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Strong field for city’s top job

The pundits are hedging their bets in the upcoming race for lord mayor, with some well-qualified challengers lining up to take on the incumbent Dr Peter Nattrass. WA Business News’ reporters look at the candidates and their agendas.

THE race for lord mayor is on again, sporting the strongest field ever since the new Perth City Council was formed in 1995.

Six hopefuls have entered the race – incumbent Peter Nattrass who is going for his third term, former lord mayor Chas Hopkins, former Cottesloe mayor John Hammond, Perth City Councillor Janet Davidson and rank outsiders Tony Ransom and Bill Bradbury.

The lord mayoral race has already proved controversial, with the Royal Commission into Police Corruption, the Anti Corruption Commission and the Electoral Commission be-coming unwitting bystanders before nominations had even opened.

Peter Nattrass has been embroiled in controversy over whether he misused his position to access and distribute the contents of 2001 council hopeful Terry Maller’s criminal record. The Electoral Commission recently concluded the latest investigation into the matter and found the lord mayor was not guilty of wrongdoing.

“All I have to say is the commissioner has ruled that there is no case to answer,” Dr Nattrass said.

“At the end of the day this is about something important to the people of Perth and whether they have a right to know who is representing them.”

Dr Nattrass said this would be his last election campaign, whichever way it panned out.

Some say this is a hackneyed political ploy to play on sympathy, but speaking to him at his campaign office in a house he owns in Subiaco, it is clear the events of recent months have taken a toll.

If he is elected, Dr Nattrass promises to sink the Perth to Fremantle railway line, concentrate on the Swan River foreshore and put more pressure on government for in-creased security in the city.

The fact that Dr Nattrass is making electoral promises is unusual. He has previously refused to make them, preferring to stand on his record as lord mayor and “deal with issues” as they come before council.

He said he had released a press statement outlining his plans because while much had been done, “there is much more to do”.

“It’s exciting times for Perth but also very critical times,” the lord mayor said.

Dr Nattrass wants better public access to the Swan River foreshore and proposes to provide it by removing the concrete carriageway at the base of William Street.

Much of his past term seems to have been focused on the foreshore. His critics say this has been to the detriment of Northbridge, which business owners there say has been badly neglected by council.

Dr Nattrass proposes council pushes ahead with the sinking of the railway line if the State Government will not. He plans to do this by gaining access to the government-held railway reserve, forming a public-private partnership, taking low interest loans from Treasury and repaying those loans through developing the land over the sunken line.

Dr Nattrass said the sinking of the railway line was crucial to reuniting Northbridge with the rest of the city.

Chas Hopkins is putting at risk the legacy of his three years as lord mayor from 1988 to 1991. He lost the position to Liberal powerbroker Reg Withers, in what many des-cribed as an election run on party political lines.

Indeed, many say Dr Nattrass and former Deputy Lord Mayor Jim Leahy were heavily involved with Mr Withers’ campaign.

Mr Withers saw the council through to its 1995 break-up, which created the Towns of Vincent, Cam-bridge and Victoria Park.

While some have written him off as yesterday’s man, Mr Hopkins believes he has a lot to offer to the city that his family has been linked with for more than a century. He had been urged by retailers to have another tilt at the job.

Mr Hopkins has pledged to spend the first 100 days of his time in office working with the Government on safety, security and the city. If that fails, he wants to create a police force for the city similar to that op-erating on Perth’s trains.

Mr Hopkins said such a police force could be funded through cuts to the council’s budget.

“The council has a $79 million budget and it spends $27 million on staff and motor vehicles. There’s a fair bit of fat that can be cut out of that,” he said.

However, critics have suggested that if Mr Hopkins wants to improve city security it would take him a 100-second phone call to his niece, Police Minister Michelle Roberts.

Mrs Roberts and fellow minister Alannah MacTiernan were on coun-cil when Mr Hopkins was mayor. There’s a story that their support for Mr Hopkin’s mayoral position earned them the tag ‘Charlie’s Angels’.

This is something he scoffs at, saying that they were their own people and had little to do with the way he ran council meetings.

Mr Hopkins said he wanted to offer parking incentives to give retailers a better chance against suburban shopping centres and find ways to stop the exodus of business from the city to neighbouring areas such as Subiaco, Claremont and Osborne Park.

He said he was keen to further improve the Northbridge precinct, a part of the city he said had been badly neglected.

He remains involved with the Northbridge Business Association but admits that, since its meeting about nine months ago over the Government’s proposed southern railway line, the association has been rendered dormant.

John Hammond has resigned his position at the Town of Cottesloe and, if he loses this election, faces at least two years in the local government wilderness.

