Local government plays a huge role in protecting and preserving the environment, and The City of Onkaparinga has a strong tradition of introducing positive measures and initiatives based on environmental and sustainability issues.
For that reason, a number of local environmental and community groups have contacted all the candidates standing for Mayor of Onkaparinga City, as well as those standing in the Southern Vales and South Coast Wards, to offer them the opportunity to introduce themselves to our collective membership, and to let us know where they stand on a number of key environmental issues in the City of Onkaparinga.
Each candidate was given the same ten questions to answer. Here are the responses of Stephen Spence.
10 Questions Council Election
- Where do you live? What attracted you to where you live?
I live in the Aldinga Arts Ecovillage. Returning to South Australia after nearly 20 years back in the UK, including fifteen years working as a Senior Management Team member of the performers trade union Equity in London, friends suggested the village as ideal for us given our lifetime of activism in Union, community and environmental groups. Retired from the ‘big jobs’ close to Port Willunga beach in the village is the perfect next step.
- What’s your political background?
As a progressive independent community campaigner I have worked for years with Labor, Left, Green and Democrat parties and other progressive minded individuals to promote the social change that can only be achieved by the maximum progressive unity. Getting a result also involves persuading conservative minded people to support the progressive directions the community needs. Whilst I will continue to work with existing political parties, I believe independent community candidates offer a greater opportunity at the local level to ensure all decisions are made having simply consideration of the law, the evidence and the merit of each proposal rather than being subject to the ‘line’ of any particular political group, even the progressive ones.
As a Port Adelaide Enfield Councillor in the nineties, as part of a ‘progressive caucus’ that discussed issues but didn’t impose a ‘line’, we transformed the Port by directing funds towards traffic calming, street trees, family friendly initiatives, assisting local traders in regenerating Semaphore Road, protecting heritage building and declaring a nuclear free Port. ‘A Port for Its People’ was our mantra and ‘A Strong Community Voice’ was my role. We lay down in front of the bulldozers mining the sand on the local beach and were successful in this and many other actions in changing the attitude to the local environment for a period. Others continued the struggle as my work took me elsewhere.
In England as a Surrey County Councillor, representing ‘Farnham Residents’ in my town Farnham as part of the ‘Residents Association and Independents Group’ in the Council, I was central to ensuring a Heavy Goods Vehicle ban was advanced on Upper Hale Road and Castle Street in my district, something I was told could not be done and which was initially opposed by Surrey Highways. As I returned to Australia a Farnham Board, an infrastructure project complete with expert staff and a multi-million GBP budget had been obtained to deal with chronic traffic problems which had reports written about for 50 years with very little done. To achieve that Farnham Residents Councillors agreed to work constructively with the local Conservative MP and former UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, putting aside political differences, to achieve a positive result. I was also a member of the Council’s Environment and Audit & Governance Committees
My political skills and experience enable me to get things done.
- To which community groups or associations do you belong?
Having been SA/NT Secretary for many years I remain a proud member of the Equity Section of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the Trade Union for performers. Equity UK, where I was Senior Deputy General Secretary (and a member since 1983) made me an Honorary Life member, their highest honour for services to the Union. I have the gold badge awarded to former Presidents of the South Australian Unions and at the UK Trade Union Congress this month I will be presented with their gold badge for service as a member of the TUC General Council. I am very proud of these achievements.
At this year’s AGM I was elected Secretary of the community corporation that runs the Aldinga Arts Ecovillage.
Over the years I have been a member of dozens of community organisations including Port Adelaide Residents Environmental Protection Group, the board of the Port Adelaide Community Arts Centre, the Irish Australian Association, board member of Pursued by a Bear Theatre Company (a community-based theatre company in the UK), Le Fevre High School Council and Belair Primary School Council, where I was Treasurer.
I’ve also been Chair of the SA Arts Industry Council, an Executive member of the National Campaign for the Arts Australia a board member of the SA Film Corporation, a board member of the British Equity Collecting Society and active internationally in the International Federation of Actors.
- If elected, what will be your priorities?
I have developed the following ten-point plan to indicate my priorities for the Council:
- Resist further privatisation of community resources by halting the tendering process on local water assets.
- Prevent out-of-control development with a better planned approach.
- Improve air quality through lobbying for better traffic management.
- Provide greater assistance with social housing and homelessness issues
- Help with the cost-of-living crisis through value for money services and limiting rate increases.
