Council election 2021: Meet the candidates in Ashfield-Djarrawunang

Ashfield Civic Centre. Picture: Simon Bennett
Ashfield Civic Centre. Picture: Simon Bennett

A former Ashfield mayor has returned for another tilt at council while the Greens have a new candidate and two incumbents, both against de-amalgamation, are recontesting their seats in the Ashfield-Djarrawunang (magpie) ward.

In the western part of the LGA, the ward is home to more than 42,000 people and covers most of the Dulwich Hill and Summer Hill suburbs, the southern part of Ashfield, and parts of Ashbury, Croydon Park, Croydon and Hurlstone Park, and a sliver of Lewisham.

Loss of tree canopy, revitalising basic infrastructure and a decline in community engagement after amalgamation are among the issues, and candidates are consequently emphasising back to basics "bread and butter" approaches.

Morris Mansour - Independent

Former mayor of Ashfield, and retired small business owner, Morris Mansour is running as an Independent after previously serving on council for 25 years as both a member of the Liberal Party and as an independent.

Running mates:

Cronia Mansour and Michael Becher

Good to know:

Born in Egypt, Mr Mansour migrated to Australia with his wife who he met in England. He ran a restaurant in Dulwich Hill for 23 years; at the time, it was Sydney's only Egyptian restaurant. He first ran for council because he enjoyed speaking to the community when they came into his restaurant.

He was elected as a Liberal-endorsed councillor in 1995 and 2008. But in 2011, Mr Mansour left the party over branch stacking concerns, "never to join again". He was elected to Ashfield council again as an independent, going on to become mayor.

Stance on de-amalgamation:

Mr Mansour is a supporter of de-amalgamation and has made unlikely allies across political lines as part of the Residents for De-amalgamation campaign.

"The enemy of the enemy is my friend. I am campaigning hard for de-amalgamation, we need to make Ashfield great again. Before amalgamation in my ward I was responsible for 4000 people and now it's 15,000 people," he says.

"This is not what local government is all about. It is supposed to be close to the people, close to the residents. You can see, you can feel, you can walk the streets and see everything that needs to be done."

Why he's running:

When the Inner West Council formed in 2017 Mr Mansour thought it would be the end of his political career. But this year the timing for coming back to council was right. He wanted to spend his retirement travelling the world but COVID-19 border closures meant his most recent travel plans were cancelled.

"When the election was delayed for the third time I had a dream that it was a message from a higher power, that they were waiting for me to put my hand up," he says.

"A lot of people kept telling me there needs to be new blood on council to clear the mess. The last four years have been a disaster with infighting, crumbling infrastructure, and no local representation. So I decided to put my hand up."

Priorities:

Some of the key issues Mr Mansour thinks council should prioritise in the next term include making council rates lower and more affordable, improving infrastructure and council facilities, fixing roads and footpaths, removing graffiti and bringing back free council cleanups.

"All the bread and butter issues. I want to bring everything back to basics. Fair enough we have our own ideas about the big picture, but that's not our role. We need to bring the local back to local council," he says.

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"Does the average person in our community benefit when we spend so much time on the big issues? No they don't. Our streets are filthy, our roads are broken, our footpaths are crumbling."

Another priority for Mr Mansour, should he be elected, is empowering local people in decision making. He says he will always be available to listen to resident's concerns, especially those people who do not come from an English-speaking background

"At the moment people have become nothing but numbers when it comes to big council."

Dylan Griffiths - Greens

Dylan Griffiths is replacing incumbent Tom Kiat at the top of the Greens ticket. He has spent 25 of his 29 years in the inner west, and works in research administration at the University of Sydney while studying postgraduate urban planning.

Running mates:

Shilpa Rajkumar and Thomas Kiat

Good to know:

Mr Griffiths has been active in the community around improvements to the Ashfield Aquatic Centre, as well as trying to petition the State Government for a new park in Holden Street, Ashfield. He is a keen indoor rock climber and describes himself as very passionate about the environment and social justice, and making the inner west a more equal society.

