At look at elections in the Gateway Ward
By Jake Pike
While most of our readers are impacted by the City of Melbourne’s council elections, those who live and work in the Montague Precinct and its surrounds, will be paying closer attention to the elections in the City of Port Phillip (CoPP) on October 24.
And the Gateway Ward, which covers the St Kilda Rd precinct, South Melbourne, Port Melbourne and Fishermans Bend, is being hotly contested with eight candidates vying for the three councillor positions.
Regardless of the outcome, Gateway will see at least two new faces with outgoing Mayor Bernadene Voss and Greens Cr Ogy Simic both choosing not to recontest, meaning Liberal councillor Marcus Pearl is the only incumbent running.
Here’s a snapshot of the field …
Heather Cunsolo – Independent
An American expat and Port Melbourne local who runs a residential design practice, Ms Cunsolo is a community-focused independent with a passion for community involvement. She also has the backing of outgoing mayor Bernadene Voss.
She is perhaps best known locally for leading the “Port Melbourne Focus” Facebook page, which she said started from “humble beginnings” having been originally established as a platform for local families to connect. It now boasts a 6000-strong online community, most of whom are locals from the greater Port Melbourne area.
“With that role of creating and being an admin, I’ve just seen that connection with the community and where I can fit in and help make decisions for the community,” Ms Cunsolo said.
If elected, Ms Cunsolo said she would endeavour to bring the community into the council’s decision-making processes as she seeks to revive the area’s retail precincts and businesses, clean up the Station Pier precinct and evaluate all of the council’s services.
And with a degree in architecture and background in urban planning and sustainable design, she plans to use her knowledge to ensure “sensible” development in the area; namely key growth areas of St Kilda Rd and Fishermans Bend.
“I think there’s flexibility for what it [Fishermans Bend] does become, but we need to have some forward vision and work towards a goal, so we don’t just get this hodgepodge that doesn’t really work together,” she said.
“Although I won’t be the one designing the buildings in development, I know what they can and can’t do and I have the vision for the spaces in between.”
She wants to “beautify the area” by giving utility to underused areas such as nature strips by installing seats as well as water fountains with dog bowls that make the area more pet friendly.
Ms Cunsolo hopes that her community care factor sets her apart from the other candidates with more political backing. “I’m not in it for the politics, I don’t come with those experiences, but I’m very willing to learn, but I find that care factor can’t be taught,” she said.
Peter Martin – Labor
Labor candidate Peter Martin believes that after almost two decades as principal of Port Melbourne Primary School, he’s got his finger strongly on the pulse of the local area and the needs of its residents.
Mr Martin is a long-time member of the Labor party and is no stranger to rubbing elbows with politicians from all three levels of government.
He believes that his long track record of service to the local community and expertise in running organisations with a big budget puts him ahead of the other candidates.
Not afraid to ruffle feathers to get results, throughout his career he’s been an agitator for causes that he believes in, which he attributes to his strong sense of social justice.
“I’ve got a track record of getting things done in the local community, lots and lots of agitation in getting new school and local childcares up and running,” he said.
“I’ve always seen myself as the local principal, not just being there for the educational needs of the kids – which is very important – but also being a major representative of the local community who advocates for the needs of the community.”
He supports temporary rate relief for businesses struggling to cope during the lockdown and believes that council should advocate for additional funding from the state government to help out.
“We need to try and encourage people back into these shopping precincts to spend money to support local businesses,” he said.
Mr Martin believes that the state government often fixes issues retrospectively and that a planned proactive approach needs to be taken with Fishermans Bend.
“When I look at the planning for the new schools, childcare and other community facilities in the Fishermans bend precinct - and particularly in Wirraway - I don’t really see enough long-term planning to meet the needs,” he said.
On the contentious issue of parking, he supports the consultation of local voices “to get the mix right” between making cyclists and pedestrians safe and making sure people have access to park in front of their own homes.
While he is a resident of Elwood, Mr Martin has stated that, if elected, he will rent an office out of his own pocket, so that residents can come and see him in person to discuss issues.
Marcus Pearl – Liberal
Marcus Pearl is the only Gateway Ward councillor contesting their seat in this election and he is in a strong position to earn another term following a successful and active first four years on council.
Away from local politics, he’s the CEO of Primacy Underwriting Management, a company that offers insurance on agriculture and forestry.
Considering his strong first term supporting residents and businesses, he believes that his job isn’t over yet and that his skills in finance and business are needed more than ever as the community looks beyond COVID-19.