- Campaign to improve employment and business opportunities in the Council area.
- Acknowledge the climate emergency and take steps to encourage more sustainability in Council and community activities.
- Preserve the natural environment for future generations.
- Value the South Coast’s unique heritage and culture including that we live on land that for thousands of years was in the custodianship of the Kaurna people. That heritage deserves our respect, as do elders, past, present and emerging.
- What are your policies regarding the environment and biodiversity?
The way I work is to develop the ten point plan above to indicate to residents and traders the progressive direction I would like to see the Council take. If elected I would then seek to have the Council facilitate dialogue with the community on the steps needed to:
Preserve the natural environment for future generations
and the other priorities by initiating a community discussion and debate in line with my approach of:
Discussion, debate, democracy, decision, do it!
As an independent community candidate, I don’t have a ‘party line’ on how to move forward. I want the Councillors, the officers and the community to be involved in deciding that. I do however ask to be elected on improving the environment so no-one should be surprised that I would input to the ideas on how to increase electric vehicles in the Council’s area, how to improve recycling options, and how to further reduce carbon emissions (and reduce for me in preference to offset), as three examples.
In terms of bio-diversity I believe strongly in protecting and increasing native flora and fauna and seeking to better control and where possible eradicate destructive introduced species as a step towards avoiding the next great mass extinction. Act locally, think globally is as relevant now as it ever was, perhaps more so.
- Do you think the City of Onkaparinga should re-visit declaring a Climate Emergency?
Yes, Council should declare a climate emergency and examine steps to address the issues linked to climate change locally. We persuaded Surrey County Council to declare a climate emergency and within a very short period fracking was being accepted. We must fight against pointing in two directions at once. Declare the emergency and then take active steps to seek to address the problem.
- How can Council accelerate decarbonisation within the community?
Subject to the community discussion and debate I’ve outlined above. Unless community engagement can be achieved, along with clear understanding through a higher consciousness of the problems and buy in, we will remain in the situation where progress is slow. Electric vehicles, planting more trees, more solar power; these are some of the outcomes that need greater focus and attention. Protecting the Aldinga Scrub, the southern coastline, Sellicks woodlands and wetlands and anywhere else for that matter needs the strongest possible community buy in. The ecovillage has many lessons that can be shared with others.
- How would you make Onkaparinga a better place to live with less resource consumption?
By the greater community engagement and participation in the affairs of the Council to promote a fuller understanding of why a free-market consumer society without regulation or government and community intervention doesn’t work. There are encouraging signs that even mainstream players are starting to understand this. The UK market reaction to the recent attempt by the new Tory Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Chancellor to re-enforce Thatcherite/Reaganite neo-liberal approaches saw the GBP crash and forced a u-turn. These polices that haven’t worked in 40 years. Tax cuts that would make the rich even richer and the poor even poorer being rejected by markets is an encouraging sign that the kind of progressive balance needed with a regulated, sustainable economy and a responsible and sustainable business sector, with more emphasis on sole traders and small and medium sized local businesses, is already understood more clearly even in significant sections of the corporate sector.
- How would you, as Councillor, aim to influence Elected Members to be effective decision makers?
As I have done before, by building relationships across political lines to persuade all Councillors of the need for progressive social change. Many run for Council, and the vast majority are sincere, but lots lack the skills and the experience to deliver results. As a Union and community organiser over many years I have worked with the broadest range of people imaginable. In my experience, other than some far right idealogues who simply must be marginalised and their impact minimalised, most people want to be fair minded. Many just don’t know how. Without being patronising or arrogant I have a track record in helping people understand the changes that need to be made. Where reactionary minded individuals dig in, I also have the experience of ensuring their objectives do not succeed.
- Do you have ideas for championing improvements in the energy efficiency and lower resource footprints of new and retrofit development, both domestic and commercial?
I would hope the community discussion and debate would lead to proposals where social, affordable and purely commercial developments were all required to adopt solar, rainwater and other environmentally friendly systems as a condition of planning consent. Where the Council can directly ensure this, it should do so, where it is the responsibility of others the Council should be prepared to lobby strongly for such proposals. There is the opportunity to reforge Onkaparinga as a progressive, community facing, environmental champion and act as a beacon to others drawing on the wisdom of the original custodians of this land the Kaurna people.
I’ll do my best to facilitate that.