Stance on de-amalgamation:

He will vote to de-amalgamate in line with his party's policy, but doesn't share the huge passion others have for demerging: "When I talk to people, they want to talk about getting council right," he says.

Why he's running:

He says that the absence of an affordable housing contribution in the Local Environment Plan, a councillor being found to have vilified her gay neighbour when she was deputy mayor, and the council's failure to come to an agreement to endorse the climate strike - "one of the biggest movements for change in this country" - were all motivators for him to run for council.

He wants Inner West Council to be Sydney's most progressive council, reflecting the values of inclusion and caring. As a young renter who grew up in rentals, he believes every resident - not only ratepayers - should have a voice, and points to the statistic that about 50 per cent of residents in the Ashfield ward are renters.

He also believes the former Ashfield Council area has been left behind following the 2016 amalgamation.

"I think the council has been dominated by councilllors from the old Leichhardt and Marrickville LGAs, and I think that actually someone needs to stick their head out and stand up for Ashfield."

Priorities:

Mr Griffiths' priorities include better protecting the tree canopy, revitalising basic infrastructure in Ashfield and the villages of Dulwich Hill and Summer Hill, and addressing the lack of council-run children and family services, such as playgroups and long daycare centres, in the Ashfield ward.

"The tree canopy has been worst affected by the new development control plan, and I think Dulwich Hill alone has lost four hectares of tree canopy on private land. And the fact is, a small sapling on public land is no replacement for a large tree which is providing a lot of canopy," Mr Griffiths says.

He would also like to see an affordable housing contribution put in place, and also to engage the community in essential planning documents. "The inner west has changed a lot in the 25 years I have been here, and it is going to continue to change quite a bit, and I think it is very important the community is part of that process - and also people have so many amazing ideas about how to transform their village centres and their public spaces, the more input that we have from them, the better outcome we have."

He is also passionate about cycling infrastructure, and keen to bring forward active transport projects given the 18-month closure of the inner west light rail, as well as plan new initiatives: "I would really like to make sure residents can safely ride a bike all the way from the Petersham bike path to the Ashfield Aquatic Centre."

Mr Griffiths would like the council to lead the way in the transition to electric vehicles, including transitioning the council's own fleet, and exploring street charging stations for residents' vehicles.

Peter Dixon - Independent

Small business owner and Club Ashfield board member Peter Dixon, who is running as an independent, was not available to be interviewed for this ward profile. Mr Dixon has been involved in many local community groups in the Ashfield area. He was a scout leader for 20 years, started up the Ashfield branch of the SES and set up a cadet division of St John's ambulance in Ashfield. He is also involved with the local historic society and was a past member of the Ashfield chamber of commerce. His running mates are Cheryl Borsak and Faye Flint.

Mark Drury - Labor

Mark Drury with running mate Jessica D'Arienzo. Picture: Inner West Labor

Mark Drury with running mate Jessica D'Arienzo. Picture: Inner West Labor

Mark Drury has been a councillor on Ashfield and then Inner West councils since 2006. He describes himself as having continuously worked with others for social and economic justice for more than 30 years. An inner west resident for 25 years, he has two daughters and five grandchildren.

Running mates:

Jessica D'Arienzo and Christopher Payne

Good to know:

Cr Drury says he has learnt to agree with the Duke of Albany, who in King Lear warns that in "striving to better, oft we mar what's well".

He has been a long-term chair of the Parramatta River Catchment Group, which aims to have the river more swimmable by 2025.

Stance on de-amalgamation:

Against a demerger, in line with his party's position. If the Yes vote succeeds, he is sceptical about whether the state government would foot any of the estimated $30 million bill to demerge, if it even allows a de-amalgamation.

"I believe when the state government proposed the amalgamation, they should have had a vote then. Five years down the track and millions of dollars into it, it's a little difficult to unscramble an egg, and I think it would be costly and have a lot of unintended consequences.

"It's got Brexit written on it for me."

Why he's running:

"I have still got the passion that I started off with to improve our community, services, facilities, and make a difference in terms of our climate.

