When you see the word “government” or “politics”, what do you think of? Is it:
- The Prime Minister
- Parliament House in Canberra
- A fierce battle between political parties
- Or…. this guy
These are all reasonable responses, but when people talk about politics, they are usually talking about federal government (who run the country) or state/territory governments (who run your state or territory). But Australia also has another level of government: local government.
2016 is a big year for local government in Australia. Queensland had their local government elections earlier this month, and both Victoria and New South Wales have theirs coming up later in the year.
If you’re 18 or over at election time, you get to vote for the people who you want to represent you in local government.
The people who win become councillors. One of the councillors is then elected to become the mayor of the local government area (also called a council).
So, what’s all this got to do with you? Well, there are two main things. The first one is that the council makes lots of decisions about things in your town or suburb.
If you’ve ever been to a swimming pool, park, community festival, local footy oval or library, chances are that you have the council to thank.
Councils also look after things like footpaths and rubbish collection and some health services. Life in your town or suburb would probably be pretty crappy without all the work that councils do.
The second is that if you are 18 or older, you get to vote for the councillors who you think will make the best decisions for your area. But also, if you are you can run in a council election yourself. Yep, for realz.
To find out what it’s like, I chatted with two councillors: Rohan Leppert from Melbourne council and Meghan Hopper from Moreland council, who both got elected at the ripe old age of 27, and Meaghan became the Mayor!
Here are six of their top tips for councillor-wannabes:
Do it for the right reasons.
Rohan says: “You need to have a strong idea about what you want to achieve if you are elected. Councils suffer when too many of its members are there because they think their personal traits are in and of themselves beneficial to the municipality, rather than them having an idea about where they want to steer the ship and why.”
Don’t believe the stereotypes.
Meghan says: “There is a great saying, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. Growing up I always thought that a Mayor was an old guy with a beard who sat around making decisions about rubbish collection. The reason I visited a lot of schools during my term as Mayor was to show young people that a Mayor can also be a young woman with a nose ring and a bicycle!”
Be prepared to work hard for what you believe in.
Rohan says: “I fought hard to make sure we have new parks built and got Council to support a very ambitious project called the ‘People’s Panel’ citizens jury, to decide on Council’s priority projects… It has been a very rewarding 3 1/2 years, though the challenges are still really big in the when it comes to planning for liveable communities and resilience in the face of climate change.”
Make the most of opportunities.
Meghan says: “I am a real over-committer so I immediately signed up for heaps of committees and responsibilities – I sit on the board of CERES Environment Park, chair the Moreland Arts Board, and sit on our Libraries Committee and Urban Planning Committee; I’m also Councillor Responsible for Arts and Culture and the Status of Women. It’s a lot of work but it’s also amazing fun. I’ve met so many incredible community members and groups that I would never have met otherwise.”
Don’t do it alone.
Meghan says: “You can either choose to seek election with the party that best represents you and your values or you can always run as an Independent. You will need a lot of support from friends and family though, and depending on how big your campaign is it can be quite expensive, which is where being part of a political party network can definitely help. “