What happens when you stick to your principles, save a bunch of councils and campaign on progressive politics? Communities pay attention and repay you with their trust. The Greens NSW have seen this in action with two successful local council election campaigns in the last 12 months.
NSW has just had its second round of local government elections. The first was September 2016 for those councils who were not being targeted by the Liberal National Government for forced amalgamations. This September all remaining councils, those that successfully fought off amalgamation attempts, and those that had been amalgamated into new supersized councils, went to the polls.
Given the Liberal National government’s attack on local democracy, and the strength of community resistance, these elections became a series of referendums on how to do politics. Should it be centralised, top-down and “professional” or should it be led by communities, local and creative?
You only have to look at the numbers to see that our style of grassroots politics has been overwhelmingly embraced. In total the Greens NSW expect to have at least 58 Greens Councillors elected. We elected 28 Greens to council in 2016 and at least 30 more in the latest polls. The success of the Greens NSW at a local government level has been remarkable. In NSW local groups are empowered to run the campaigns that they know will resonate locally. Local groups are financially autonomous but they also benefit from shared resources and a state campaign that provides material and support where needed. The end result is we have more local Greens representatives than all other states combined.
We have achieved this by not only believing in local democracy, but by putting our political capital and resources into defending it. We rallied on the streets, worked in Parliament and council chambers and fought in the courts to save our councils from forced amalgamations. Greens at every level drove the campaign to keep local councils genuinely local and this was reflected in our success. This campaign was never about retaining incumbency or any specific councillor position but ensuring that local communities are the ones who make decisions about their local council.
For the Greens engaging in local councils isn’t just about an abstract political belief in the “grassroots”. We know that local councils matter, all the more so when they are controlled by progressive local councillors who listen to their local residents. This is about bike paths, child care centres, protecting the local environment, respecting First Nations peoples, stopping privatisation and leading the country on climate change. Because that’s what Greens on councils do.
With five Greens councillors on the new Inner West Council, our first councillor in Parramatta, four directly elected Mayors from as far afield as Tweed, Shoalhaven and Bellingen and record councillor numbers in Sydney’s east Greens Councillors have a lot of work to do in NSW. With these big ticket wins has come a series of less well-known but equally important victories that has seen Greens on Albury, Bathurst, Campbelltown and Queanbeyan Palerang, Campbelltown and Snowy Mountains Councils. The collective voice for environmental and social justice just keeps growing.
We know that communities are demanding change, they want progressive politics and they want to be listened to. Local greens councillors are providing exactly this. Whether it’s housing affordability, increasing local tree canopy or providing quality, affordable council-run childcare, our Greens councillors campaigned on real issues that matter to real people. Now we have three more years to get real things done.