"I also think there are some challenges in relation to the amalgamation, and I still want to work through in terms of those, and see us achieve the best possible result for residents in the inner west."

Priorities:

Cr Drury describes himself as a "fairly bread and butter Labor guy", who believes that improving public facilities and public services benefits the community most - "and that is what I will seek to continue to do".

"I have a great interest in terms of our roads, footpaths, our parks, our stormwater, which I think are really critical parts of our infrastructure," he says

"And I think services such as our libraries and pools are really important and must be maintained at a very high level."

Cr Drury says he has also become increasingly aware of the important contribution councils can make to tackling the climate emergency through waste and recycling policies and services, given it is an area that is directly under their control.

He is also a "very keen supporter" of planting a lot more trees and has committed to seeking $2 million in the budget each year with a target of five million trees "to continue to try and reduce the heat strain and put more oxygen into our area". That includes pursuing an idea to create microforests by "overplanting" blocks of council land that are otherwise underutilised.

He would also like to see a much more "nuanced and mature" debate about the council's controversial tree removal policy on private land.

"I am conscious that a lot of people plant trees in their backyards without realising they require maintenance, and if that maintenance doesn't occur, and they have chosen the wrong tree, then there are problems. And I am not keen on forcing pensioners to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get specialist reports where it is blatantly obvious that a tree foolishly planted close to the house is causing problems."

Julie Passas - Independent

Julie Passas, an incumbent Liberal Party councillor and "proud conservative", is standing for reelection. This term the Liberal party chose not to endorse any candidates so she will run as an independent, but Cr Passas says she's "not fussed" by the lack of party endorsement.

Good to know:

Cr Passas, who says she's "no Cinderella," has been a controversial and fiery figure on council with findings of defamation and "homosexual vilification" against her.

She has lived in Ashfield and Summer Hill her whole life and has Greek and Lebanese heritage. She served as an independent on Ashfield Council for two terms, then as a Liberal councillor for three. Following amalgamation she was elected as Deputy Mayor of the new Inner West Council.

Running mates:

Philip Allison and Bill Passas

Stance on de-amalgamation:

Cr Passas supports amalgamation and says the former council areas were "neglected", the infrastructure backlog was "horrendous" and public buildings were "falling into disrepair".

"The amalgamation had to happen. Something had to happen. Because the three former councils were unsustainable. They were not upfront, when the time came at IPART they said they were fit for the future, but that would be if the future ended at 5 o'clock that night," she says.

Why she's running:

Cr Passas says she's not running to "play politics" and is standing as a commitment to her community. She says she has "delivered so much" and believes she "can deliver more".

"I can say I'm standing for the right reason, for local issues. If I wanted to play politics I would stand for state or federal government," she says.

"I delivered the disabled access at Summer Hill station, started the Carnival of Cultures, I brought up the Mary Poppins statue in Ashfield Park - that was another big battle I had, I had barbecues and toilets put in parks, and a skatepark in Summer Hill."

Priorities:

Cr Passas wants to see the council "get back to basics" and focus on local issues.

"This term it's been so political. We're talking submarines, we're talking climate change, we're talking all these things which have nothing to do with local government. Let's get our house in order, then we've got time to go out and party and play little games," she says.

"What this council is trying to do is be so progressive they've lost what they're there for."

She feels long-term residents of the community "who've been paying rates for 50 or 60 years" aren't having their voices heard, especially as more council engagement moves online. She wants to see more effort to reach this "quiet majority".

When it comes to advocating for the community on state government matters like WestConnex, she says instead of "being combative" or acting as activists, the council should take a "dialogue first" approach to try and get the best result for the community.

"If they completely ignore us and show disrespect, then go for the jugular with your corflutes, advertising and ads," she said.

"If the Liberal party or whatever government of the day is in and they're doing the wrong thing by council, council comes first. It's where I live, it's my neighbourhood."

Despite her combative reputation, Cr Passas says she's willing to work together with other councillors for the good of the community.

"People say that I won't work with anyone, that I'm just a diehard Liberal, that's not true. You have to work with each other to try and get things done for your area otherwise nothing's done," she says.

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