What would you say is the highlight of the time in your position as a local councillor? Were you ever pressed to take a bold stance or position?
My highlight happened at the February Ordinary Council Meeting (the monthly meeting where we actually make the decisions). Prior to the meeting, we had been through the initial stages of some community consultation to do with a proposed skatepark extension. The idea for skatepark extension had come from some young members of the community that wanted to improve the skatepark in Mosman Park who argued that is is now quite old and a bit too small for the numbers of skaters in Mosman Park. They worked with the Mosman Park Youth Advisory Council to create a working group of young people interesting in improving the skatepark; giving them an opportunity to have their voices heard. They worked with some skate experts to come up with a design for the proposed extensions, being actively involved through he entire process.
We had to make a decision about whether to go forward with further consultation with the wider community about the potential skatepark extension at the February meeting. At the meeting, we had about 10 of the young members from the skatepark committee come and address a room full of adults about why they were passionate about the skatepark and the reasons why it needed the extension. This was a highlight for me because it is the first time I have ever seen young people attend or engage with our Council meetings. I give full credit to the passionate young skaters for convincing all of the councillors to vote in favour of continuing with further community consultation because had they not come and spoken, I’m not sure that the consultation would have been approved.
There has been a recent surge in the number of young people not only running but representing the local community in councillor positions, do you feel this has seen a greater focus on youth issues in local communities?
I think when people talk about young people being on local council, they only think about stereotypical “youth issues”. However, the benefit of having young people in local government is that they have to look at all facets of local government – from planning to technical services, environmental policies to community development – through a young person’s perspective. Because we are the future of Mosman Park, all the decisions being made today will affect our generation tomorrow. In this way, everything becomes a youth issue.
Many have described becoming a local councillor as the pinnacle for youth leadership and representation, in your experience do you feel this is true? Are there better or alternative avenues for young people to be bold and express their views?
I think it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve, so I wouldn’t agree that becoming a local councillor is the “pinnacle” for youth leadership and representation. I think if you’re trying to make a change in your local community, then becoming a local councillor is one way to have your voice heard, but there are so many different and equally valuable avenues to explore. Writing to your local paper, starting a petition or establishing a community group of like-minded people are all different ways to give yourself a platform to be heard and achieve change. I really don’t think there’s a one-size-fits all approach, which is good because it allows young people to play to their strengths and use the avenues in which they feel most comfortable with.
How did you find the campaign and election process? Did you feel there was a need to prove your experience when compared with older candidates to the community?
The campaign process was an interesting one for me! I predominantly used social media to reach reach as many people as possible, as well as give people an easy and accessible avenue to engage with, however, it also left me susceptible to online trolls. I think because I was shaking things up a bit and pushing for more diversity on local councils, I was targeted by online trolls determined to dismantle my campaign to protect the status quo. Nevertheless, this vocal minority was no match for the support I received from the Mosman Park community. While I think I might have raised a few eyebrows when people realised I was only 21, I think there was a hunger in the community for something different. And I guess that’s the beauty of democracy; we all have the right to put our hands up regardless of our experience (or lack thereof) and it’s up to the community’s as to whether they’ll vote you in or not.
For context I was wondering since you first took the position has the job matched your expectation in terms of making decisions and changing the local community? Or do you feel like your hamstrung-on occasion by having to compromise with other voices in chamber?
I guess with local government you’re often dealing with incremental change. Changing council policy is a process that was probably longer than I anticipated – but for good reason. You’ve got to ensure you’ve consulted with the community appropriately and listened to all sides of an argument in order to make the most considered decision possible. I think at Mosman Park we’re quite lucky because we have a cohesive council that really wants the best for the Town. Where any debate arises, it’s been my experience so far that this has only led to better decisions.
SEBASTIAN SCHIANO DI COLA
What would you say is the highlight of the time in your position as a local councilor? Were you ever pressed to take a bold stance or position?
