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The public debate about the Mayoral Election referendum question

The Bugle App

Donna Portland

09 July 2024, 12:23 AM

The public debate about the Mayoral Election referendum question

In the last edition, The Bugle published an article that introduced the topic of the upcoming referendum question that locals will be asked to vote for: whether Kiama should directly elect its mayor in the future. It is an important question that The Bugle felt that locals needed to be informed about, so we are holding a public debate on Wednesday 31 July at 6pm at Kiama Leagues Club. 

There are always two sides to every story and the speakers that The Bugle has assembled are both knowledgeable and opinionated, and able to give a wide perspective, so it should be an informative and entertaining evening. 

We particularly thank Kiama Leagues Club for providing the space for this event and encourage everyone to come along to listen. We also thank Kiama Community Radio for live streaming, and Bernie Hems in particular, for adjudicating.

Speakers on the “For” side:

Stuart Larkins: A current first term Kiama Councillor, who is the first Aboriginal person elected to Council, and has family heritage connected to Kiama and the South Coast of NSW. Clr Larkins has grown up and lived in the Kiama area for his entire life and went to the local schools of Minnamurra Primary School and Kiama High School. Clr Larkins has undergraduate degrees in Law and Arts (Politics/Indigenous Studies) from the University of Wollongong, a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice from the Australian National University and recently completed an Executive Certificate for Elected Members by Local Government NSW Association (LGNSW) and the University of Technology Sydney. Clr Larkins is a member of the Kiama Labor branch and has been so since 2015, having been inspired to get involved in the branch to campaign against the former NSW Liberal-National Government proposal to forcibly amalgamate Kiama Council with Shoalhaven Council - an attempt to erode local democracy and control. Clr Larkins states that he is driven by a passion to help people and advocate for those that need it most.

Chris Homer: the current popularly elected Mayor of Shellharbour. He is the Chairman of the Killalea National Surfing Reserve, and a competitive and free surfer. Mr Homer led the ‘Save Killalea’ environmental campaign. Despite having no prior political experience, he secured 52.8 per cent of the total vote to replace the Labor incumbent Marianne Saliba at the last council elections. He promised to deliver a non-partisan and cooperative council. Homer’s vision is for the city to evolve, and he is passionate about inspiring progressive and proactive service delivery, which is focused on public interest first and foremost.

Chris Homer works in the finance industry as a Mortgage Broker, and has qualifications in Nutritional Medicine, Fitness and Recreation, as well as being a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. 

Michael Cains is the founder and director of the award-winning Pecora group, a vertically integrated dairy and hospitality enterprise. A pioneer in renewable energy within agriculture, he co-founded a peer-to-peer trading community to improve the economic viability of renewables for farmers. A Nuffield Scholar, he has focused on value-adding within the dairy industry to enhance profitability. Michael's career includes executive roles and board memberships in various companies. He is actively involved in the local community and food industry, volunteering for several non-profits and industry associations. His roles include President of the Liberal Party in Kiama/Jamberoo, board member of the Kiama Business Chamber, and President of the Robertson Business Chamber. He studied at Edmund Rice College in Wollongong and the University of Sydney.

Karen Renkema Lang: a current Kiama Councillor, elected as an independent for to her commitment to protecting the most precious assets in our municipality now and for future generations; the distinctive qualities and inclusive and friendly culture of our towns and villages; our farmlands, waterways, and beaches; and our flora, fauna, and wildlife corridors.

She has shown her commitment by volunteering on Council’s planning committee, as chair of Kiama Central Precinct, and during my involvement with the Kiama Community Radio and Kiama’s contribution to the Australia-wide AUSMAP micro-plastic initiative which gained international attention. With an extensive background in IT and communications she served in the Royal Australian Navy and worked for the Australian Government. She holds a Bachelor of Information Technology and a Masters of Science (earth and environmental science).

Speakers on the “Against” side:

Neville Fredericks: former Kiama Mayor who served for seven years as Mayor of Kiama from 1974-77 and from 1987-91. He was also the Director of The Housing Trust from 2007-12. He is widely credited for bringing Council back from the brink of insolvency and contributing to staving off amalgamation with Shoalhaven Council back in the day.