“There’s never been a more important time to have people with good quality business skills to be on council ready to roll their sleeves up and get the job done,” he said.
Mr Pearl said his platform had been fighting for the council to make common sense decisions and reduce wasteful spending and that, if re-elected, he would continue fulfilling that pledge.
As a pertinent example, he cited his introduction of zero-base budgeting to the CoPP; an idea that cuts a team’s budget to $0 and only spends what is necessary to get their job done, eliminating unnecessary costs.
“We’ve saved millions of dollars in efficiency saving in the four years I’ve been on council,” he said.
Having voluntarily taken a 50 per cent pay cut to support the council’s response to COVID-19, he said he wanted to continue focusing the next year on getting local businesses back to where they were before the pandemic.
“People don’t understand the huge community benefit that small business provide, council needs to get small business into its DNA,” he said. “We need these businesses to understand that council is side-by-side with them.”
He also supports the use of traders temporarily using extra space for outdoor dining during COVID restrictions to help businesses get back on their feet.
“There may be some resident disquiet, but I would say to them that this is for the common good for a short period of time,” he said.
“Removing more car parks for permanent bike lanes, particularly on Park St and the removal of car parks on Albert Rd is asinine and I’ve voted against a number of parking restriction policies in my four years on council.”
Earl James – The Greens
Port Melbourne local Earl James is the new Greens candidate for Gateway Ward after Cr Ogy Simic took a new job with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
Mr James said that he was running for The Greens because he aligned with the party’s values of nonviolence, ecological sustainability, social justice and grassroots participatory democracy.
Mr James has a background as a secondary school educator and now works for the Independent Education Union, a trade union for non-government education.
In addition to Green policies, he has three priorities he would like to tend to if elected to council: housing, early learning and active transport.
Mr James believes in taking a compassionate approach to housing and would like to see an increase in social and public housing in the area as well as Fishermans Bend.
Having seen firsthand the effects of good early learning as a teacher he said he would push for more quality early learning in the Port Phillip area if elected.
“As a teacher I believe they are crucial in setting children up for their future. You see the difference that a good learning journey has made when there’s high quality early learning,” he said.
He spent a number of years teaching abroad in the Netherlands where he can recall huge amounts of students being able to safely walk and ride bikes to school even in the snowy winter months.
Borrowing from the Field of Dreams, Mr James said, “if you build it, they will come”, and believed there should be greater focus on safe cycling infrastructure in the area.
“There is a limit on space, but the more people we get on bicycles the fewer car spaces we’ll need,” he said.
“Parking is a limited resource that is paid for by all of us, so if we can use that space in a more efficient way, we should.”
He considers climate change to be the most pressing challenge we face and has plans to improve the tree canopy across Port Phillip to mitigate the heat island effect. He also wants to intoduce organic waste bins for food and garden waste.
Mr James said he would advocate for an honest and transparent council and fight to see that Fishermans Bend was planned for a sustainable future.
Trina Lewis – Independent
Trina Lewis is a South Melbourne local and is the director of Changemakers International, a consulting practice that offers businesses workshops to achieve organisational change.
Ms Lewis is an independent candidate that stands for better community outcomes, fiscal responsibility and fair and efficient non-partisan politics.
If elected, she would like to increase council transparency with the public and find better methods for communicating with residents and ratepayers.
She believes that the unique skills she’s acquired from years of business will be a great asset to the council and community.
“After over 30 years of doing what I do, I know what makes organisations work well and how to enable positive change. It would be wonderful to be able to give back to my community by leveraging these skills in local government,” she said.
“My professional training and experiences enable me to easily spot opportunities and be highly constructive and creative in problem solving.”
Ms Lewis wants the council to employ sensible and fair decisions on parking, including one free parking permit per household and a reassessment of parking costs for residents.
She said she was committed to “finding ways to stop rate hikes while maintaining service levels,” and planned to challenge the council on increasing spending efficiency.
She would like to see green spaces maximised in the community and Fishermans Bend developed in a sustainable manner.
“I would like to see Fishermans Bend developed in a sustainable way, with plenty of parks and community facilities that ensures it becomes an attractive, functional and vibrant precinct for all key stakeholders,” she said
Ms Lewis is an advocate for the redevelopment of the Station Pier precinct, which she currently sees as a wasted opportunity for the local community.
She said she valued diversity and inclusion and that, as a councillor, she would be fair, balanced and responsible.
Other candidates that did not respond to requests for an interview include Sami Maher from the Ratepayers of Port Phillip, Cleo Papageorgiou and Stan Gyles.