The highlights of Local Government especially in regional WA are the little wins. One of the first little wins I had was with the help of fellow Councillors securing funds for a local cricket club through our minor community grant scheme. On a larger scale, over the past months I’ve been working on establishing the Shire of Capel’s WALGA Roadwise committee to assist Council with extra leverage in acting on road safety concerns affecting our more than 500km of roads.
I was recently pressed to make a bold move and back down on my original support for the South West Waste Site being investigated in Capel, it’s economic benefits were second to none, though community outcry was to loud to ignore. I’ve receive petitions, protest etc, against current political issues before, most have been from our loud minority, though I could clearly distinguish that this time, it was the true belief of the whole community and actively changed by position on the matter. As a council we reversed our decision to the delight of the community.
There has been a recent surge in the number of young people not only running but representing the local community in councilor positions, do you feel this has seen a greater focus on youth issues in local communities?
There certainly has been a surge in youth engagement with Local Government, none more than the engagement at the 2017 election. In fact, Capel now has another councillor under 30 (though I’m still the youngest). I wouldn’t go as far to say that it has seen an increased focus on youth issue’s, but it has certainly expanded the level of diversity and perspectives we now see on Council.
Many have described becoming a local councilor as the pinnacle for youth leadership and representation, in your experience do you feel this is true? Are there better or alternative avenues for young people to be bold and express their views?
I attended a youth leadership program as a speaker in 2016, participants had spent the week talking about the many way’s people can make change, in fact only a small amount actually recognised politics as an avenue, there’s plenty of avenues to wander down, and Local Government isn’t the top of the political chain. Volunteering was probably one of the most distinguished ways of making change. Join a campaign or issue that you’re passionate about and providing the best resource you have (yourself) to making change. That’s how I started, my passion was youth engagement and providing young people a voice, that’s what I’ve always been working towards.
How did you find the campaign and election process? Did you feel there was a need to prove your experience when compared with older candidates to the community?
I had a very successful campaign, I worked hard, and I did it with a lot of support from friends, volunteers, supporters and businesses. It was definitely hard work, but I guess my experience may be more positive as I finished with the second highest amount of votes with 5 positions vacant and 9 candidates. The election process was well explained to me and I understood my obligations and responsibilities. Unfortunately, I think that some candidates sometimes do not before they put their hand up.
I am constantly having to prove my experience compared to my older fellow councilors. Not to council but to the community. As one of the only Capel councillor who uses social media, I am constantly bullied and threatened by electors on the fact of my age. A recent example was when I was publicly abuse by an elector for not owning my own home, and therefore she said, “you have no right to talk about rates or explain how they work to me until you have owned a home”. She went on to say some nasty things about my appearance, experiences and value, personally targeting me for my age rather than discussing the issue. I was only attempting to explain to her how the GRV and rate in the dollar calculation works and how though her rate notice was higher in Capel than on her other properties outside of the shire that her rate in the dollar is in fact higher in the other towns and therefore she technically pays a lower rate on a higher valued GRV property in Capel. The hard truth for some in the contentious rates debate. Furthermore, it’s unfortunately not uncommon for me to receive message or comment criticising me for my age, electors refusing to discuss issue with me and publicly targeting me on social media.
On the contrary though, the constant flows of messages and support I receive directly from the majority of electors far out ways the abuse. Along with the support my local radio, tv news and newspaper have given me over the time as they respect and are aware of my experience and know that I can provide a youthful perspective on issues.
What would you say is the highlight of the time in your position as a local councillor?
Were you ever pressed to take a bold stance or position?
I would have to say that the highlights almost always are related to direct interaction with the
community. I think there is something very rewarding about being able to work together with
the community to achieve some tangible outcomes. I have meet some amazing residents in
my area all doing their bit to improve our community and lifestyle. Being able to be part of
various community initiatives, fairs and events definitely helps provide balance to the long
council and committee meetings.
