of our lives is unpredictable and can take any turn whatsoever.

I do know that I will continue to leverage my advocacy skills and knowledge in the political arena well into the future because engaging in politics is critical to achieving change.

As the only Gen X candidate I have a long career still ahead of me and who can say where it will take me.

14. How do you feel the Lismore LGA is coping with COVID?

One of the reasons that community resilience is so important is because of this exact situation we are in, we are experiencing the compounding impacts of multiple disasters.

Floods, fires, pandemic. We are all tired and overstretched from five years of living with upheaval and change. It’s critically important to support and nurture each other and to engage in initiatives that will build community networks and connectivity.

15. Do you feel Council is doing enough to support Indigenous residents?

Council has a Reconciliation Action Plan that is in its second iteration, the RAP has employment targets and builds cultural awareness into the organisation.

We have an active Aboriginal advisory group and prioritise engagement with Traditional Owners.

Our recent decision to hand back land on the North Lismore Plateau was an important decision.

We support Norpa & Arts Northern Rivers – both organisations with a strong focus on Aboriginal arts and culture, and we have recently established a partnership with Rous County Council that will see a Cultural space operate in the old Visitor Information Centre.

We have also supported the relocation of the Jarjum preschool to Goonellabah.

There is always more that can be done, and Council should always look for ways to support our Indigenous community.

16. What is your favourite pizza topping?

Anything that involves artichokes, olives and capers.

17 What do you see as the highlights of Council since the last election?

I am proud of the very careful and considered decisions we have been making to make Council more efficient, to improve our staffing structures and to bring financial rigour to our operations.

We have also successfully navigated some very difficult challenges including natural disasters and shocks like the changes to recycling and the fire at our waste facility. Those decisions are fundamental to the well-being of the organisation but they don’t make headlines.

18 What do you see as the low point of Council since the last election?

We have had to manage some difficult disagreements and conflicts which have been influenced by the challenges of the term. We have moved through that space and have been working well in the last year or so.

With a new Council and at least six new Councillors it will be so important to prioritise an early focus on building productive, respectful and collaborative relationships that can bridge our political and ideological positions. We need to work together for the benefit of our whole community.

19. In one sentence, why should people vote for you/ what do you bring to the table that the others don’t?

As a strong and experienced advocate I am balanced, totally independent, connected, determined and completely focused on building a strong and resilient organisation that can support and enhance the wellbeing of our community.

20. Is there anything else you would like to add?

My deepest thanks and gratitude to anyone who has ever supported me or worked alongside me in any way.

I am so grateful that I am part of such a brilliant, creative and unique community and that I can proudly call this place, on Widjabul Wi-abal Country, my home.

I look forward to working with you to build a future we can all be proud of, and to continue to play my part in making this an even better place than it already is.


 

The Echo will publish profiles of all the Lismore Mayoral candidates in the coming weeks.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Why don’t you ask the important questions like:
    1. do you understand the need to have unbiased decision making?
    2. Do you know what that means?
    3. Can you understand complex law?
    4. Do you understand you may be personally liable?
    5 Do you understand you are not there to rubber stamp recommendations by staff but have an obligation to ensure the decision making is sound and based upon the law?
    6. What is a conflict of interest?
    7. are you capable to understand when a conflict has arisen?
    8. What would you do if you were conflicted?
    9. What are your views regarding transparency in decision making?

    Reply

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