Saturday’s council election sent an unambiguous message: Shoalhaven wants change in the way local decisions are made and in the leadership style at the top. They also want a decoupling of their council from the machinations of the Liberal Party.
Despite Joanna Gash’s protestations that her team – Team Gash – was the only group running that was not a registered political party and that only three of its 12 candidates were Liberal Party members, it would be utterly disingenuous to ignore the longstanding party association.
In the recent federal election Joanna Gash was campaign manager for her close political ally and friend Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis. Mrs Sudmalis reciprocated this support through the council campaign. One of her staffers, Glenn Ellard, penned considered and lengthy Facebook critiques – posted from Canberra – of Cr Gash’s mayoral rival Greg Watson. Mrs Sudmalis was spotted handing out for Team Gash at pre-poll and again at Bomaderry on polling day, where there was a sharp exchange of words between herself and Kiama MP Gareth Ward, who was handing out for Watson allies Graham French and Andrew Guile.
Also on polling day, Mr Ellard was handing out for Cr Gash at Terara (we can only assume this was not at public expense).
The irony of Cr Gash and one of her team members, Cr Patricia White from Ward 3, blaming the Liberal Party association for the electoral disaster is not lost on anyone. The poll result was a clear repudiation of that association which was highly visible throughout the campaign. It also reflected a desire for new faces to take the reins of the city and make decisions in a more collaborative fashion.
The tripling of support from Greens mayoral candidate Amanda Findley was not so much a shift to Greens ideology but rather a yearning for change at the top. The Shoalhaven had lived through a long spell with Greg Watson as mayor and Joanna Gash as Gilmore MP. Saturday’s result indicated a large proportion of voters wanted someone else to have a go.
The makeup of the new council will be very different to the one it replaces, with Team Gash, the Shoalhaven Independents and the Greens almost evenly placed.
This presents an enormous challenge to the mayor, who will have to work towards achieving a workable consensus.
For this the mayor will need patience, the capacity to listen and to negotiate.