IT HAS been the ultimate privilege being a councillor serving the Mornington Peninsula Shire over the past four years.
I’ve learned so much about public causes and communities, met some truly inspirational local leaders, worked with brilliant staff and gained a one-of-a-kind perspective on government in Australia.
I also like to think I’ve achieved some fantastic outcomes for the residents of the Briars ward and the peninsula, like the footpath down Wooralla Drive, Mt Eliza, a new policy on poker machine venues, sensible economic development and a host of local road upgrades. Much of this was made possible thanks to the phenomenal change in the shire’s organisational culture under the leadership of CEO Carl Cowie.
Unfortunately, the time has come for me to be a little more selfish and start building a career elsewhere. I say this with a heavy heart, but at 29 years old, with little in the way of savings and no secure full-time employment in sight, I intend to focus on building my personal future beyond local politics.
For anyone brave enough to put up their hand, you should know that a councillor’s role is deeply and uniquely rewarding, but the toll it takes cannot be overstated.
During my first 18 months with the council, my personal life fell apart. Relationships with family and friends strained under the pressure and the black dog of depression cast its shadow over every waking moment of my life for a long time.
With a great deal of personal and professional help, and perhaps a little luck, I overcame many of these challenges and grew into the often-undervalued role. It requires a massive amount of mental fortitude, virtually round-the-clock availability and epic financial discipline.
Your underlying motivations will be questioned at every turn, often by people you’ve never met or spoken with. You’ll be insulted and stereotyped for your perceived weaknesses by those who would call themselves “progressive”.
The state government – no matter who’s in power – will constantly put you down, primarily to gain cheap political points and divert attention from its own myriad flaws.
You’ll witness tactics deployed repeatedly by those who must win at all costs.
At the end of the day, no matter which way you vote or what outcomes you might achieve, you will both please and upset significant parts of the community in which you live.
That being said, I believe demographic representation is utterly essential, not just in the shire but across all levels of government.
We cannot let it become the exclusive domain of wealthy, retired lawyers and property moguls, like it was in the early 1900s.
Too often in these four short years I’ve seen the role of mayor and councillor treated as nothing more than a game – an unscrutinised competition that bears no relationship to our community’s ideas and ideals, let alone effective local policy.
That’s not for one moment to suggest that the older or wealthy among us shouldn’t run. Some of the most engaged citizens I’ve met are in the upper echelons of their retirement, and you can bet they’d make fantastic representatives in local government.
But the shire doesn’t need more of the same right now. What it desperately does need are more women of all ages, more single parents, more young people and more enterprising individuals.
People who actually know what it’s like to struggle with next month’s bills. People who rely on public transport and basic infrastructure like footpaths. People who tirelessly run their own business so their kids might have it better than they did and people with young families, just beginning their journey through the labyrinth of life.
What we unequivocally need are people who represent and reflect the real world. Warts and all.
So if you genuinely believe you have something to offer the community, if you think you can balance the desire to effect real change with your existing personal and professional commitments – or make the sacrifices necessary to do so – then please, for the sake of the peninsula’s future, take a leap of faith and stand for election in October.
Your voice in that council chamber will be more important than ever. I only wish I could join you in that continuing fight – I promise you, it’ll be the fight of your life.
*Andrew Dixon was elected as one of three councillors for the Birars ward at the 2012 municipal elections. Securing 9.62 per cent of the primary vote, he won after the distribution of preferences. There were 11 candidates for the three positions.
Support and information about depression and suicide prevention can be obtained at Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.