In this series, we will dive into some of the Lord Mayoral candidates’ policies, priorities and plans. Find out what they believe are the city’s greatest assets, what they think needs improving and why they want to be your Lord Mayor.

In this first instalment, we meet Greens candidate for Lord Mayor and Ward 1 Councillor John Mackenzie.

Lord Mayoral candidate and councillor John Mackenzie.

John Mackenzie has been a Newcastle councillor since 2017. He is a social scientist and policy consultant.

He has led participatory smart urban planning that supports Newcastle’s transition towards climate resilience and guides council initiatives like planning, climate, environment and urban forestry.

Mackenzie is the chair of  Newcastle’s Liveable City Committee and represents Newcastle on the Hunter and Central Coast Joint Regional Planning Panel.

Q.How long have you lived in Newcastle? Tell us about your history with the city.

A. We moved to Newcastle a bit over a decade ago. We were looking for a place for our family, and we settled here. We are very happy to have made this our permanent home. We have some young kids that are just getting on school age. It’s a great place for young families like ours, so we are definitely here for the long haul.

Q.What are your interests outside of work? How do you manage your spare time?

A. Well, there isn’t heaps of spare time! But I try and keep active. I also have some hobbies like bush regeneration work, which is a fancy way of saying weeding. I’m a bit of a homebody and spend a fair bit of time playing board games and other sorts of family activities. I try and keep my mind off politics now and again.

Q.What did you get up to in your early career?

A. I started in academia. I was a university lecturer and researcher in the area of policy research and political science. That took me to various locations around the country, working on policy issues, particularly around natural resource management and some of the thorny issues with water management in Australia.

Q.Even in your early career, you were focused on environmental matters. Is this what influenced you to become a Greens councillor?

A.I was pretty active locally on issues in the community, particularly around the fourth coal terminal (Port Waratah Coal Services Terminal 4) and some of the issues surrounding the health impacts of the coal train line. I live in one of the rail side suburbs, and we have been observing some of those local impacts. So it was a fairly natural progression to go from being someone who was organising in the community to being someone who could actually represent the community in the council chamber.

Q.What do you think of Newcastle and its people?

A.When we decided to live here and make Newcastle our home, I think one of the main attractors was the good quality of life and the liveability of Newcastle. We have all of the opportunities of a large city with a small community’s natural beauty and social catchment. So I think those liveability elements of our city is worth cherishing and protecting.

Q.If elected, what will be your number one priority? Can you outline a few plans and policies that you would like to see come to fruition?

A. There are two things that I’m particularly focused on. One is housing affordability. We have seen an enormous change in the housing market, even in the last 12 months. Newcastle has gone from being a place where Novocastrians could expect to afford a house to a place where buying a house is not necessarily achievable. The rental market is almost non-existent for working people, much less for students and young families. Our crisis accommodation services have never been so stretched. Looking at reforming housing into a more available and more affordable concept has to be the number one priority of the next term of council.

The other aspect which I’m really focused on is preparing for the transition associated with climate change. We have done some really great work in Newcastle. We were the first council in NSW to go 100 per cent renewable energy, but that’s just the start. There are so many other aspects of our transport and waste management sector that need to transform for us to become a carbon-neutral city by 2044. It’s no good arriving in 2044 and expecting things to have changed. The work to get there has to start now. The council has a key role at that local level in making those changes necessary for this city to get there.

Q.What can be done at a local government level to make this city carbon neutral by 2044?

A. I think the role of local government is really about bringing together industries, the community, the unions and education institutes and start to map out the transition together. For example, the Greens have talked a lot about setting up a Newcastle Transition Authority. I don’t think the council drives that process, but I think what we do is create the opportunity for all of the stakeholders involved in the solution to come together and map out that pathway.

We need to make sure that we are prepared for the decline of the coal industry. We need to make sure that we are moving towards industries with a sustainable future, and we need to make sure that no one gets left behind in that process.  

No single agency or institution can do that on its own. So, I think the council’s role is to take that leadership position and bring everyone to the table, where we can map out that pathway together as a community.

Q.What areas of the city do you think need significant improvement and attention?

A. I think this is an interesting question, particularly in the lockdown circumstances. These lockdowns brought people back to their local areas, back in their homes and back in their local communities. For some people, that was really great, they had lovely open spaces, cycleways and great local services, but that’s not true across the whole of the city. Some places don’t have good parks, playgrounds or open spaces, and I think people rightfully noticed that much more keenly than they had pre-COVID.

So, we need to make sure that no matter your postcode, you have access to all of those quality of life improvements and amenities that make living in Newcastle so great. It shouldn’t just be for the people who live in the inner city, close to the CBD. Those kinds of services, facilities and amenities should be available to everyone in all of our postcodes.

I think the balance has to be struck. We can’t have all projects focused on one area of the city. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still important. The city needs new infrastructure to meet the needs of the population, but it can’t be at the expense of maintaining our existing infrastructure. We can’t have doors coming off of the change rooms at our sports grounds in the outer suburbs but then have big flash new developments in the inner city. We need to get that balance right.

Q. What do you think is Newcastle’s greatest asset?

 A. Newcastle’s greatest asset is its people. We have so much talent here and an extraordinary, entrepreneurial and creative community. We are attracting incredible young people to this city, so we need to make sure that we provide the right kinds of services and quality of life to support this. We need to make the most of that asset and hold onto the people and community that make this place better.

Q. What are your reasons behind running for Lord Mayor?

A. I bring a particular approach to the council, which is around consensus. What I’ve learnt in the nearly five years that I’ve been on council is there’s a real opportunity for the Lord Mayor position to be someone who can bring together the diverse voices in the council chamber and work towards a better outcome for the city.

I think it’s important to recognise that we need to have different perspectives represented if we are to make this city as great as possible.

Q. It could be assumed that being Lord Mayor would be a 24-hour job. Are you prepared for that commitment?

A. It’s the most extraordinary form of community service that you could imagine. It’s a real honour and privilege to be in that position and have that platform to help shape the city. At its best moments, the council chamber is a place where 13 people do their absolute best and hardest work to make Newcastle as good as it can be. In those moments, it is a wonderful place to be.

I’m not pretending that it’s like that all of the time, but in some ways, you have to accept the theatrics and the argy-bargy because of the opportunities that it has. If all 13 of us are doing our absolute best work, then we are all helping improve Novocastrians’ lives.

Q. How do you think you differ from your fellow Lord Mayoral candidates?

A. I think my approach is more around consensus building. My main goal is to recognise that everybody in that chamber has been elected to represent the different views of the community. So I think more than anything else, it’s important to ensure that those views are represented, taken into consideration, and we have all reached an evidence-based, community-supported solution together.

Q. How do you feel about the elections being pushed back to December? Have your campaign plans changed?

A. I have no problem with it being moved back. Public health is number one, and we aren’t going to cut any corners regarding community health, safety and well-being. The most important thing that we can do between now and then is make sure that come December, we have a safe election, whether that be via postal or a longer period of pre-poll. Once we get that understanding, we will make sure that voters, volunteers and candidates know exactly what the circumstances are and the outcome is safe and fair.

For more information on the policies, plans and priorities of The Greens or to learn about the rest of the team, visit their website.

Read our other Q&As:

Greens candidate and Ward 1 Councillor John Mackenzie.

Newcastle Independents candidate and Ward 1 Councillor John Church.

Liberal candidate Jenny Barrie.

Labor Candidate and current Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.

Hayley McMahon

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