Mr Fredericks has 14 years of experience as a Councillor and was a recipient of the prestigious Emeritus Mayor Award in 2002. He has made significant contributions to local government and his impact reaches beyond the realm of local politics. These days Mr Fredericks is a property developer focussed on sustainable futures for towns. He is committed to understanding how the layout of our community impacts the health of its residents.

Brian Petschler has had two careers in local government, initially as a professional manager and later as an elected councillor. He served on five councils in NSW for almost 40 years, including as CEO/General Manager of three councils, retiring in 2001 from Kiama Municipality. Upon retirement, he received the Public Service Medal. In 2008, he was elected to Kiama Council, becoming Deputy Mayor in 2011 and Mayor in 2012, serving until 2016. Petschler has held various roles in state and regional local government bodies, including chairman of Statewide Mutual and president of the South Coast branch of the Institute of Municipal Management. He also chaired Metro Pool and United Independent Pools. In 2017, he was appointed by the Minister of Local Government as a temporary official.

Matt Brown: is a current Kiama Councillor, who established and chairs ‘Destination Kiama’ He was raised in Kiama and former Captain of Kiama High School. Mr Brown has been a corporate lawyer, business operator and employer, and a local Member of Parliament. He understands the links between private enterprise and government. He has a proven record of success in negotiating, lobbying and securing grants and infrastructure for the local community, and extensive experience in public administration.

Mr Brown is committed to ensuring that Kiama Council is 'Fit for the Future' to avoid any possibility of future amalgamation, with Council living within its means and managing more effectively. He is committed to improving the lifestyle of all residents, and the improvement of our Leisure Centre, recreation facilities and retirement villages. 

Sandra McCarthy OAM – the longest serving former Kiama Mayor who has served between 2000 and 2012, following a five-year term as Deputy Mayor. So, it would be fair to say that she has vast expertise in community planning, governance and partnership-building, and has leveraged her position to drive substantial improvements in community health planning. Ms McCarthy was bestowed the honorary title of Emeritus Mayor in 2012 in recognition of her enormous contribution and impact. She was also named NSW Local Government Kiama Woman of the Year in 2012. She is a Fellow of the University of Wollongong and Life Member and former President of Healthy Cities Illawarra. Ms McCarthy has dedicated a distinguished public sector career to positively influencing community health outcomes by enhancing everyday quality of life and harnessing the power of strong communities and partnerships.

We are sure that you agree that the above speakers are more than qualified to present ideas for and against the question of whether Kiama should directly elect its mayor in future council elections.

The Bugle asked various ‘locals’ around Kiama, after the article in the previous issue presented the idea of the debate and they were not shy to give their opinions.  

Rob McKinnon, Emeritus Mayor, has strong views against the idea. He says, “It is worth noting that if a person only stands for mayor, and not a councillor as well, the council would have one extra councillor! That is the last thing we need.”

Local state MP Gareth Ward has offered his views: 

“For those that believe council should conduct its business like a board of directors, being able to hold your chair to account through the process of elections is important. Chairs that don’t perform can be removed and another member can step up.”


“However, council is one of the three spheres of government and as such, locals may want a direct say in the person who is the leader of the council. I can appreciate that this may be a popular view.


“I’m not sure if one more politician is what our community needs right now. Having served on boards of directors and also as a councillor on a council with a popularly elected mayor (in the Shoalhaven), I would be voting against the referendum on the basis that we elect our councillors, and they need to be able to hold the mayor to account through the process of elections. The Premier and the Prime Minister are in those roles by virtue of commanding the confidence of the parliament. The mayoral role is no different.


“Whilst electing your local mayor may seem like the right idea, be careful what you wish for. It’s my view that it will be preferences and preference deals that decide a popularly elected mayoral position.

Artist, and astute social commentator, Greg Martin-Vale, agrees with Clr. Brown, that we should support change if there is good reason for it but doesn’t see any issues with our current system. Another social commentator Nola Tucker agrees, also that it will cost us more and overly politicise a role which should be as politically neutral as possible, since the mayor is also the chair of Council, as Clr. Brown said. 

Greg, Nola, KCR, and The Bugle, suggest that members of the local community would do well to come along to listen to the debate and educate themselves at the same time.