This time four years ago I had just announced I was running for Mayor and wrote a Thinking Allowed for the Herald on the importance of constructive civic debate – especially in election years. Given the quality of public debate recently, it felt timely to update that piece for election year 2013. Enjoy:

2013 is the year of elections and elections in Fremantle are an exciting time. You can feel the buzz in the air as Fremantle’s best and brightest discuss ideas to make Fremantle an even better place to live and work. Residents, old and new, debate Fremantle’s future and prospective politicians listen and respond as they harness the collective knowledge and wisdom of the community. Positive and innovative ideas visions emerge in an environment of frank and honest debate that respects that all sides have important insights to contribute. Well this is the way it should be.

Instead in 2013 we had a State election of quite a different nature and not one that made many of us proud to be a Freo voter. While some important issues were raised, few were addressed with positive, innovative ideas. The serious challenges facing Fremantle such as our long term sustainability, housing and affordability, and the City’s challenges as a regional centre were barely debated.

Some of the public meetings I attended on important issues like law and order were allowed to descend into vitriolic personal attacks where the complexity of the issues were ignored.  Similarly the recent FICRA public meeting over the youth plaza was also characterised by more of a mob mentality than a civil public discussion on the best location for youth facilities of this kind.  But it is perhaps the recent vitriol towards the prime minister that best demonstrates how low standards in public debate have fallen in recent times.

But it is difficult for important discussions on Fremantle future to occur while the focus is instead on negativity and personal attacks. Every time the debate focuses on individuals and name-calling it ceases to be strategic and solution-focused. Reducing issues to black/white and good/bad too often excludes the potential for synergies and useful compromise. The outcome will be better for all if we play the ball not the person.

In the coming months Fremantle needs an open and positive debate about what kind of city it wants to be. The evidence suggests that without strong leadership Fremantle will slowly decline as regional centre with fewer jobs and less residents. Parts of the Fremantle CBD already have more seagulls than shoppers these days. Fremantle is at a cross roads and while this Council has had a clear agenda of turning Fremantle around there is still a long way to go.

Do we want to remain a busy, vibrant regional centre or just a quiet but pleasant tourist and entertainment town – a quaint Elizabethan village? How do we be a green, sustainable city without substantial new development and affordable housing? How can innovative new developments best complement the City’s heritage?

As we leave one election behind and prepare for two more in September and October it is worth considering that how we behave in these elections reflects on what kind of community we want to be and what kind of Council we want to have. I want to be part of a community that proudly has robust debates over important issues but in doing so encourages and respects a diversity of views. It is worth remembering that often those who engage in negativity and personal attacks do so because they do not have a positive vision for the future. And it is a positive vision that Freo desperately needs right now.

Build with mud 2009

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

3 Responses to CAN’T BUILD WITH MUD 2013

  1. Hear, hear – Well bloomin’ said!

  2. Brad, all that is very true but I do feel councillors need to understand there is wide spread feeling in the community that in spite of public debate et al the council really don’t respond to public opinion. This could result in a backlash in the next election although to be honest I can’t see any credible opposition to sitting members on the horizon.

    • Roger.
      thanks for the comment. I understand that feeling is out there amongst some in the community and I also know that most Councillors try really hard to listen but we aren’t perfect and there is a wide range of voices out there on most issues!
      It’ll be interesting to see who puts their hand up.

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