He denies that the lord mayor al role is a stepping stone to a State or Federal government seat, instead insisting that his time at Cottesloe was simply a stepping stone to the lord mayor’s chair.

“I think there needs to be a change at the PCC. The current mayor has been there too long and there is division within the council ranks,” Mr Hammond said.

Indeed, while Mr Hammond has received his share of criticism during his six years at Cottesloe, one thing friend and foe alike agree on is that he brought harmony to what had been a troubled council.

Mr Hammond said he wanted to double Perth’s residential population, partly through encouraging developers to look at the “neglected” area near the Causeway.

Much of that area is under the control of the East Perth Redevelopment Authority as part of the Eastern Gateway project.

Mr Hammond said he also wanted to restore Northbridge as Perth’s entertainment centre.

“The problem of crime in Northbridge needs to be addressed. There needs to be zero tolerance in Northbridge,” he said.

“A section of the council doesn’t think there is a problem there but Northbridge is looking very drab and it’s losing heavily to Claremont and Subiaco.”

Mr Hammond said he wanted to encourage a 24-hour clinic in the city to take the pressure of Royal Perth and Sir Charles Gardiner hospitals.

He said that heritage, something he was a strong supporter of in Cottesloe, would not be a big issue for him in Perth.

“I don’t think there is much heritage left in Perth. I actually think there are a lot of buildings that warrant demolition and have no heritage value,” Mr Hammond said.

While Mr Hammond said he wanted to continue practising law, he admitted the workload of a lord mayor might force him to step back from his managing partner’s role at Hammond Worthington.

Janet Davidson has taken the risky option of running for both a council seat and entering the lord mayoral race. This can create confusion among some voters, who may not be sure if they are voting for her as lord mayor or a councillor, potentially reducing the vote she will receive.

Mrs Davidson said that, despite the urging of lot of people who wanted her to stay on as a councillor, she opted to run for both positions because she wanted to be the first female lord mayor of the city.

Mrs Davidson said that she believed it was a time for a change at the PCC.

She said while the council had calmed down from its factional infighting of two years ago, there remained a need for a non-confrontational leader.

“I’m talking about using the collective strengths of the councillors and the staff to get things done quickly,” Mrs Davidson said.

“At the end of the day the role is to improve the city and progress it as best we can, and to forge relationships with all of the stakeholders.

“I would like to see the city reform itself into almost a boutique city. We certainly need to focus on business and the retailers.”

She is keen to focus on inner city residential for all socio-economic groups and to have the railway line sunk.

“It didn’t happen 100 years ago and if we don’t do it this time it will never get done,” Mrs Davidson said.

She said Northbridge needed some serious dollars committed to it.

“We need to do what EPRA has done on the other side,” Mrs Davidson said.

“What Northbridge needs, and there’s about $100,000 set aside for it in the budget, is an operations centre where groups such as the police, the Nyoongar Patrol and various other agencies can stage out of.”

Both Tony Ransom and Bill Bradbury have been branded rank outsiders in the election contest. Some council players have even questioned whether they are running to act as spoilers for one of the other main candidates.

For his part Mr Bradbury denies that he has been put up to running for council and lord mayor. He said he had gone into the race because he felt that change was needed and that he had been “sitting on the fence for too long”.

Mr Ransom said he was not running for council at anyone else’s behest but rather was doing so because he believed pedestrians were being ignored.

Both men have opted for the same risky approach as Mrs Davidson.

Mr Bradbury said that he wanted Perth to embrace all groups, “be they black, white or yellow” and to do more for its small businesses.

“These businesses will suffer when deregulated hours come in,” he said. “They’ve also been talking about this new Northbridge. They could have built a new Northbridge in all the time they’ve been talking about it.

“We have to keep events here. We’ve got a chance to showcase Perth through the Rugby World Cup.”

Mr Bradbury has promised that, if elected, he would not be part of any council faction.

He was also a close associate of Mr Maller. They were both, along with Councillor Lisa Scaffidi, members of the City Residents Action Group.

However, the two had a falling out when Mr Bradbury ran for council in 1999.

Mr Ransom said he had run for both council and lord mayor because it gave him extra advertising space.

He said his main concerns involved pedestrian and cycle issues but was also keen to try and solve other city problems.

Mr Ransom ranks the issue of bicycle access as his main one.

“How can we get people out of their cars in the city if people don’t feel safe riding their bikes in it,” he said.

Mr Ransom said many of the city’s security problems could be improved through simple measures such as improving street lighting.

He said he also had a familial link to council. His grandfather and great grandfather were both councillors of Monmouth in the UK.

As it turns out, his great grandfather was the city’s lord mayor.

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