In terms of having to take a bold stance, I guess that depends on what you consider to be a
bold. One of the difficulties of being a Councillor is that whilst you are elected to represent a
certain ward or section of the community, it is your responsibility and duty to represent the
whole City. So, if a motion comes to Council which may not have the most desirable outcome for my individual Ward but would benefit the wider City as a whole, I am expected to support it. So sometimes on Council taking a bold stance is making tough, ultimately unpopular decisions which you then have to explain to your community, or it might mean speaking out for what you believe in even when you know you don’t have the support from the majority of your fellow Councillors. I guess the meaning of taking a bold stance various depending on the individual situation.
There has been a recent surge in the number of young people not only running but
representing the local community in councillor positions, do you feel this has seen a
greater focus on youth issues in local communities?
Absolutely. Broadly speaking even with the recent surge of young people participating in
local government elections, as a whole they are still severely underrepresented when it comes
to the make-up of local governments. Just by having young people put their hand up for
election and voicing issues that are important to them, many local governments are having
conversations that they typically hadn’t before. When young people get into office; debates
which may have been ongoing for years can get a new perspective on them. Whilst this
doesn’t always result in a different outcome, the fact that many Councils are now having
fresh conversations is important.
Many have described becoming a local councillor as the pinnacle for youth leadership and representation, in your experience do you feel this is true? Are there better alternative avenues for young people to be bold and express their views?
I wouldn’t say it is the pinnacle for youth leadership. It is a great platform to speak out on the
issues which matter to you and the people in your community, but I certainly wouldn’t say it
is the only way to make meaningful change as a young person. Whilst if you are passionate
about an issue which needs local government involvement then it goes without saying the
most direct way to help bring about change would be through local council. However, I
believe the most determining factor as to whether you will be successful in championing for
change; whether that be as a local councillor, member of a community group or just as an
individual is how much effort you are prepared to put in. I think if you are prepared to put in
the hours, to stick it out when the going gets tough and to not be put off by those who say it
can’t be done then I think you can achieve real change no matter what position you may or
may not hold.
How did you find the campaign and election process? Did you feel there was a need to
prove your experience when compared with older candidates to the community?
The campaign was a learning process. Throughout the campaign I learnt about both myself
and the local government process. I think one of the toughest challenges as a young person is
breaking down the perception that you are too young or not experienced enough to be on
local council. I was lucky in the fact that whilst you will always come across people who are
sceptical of your ability to do the job, my community as a whole was very receptive of a
young person putting their hand up. I will always be grateful for the faith the people of
Whiteman put in me. I think it showed not just respect for me but also for young people in
general, it was a sign of optimism and belief in youth. Campaigning requires a great pair of
shoes too, I knocked on a lot of doors over a six-week period!
For context I was wondering since you first took the position has the job matched
your expectation in terms of making decisions and changing the local community? Or
do you feel like your hamstrung-on occasion by having to compromise with other voices
The very first thing I learnt on Council was that you can’t please all the people, all of the
time! I had this idealistic thought, that I would be the people’s champion, that I would stand
up for the little guy and be one of the good guys. And then I got to my very first council
meeting and the initial decision I had to make was on a housing development approval. I sat
there and listened to the neighbours of the house in question passionately argue against the
development, speaking about the negative impacts it would have on them and their family
and I thought right, these are the everyday people that I was elected to represent let’s support
them. Then the family who put in the application got up and spoke about how they had been
saving for twenty years and had gone through significant financial hardship but were finally
in a position build their dream home. Right then and there I learned that the community will
always have differing opinions so even when you think you have made the right decision
there will be someone waiting to tell you that you made the wrong one. Don’t get me wrong,
I think diversity of opinion is important and should challenge us to make better decisions. It
is clear though that many issues are more grey than black and white. My intent is always to
listen open-mindedly, consider carefully the opinions of others and then act in the service of
I think it is important to be aware that as a Councillor you only have one vote in the Chamber
so you need the support of your fellow Councillors in order to make positive change for our
communities. That means there are times when despite you believing in something passionately and being convinced that it would benefit the community enormously it doesn’t
get through council. It can be very frustrating but that is the way democracy works, it teaches
you to really saviour the victories and despite how tough it can get when you are able to
effect real, meaningful change for your community it makes it all worthwhile.