Rosemary Cousin, Greens candidate in South Gippsland, Australia, speaks to Wikinews about democracy, transport, forests and other local issues

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Rosemary Cousin, Greens candidate for Tarwin Valley ward.
Image: Australian Greens.

Nominations were declared on September 21 for South Gippsland Shire's upcoming council elections, to be held by post from October 5-22. A total of 24 people in the Australian council's three wards have put themselves forward to stand as candidates. The shire has been governed by administrators appointed by the Victorian state government since August 2019, when the council was sacked after a state government inquiry found "high levels of tension" within the council.

Wikinews interviewed one of the candidates standing in this election, Rosemary Cousin, via email. Cousin is endorsed by the Australian Greens, and is contesting the Tarwin Valley ward, which elects three councillors to the South Gippsland Shire Council, and includes the towns of Leongatha and Mirboo North.


 ((WN )) What do you hope to achieve as a councillor?

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) I care about South Gippsland and local democracy and want to see our community, economy and environment thrive and be far more resilient. South Gippsland deserves a Council that listens and engages the community and is wise in using and developing the community's resources. It deserves councilors who work together for the whole community's benefit. So, I'm making a commitment to Tarwin Valley and South Gippsland if I'm elected to work hard to:

1. Restore community confidence in local government, focusing on openness, participation, and ethical behaviour.

2. Increase community involvement in Council's policies, plans and strategies to deal with climate change and public health, economic and environmental challenges.

3. Find better ways of managing Council's business to improve rate fairness and standards accountability and service.

4. Provide leadership and advocacy to improve our country, economy, and community wellbeing.

 ((WN )) Do you think the two-year period that South Gippsland Shire has been governed by administrators since its 2019 sacking has been too long, and why/why not?

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) The Administrators virtually closed-off public participation and engagement in Council decision making. Councillors play an important role in listening to residents and ratepayers, bringing their concerns to Council and the CEO for resolution. Three Melbourne-based Commissioners just can’t perform the roles and duties of 9 elected councillors. The Administrators have made long term decisions on many things, including tourism and economic development plans and the Council Plan that really should have been formulated with community direction and widespread collaboration and participation. Many who made submissions on these plans didn’t get a response to their issues. Other important Council plans need urgent refresh including the Health and Wellbeing Plan which is now out of date. Priority should be given to refreshing these plans to help our community towards a better future.

 ((WN )) Since 1993, South Gippsland has not had a passenger railway service, when the V/Line service to Leongatha was closed. Do you think that these services should be brought back, and why/why not?

The Great Southern Rail Trail in Leongatha.
Image: Glen Pringle.

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) It's difficult to reinstate V/Line rail services now the railway corridor has been converted into the Great Southern Rail Trail. The Leongatha to Port Welshpool section is increasingly popular for locals tourists; and the Nyora to Leongatha section is now being constructed. One of my wish projects is to ensure this trail is continuous and passes safely through Leongatha.

In the last Council, Andrew McEwan was Council's nominee on the Regional Transport Forum, which collated residents’ public transport needs. Our community is very supportive of improved public transport within the Shire's townships, between the Shire's and other regional centres - especially the Latrobe Valley where a lot of people work. Some said the services to and from Melbourne were ok. What people mostly asked for was better timetabling and more stop off and pick up points on all routes with the possibility of feeder mini-buses linking in to key drop off points were needed to provide finer grain transport services. The Grand Ridge Rail Trail itself is generating further demand for public transport to return walkers and riders back-to-their starting points.

 ((WN )) What changes and reforms would you like to see in regards to environmental protection?

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) The Local Government Act requires Council to promote action on climate change. Council has already started this. Faced with more frequent natural events and disasters we need to fast-track a community-based response to climate change and biodiversity loss. Initiatives to improve community resilience will help manage the impacts on Council roads and services and reduce business and resident disruptions to energy, water and transport networks.

Council already does some fine collaborative work in natural disaster preparedness, and this should continue, engaging farmers, and community organisations as well to increase resilience and improve our disaster preparedness.

