Who Won the First Candidates' Debate in North Fremantle?


Visions for North Fremantle?

The picture above which you have never seen was drawn by the Mayor of North Fremantle  Cr. E.H. Tomkinson 110 years ago, giving his view of what North Fremantle could look like, with wonderful oceanside facilities.

Unfortunately, current visions for North Fremantle are in short supply, as evidenced at the first candidates' forum in North Fremantle last night.

A goodly crowd gathered in North Fremantle to hear both mayoral and councillor for North Ward candidates. The meeting was tightly run by North Fremantle Community Convenor Gerry MacGill, a venerable former councillor himself.

Fremantle Society committee member Mark Woodcock, running for North Ward, spoke first, followed by Cr Thompson, who has been in the councillor position for 33 years. Then came mayoral candidates South Ward Cr Vujcic,   the Labor member for Beaconsfield Cr Fitzhardinge, and former Fremantle MP Adele Carles.

Big Picture Ideas

Adele Carles came out with two big picture ideas- building the new traffic bridge west of the current railway one instead of between the current traffic and rail bridges, and using the new administration building as an Aboriginal museum while keeping the administration at Fremantle Oval where they have been for the past few years. Both ideas are worth considering, though Mark Woodcock's vision of a tunnel to take through traffic met with support, and Fremantle is more a colonial historic town with 4,000 registered heritage sites rather than being known for its Aboriginal history,  with just 4 registered Aboriginal sights.

The idea of saving the timber bridge for a New York High Line idea was pushed by local Isadora Noble, but Cr Fitzhardinge took the Labor view and slapped that down, with a ludicrous assertion that Aboriginal elders didn't want so many piers in the river (the piers have been there for 80 years, and a new cable bridge could be built with none). Pity that her council lobbied so poorly for the old bridge, and not one historian or heritage expert has been asked for their opinion.

Council Finances

Council finances raised the temperature in the room, with criticism of the King's Square Business Plan in particular from various members of the audience.

The Fremantle Society asked the following question:

"Of the various financial scandals of Fremantle Council, and there have been many, one that really stands out is the failure of the King's Square Business Pan to deliver a new administration building (which no-one asked for) on time (it is years late), on budget (It is $15 million over budget) and to a high standard (one developer asked to view the site to run a business there refused, saying it is poorly designed and poorly built). Now we hear councillors cannot rent out any of the commercial spaces there - meaning our rates will go up. How can we get out of this mess? Will incumbents like Cr Thompson and  Chair of the Finance Committee Cr Fitzhardinge resign so that financially responsible people can help Fremantle have (as Cr Fitzhardinge said)  "a bright and responsible future."

This inflamed Cr Thompson who demanded to know the name of the developer mentioned. When the name was not handed over to him in public, he dismissed the allegation. Ironic and hypercritical, as it is council who continually fail to hand over information sought by the community.

Gerry MacGill was keen to steer the questions back to North Fremantle and more mundane issues like footpaths, but the attacks on council kept coming, including questions from Fremantle Society committee members Bill Ody and Ken Adam, with an emphasis on both staff and councillors needing to do a better job.

The most stupid candidate idea of the evening came from the very woke Cr Fitzhardinge, who resurrected an appalling ideological idea from Cr Pemberton of "community participatory budgeting." This brings into council, mates of the councillors who sit around and decide how various chunks of the budget are spent.
Insane, given the nepotism evidenced on council in recent years.

Cr Vujcic showed a real community touch and a genuine transparency lacking from Crs Thompson and Fitzhardinge. Cr Vujcic's probing questions over the past couple of years have shone a light on serious problems like the $8 million council debt, hidden from sight.

Adele Carles has a great deal to offer, as when MP for Fremantle she was well respected, inclusive and approachable - something lacking from today's MP.

The Winner?

But over the two hours of commentary and answering questions, the unflappable Mark Woodcock had intelligent and cogent answers to all issues raised. He showed a sense of humour. He said one year he went to more council meetings than some councillors. He stated that spending $230 million on a new bridge before knowing how to solve the traffic problems was akin to buying a new cart, shooting the horse, and wondering how you were going to get home.

While Adele Carles and Maria Vujcic presented very well, the winner of the night if there needs to be one, was the candidate for North Ward Mark Woodcock.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society

0409 223622


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