For almost a decade, the Kiama municipality in New South Wales has been represented by eight men and a woman.
- Seven groups are running for election in Kiama and pre-polling is underway ahead of the main vote on December 4
- Among the candidates is a 22-year-old university student, a former adviser to John Howard, a former NSW Labor MP and an 82-year-old man
- First-time candidates say it’s time to change the council’s make-up
But a changing of the guard looks to be in the offing when voters in the coastal community go to the polls next week amid a strong appetite for more diversity on the council.
Greens candidate Kathy Rice, who was the only woman elected in 2012 and again in 2016, said she would be “very pleased” if things changed this year.
“The chances are that’s quite likely, because there are three tickets that have women as number one candidates,” she said.
‘Things to unlearn’
Among the fresh faces is 22-year-old Imogen Draisma, who is the endorsed, lead candidate for the Labor Party.
“Our current council doesn’t reflect our community,” Ms Draisma said.
The law and arts student, who also works as an electoral officer at NSW parliament, does not believe voters should be put off by her youth.
“I think everyone has something to learn when they become a councillor and I think a number of the incumbent councillors have things to unlearn,” Ms Draisma said.
“We need to be willing to take the opportunity to vote people in who are under 30, because there are decisions being made about us and our future and we don’t have a seat at the table.”
Two decades on council
In contrast, independent candidate Warren Steel has been a Kiama councillor since Ms Draisma was born.
The 82-year-old, who said the days of affordable housing in Kiama “were gone” and believes climate change is “a bit of a furphy”, was first elected to council between 1983-87.
Despite having completed four consecutive terms since his re-election in 1999, Cr Steel said he still had things he wanted to achieve.
“What I’m saying might not always be popular and it might upset people, but I’m going to give you a straight answer,” he said.
Former Labor Party member Neil Reilly, who previously ran as a candidate in federal seat of Gilmore, is leading his own Team Reilly ticket.
“I came to the slow conclusion that being part of an organised political party on council breeds hatred and distrust,” he said.
“It isn’t conducive to working with a community where you have nine councillors, not just an opposition, so I’ve learnt to become very much apolitical.”
Cr Reilly said he hoped to be re-elected for a fourth term on the council after “falling in love with the gig”.
Fellow councillor and former local Labor MP Matt Brown, 49, is also having another tilt, but is running against the candidates on the ALP’s endorsed ticket.
A NSW Labor spokesperson said Cr Brown had been suspended from the party’s NSW branch.
His suspension relates to a matter before the party’s internal tribunal, which Cr Brown declined to comment on.
He resigned as the Kiama MP in 2008 over a budget night party he hosted at parliament house.
In 2018, he went public about his struggles with depression after he was caught with the drug ice while at a council conference in Queensland.
Mark Croxford, an executive of the NSW Liberal Party and a former adviser to John Howard, says he “abhors” party politics at a local government level.
The 59-year-old is running at the top of the Your Community Candidates ticket and agrees there needs to be more diversity on the council.
“I’m not pretending that I’m something I’m not,” Mr Croxford said.
“I’m actively engaged in trying to get the Liberal Party out of local government across NSW.”
‘Time for a change’
For the first time, Karen Renkema-Lang, has thrown her hat in the ring as the lead candidate for the S.A.F.E Kiama independent group.
After more than 30 years working in the information and communication sectors in the federal government, Ms Renkema-Lang said her semi-retirement had afforded her more time to become involved in grassroots politics.
Ms Renkema-Lang said her lack of experience would be a “challenge” but felt it was “time for a change” on Kiama Council.
“You’ve got to be up for it and you’ve got to give it a go, and we’re ready,” she said.
Voters are due to head to the polls on December 4.
The mayor is to be elected by the new council at its first meeting.