Nature's beauty is a cornerstone of South Gippsland's tourism - our native forests, rolling hills and coastlines. Look closer you'll see landscapes on both public and private land that need regeneration and native flora and fauna need protection. Council can play a role in this, principally through collaboration and advocacy. Agencies working together, joining the dots, can achieve a lot more than working alone. For example, to better fulfil obligations under the Catchment and Land Protection Act and Planning Scheme I'd like to see Council improve the way it works with landcare groups, the CMA and other water authorities.

We need to take a shire-wide look at ways to improve roads and roadside safety rather than the piecemeal approach to works that creates more problems than they solve. Through regional collaboration with government agencies and the private sector Council can set out a Transport Plan for heavy vehicles and other traffic, road and intersection upgrades and public transport. Again, collaboration and advocacy are the key.

 ((WN )) What do you think qualifies you to be a local councillor?

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) I have a mix of skills and experience which give me a great grounding to be a local councillor. I'm qualified in urban and regional planning and I've worked in local government across three states. My approach to planning focuses on problem solving, advocacy and community engagement. My knowledge of Victoria's planning system means I can respond capably to planning matters that come to Council for a decision. My strategic skills mean I can take a holistic, fact-based approach to the issues that come before Council.

I have a degree in public administration, and experience at senior levels in Victorian and Commonwealth governments, so I know how governments work, the separation of powers and the laws that govern Council. With this knowledge comes a close adherence to ethical behaviour.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Gippsland and have strong connections to many of the Shire's food producers and farmers. More recently I've focused on natural resource management, water governance, regenerative agriculture, and biodiversity conservation, so I know the whole of the Shire quite well, and some of the nuts and bolts of South Gippsland's economy.

 ((WN )) In your local community, are there any specific projects you'd like to highlight and advocate for?

Mirboo North signpost.
Image: User:Dscalder.

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) For the last four years, I've been volunteering with the Mirboo North district community to help preserve our native forests. A beautiful citizen-science report will soon been released on the rich biodiversity of the Mirboo North State Forest, which plays a big role in community wellbeing and water supply, attracts many visitors which many of the businesses in the Tarwin Valley rely on.

I'd like to see rail trails, continuous and promoted as a unique tourism experience which invites visitors and residents alike to experience the fine foods grown and produced here, visit our towns and natural areas and take advantage of the array of bed and breakfast and health retreats and cultural events.

 ((WN )) During the COVID-19 lockdown, how have you reached out to local voters?

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) Early last year, I coordinated Mirboo North and district's fantastic community response to the bushfires to help East Gippsland's remote communities. As a food producer I keep in contact with a lot of small traders and customers across the Shire and region. I love talking with people at farmers markets. During the lockdowns, I'm taking to social media to reach out. I've kept up with people engaged in regenerative agriculture and climate change via zoom and the occasional meeting during breaks in lockdown. But now that we can move around more freely, I'm to getting back to driving to each local area in the ward and having great face to face discussions. We all need social contact.

 ((WN )) Why did you choose to run as a Greens candidate for local council?

 ((Rosemary Cousin )) In 2016, I became very concerned about the overuse of toxic chemicals in Council's day-to-day operations and was unhappy with the dismissive way my concerns were treated by Council. I felt Council could make some basic changes to improve customer and community responsiveness, so I threw my hat in the ring for the 2016 election as an independent candidate for South Gippsland Council. I had a good community response, but not enough to take a seat on Council at that time.

As a farmer and food producer who cares for the environment, I found most political parties were very slow to act, or worse, denying the existence of the huge issues I saw threatening our wellbeing and existence, which left me deeply unsatisfied. I joined the Greens because I found they have many values that I agree with and positive proposals to deal with the big issues I'm concerned about; and they and are open to new ideas and continuous learning, all of which appealed to me. I see myself now as a Country Green, grounded in agriculture, our environment, and the South Gippsland community. I'm ready to listen, to learn, and to focus on practical action to make a positive difference to our community and planet.

After joining the Greens, in October 2018 I was elected by countback to Council after a sitting Councillor resigned. I did the right thing and openly declared my political affiliation. While people generally believe that local government is not party political, in my experience most councillors don't openly declare their political affiliations even though they have one. The laws governing being a councillor are clear about declaring personal interests and conflicts of interest. This transparency and honesty to the public is vital, and in my view extends to party political affiliations too.

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