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 fourth instalment, we speak to Labor candidate and incumbent City of Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.

Labor candidate and incumbent Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes. Photo: Supplied.

Nuatali Nelmes was returned for a second consecutive term as the Lord Mayor of Newcastle following a general election held in September 2017. She previously served as a councillor on Newcastle City Council for six years from 2008, before being elected Lord Mayor of Newcastle in 2014. 

Cr Nelmes is only the second female and the youngest Lord Mayor of Newcastle.

Q. How long have you lived in Newcastle?

A. I grew up in Newcastle, attending Newcastle East Public School, Newcastle High School and the University of Newcastle. Growing up on the beaches, parks, sporting fields and unique places of Newcastle has been invaluable in understanding both the challenges and opportunities available to our city. Transforming that local knowledge into positive change that benefits all Novocastrians has been a key ingredient to our success. 

Q. Tell me a little about your family/family life?

A. Last year, we added a little dog named Ginger to our household. Ginger has provided us with lots of joy during lockdown! I’m married to Stuart, with three children: Archie, Stella-Rose and Ruby-Lou. We have been homeschooling and working from home since August. Our usual weeks are very busy, fitting a hectic work life around lots of after-school activities. 

Q. Your interests outside of work? Any hobbies? Do you manage to have any spare time? If so, what do you like to do in it?

A. In my younger years, I was a basketballer. I was fortunate to represent Newcastle and NSW. I still love sports and try to keep active and fit. I go to Newcastle F45, which I find to be a great way to get in a good workout in a timely fashion! I still play netball with Souths. Our family also love to travel. We were very fortunate to get in a family trip to the Great Barrier Reef earlier this year. When able, I also love to see my friends. We always have a lot of fun together. As restrictions ease, I’ve been getting in a few picnics too.

Q. What did you do early in your career?

A. I’ve had a diverse career, gaining skills that have been invaluable to my role as Lord Mayor. My background is in business and industrial relations. Prior to my time on council, I worked mostly in small business in recruitment and HR. I also worked for the United Workers Union, which represent early childhood educators and cleaners, some of our most under-appreciated and underpaid workers. It gave me a real appreciation for people working in essential industries. The COVID-19 global pandemic has shown us just how important the work they do for our community really is.

Q. Do you feel your role as mayor is a 24/7 commitment?

A. Newcastle is a big city with a complex set of challenges and opportunities. It’s fair to say that the current COVID-19 situation means the job of Lord Mayor is 24/7 and then some! I’m currently receiving hundreds of emails and messages for assistance and guidance. I’m fortunate to have the support of a great team of very capable Labor councillors.

City of Newcastle is a big operation. We employ more than 1000 people and manage a $340M budget. On top of COVID, we’ve been managing our City of Newcastle services to the community and facilities, as well as continuing to plan and deliver our capital works program, which is around $100M for this financial year. We’ve released our new masterplan for Gregson Park in Hamilton, started construction on our $1.5M Wallsend Active Hub as well as our four new full-sized basketball courts and upgraded amenities at National Park. Our Shortland Local Centre upgrade will commence in November, and the first stage of our Newcastle Ocean Baths upgrade will kick off early next year.

I’m also proud to have joined with the Hunter Ageing Alliance to better integrate age-friendly actions such as accessibility improvements and community connections into our city’s forward planning. As Newcastle’s population ages, it’s vital we make planning decisions to increase accessibility in our city and to create a place where it is easy for our elderly members to stay connected to others.

Q. If re-elected, what will be your number one priority? Outline a few plans you would like to see come to fruition.

A. My number one priority will be continuing to collaborate. Our success has been in our teamwork. Our high-performing Newcastle Labor councillors team will continue the delivery of our ambitious capital works program focused on our COVID recovery.

Last year when the global pandemic hit, we took swift action as one of the first government authorities to deliver a comprehensive Community and Economic Resilience Package. We invested more than $10M into the program, which successfully stimulated the local economy, provided support for our most vulnerable Novocastrians and crucially protected hundreds of local jobs.

With the impact of lockdowns continuing throughout 2021, we have made the strategic decision to continue to support our community by allocating an additional $14M to further boost our capital works program, ensuring that jobs are protected as we begin to recover from the effects of COVID. This will deliver more upgrades to public infrastructure, like upgraded roads, sporting facilities and environmental measures.

Our targeted support for our local not-for-profit sector will see council continuing our efforts providing financial assistance to local service providers to cope with increased urgency and demand for their vital community assistance.

We’ve also just announced more than $1.25M of funding to support COVID-affected industries like the arts, entertainment and hospitality sectors to hold events and activations like the return of the Big Picture street art festival. We’ve also ensured the return of the Locally Made and Played grant program, providing support for live music and performance to assist local creatives and venues as restrictions ease.

In Ward 4, I’m working with Cr Jason Dunn delivering critical flood mitigation works in Wallsend, main street upgrades in Beresfield, Wallsend and Shortland, and new footpaths in Elermore Vale and Maryland.

In Ward 3, I’m working with Cr Peta Winney-Baartz delivering Blackbutt Reserve upgrades, new sporting projects, great new playgrounds, footpath improvements in Jesmond, New Lambton and Waratah West, and main street upgrades in Georgetown, Orchardtown Road and Waratah.

In Ward 2, I’m working with Cr Carol Duncan to deliver the Kotara and Merewether local centre upgrades, Hamilton’s refreshed James Street Plaza, a new cycleway to the CBD, and the city’s New Annual cultural festival.

In Ward 1, I’m working with Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen and Cr Emma White to deliver main street upgrades in Stockton and Carrington, funding for the restoration of the Newcastle Ocean Baths and Art Gallery expansion, and designating Newcastle as an inclusive Refugee Welcome City.

As Lord Mayor, I would continue to lead the city’s advocacy to renew the CBD, upgrade Newcastle Airport, fix Stockton erosion, attract major events, extend the light rail network and support the freight rail bypass, invest in renewable energy, create more affordable housing and support the diversification of the Port to create more jobs in our city.

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

A. We’ve worked really hard to ensure our public open spaces, our parks and playgrounds and our local town centres are fit-for-purpose for our local communities.

There are a number of really exciting projects that we’ve initiated that are beginning to take shape, which will be really amazing outcomes for the city. The Newcastle Ocean Baths restoration, the expanded Newcastle Art Gallery and the circular economy innovation taking place at the Summerhill Waste Management Centre are three projects that stand out for me in particular – bringing new investment and creating new jobs in our city. I’m looking forward to significant progress on these projects over the next term of council.

Of course, we continue to deliver on core projects that our ratepayers expect from local government. We’ve dedicated almost $14M for new and upgraded roads and footpaths, more than $9M to continue with our very popular Playground Replacement Program – delivering upgrades to local parks and sporting facilities, as well as more than $2.5M dedicated to new cycleways. I’m also a huge advocate for greening our city, and am pleased that again this financial year, we’ve dedicated more than $1M to plant new street and park trees. 

Q. What is Newcastle’s greatest asset?

A. Our people, our incredible natural environment, our amazing liveability, and our skillset.

Novocastrians are hardworking and progressive people that genuinely care about each other and their community. Making a positive difference in people’s lives is at the heart of everything we do.  

Q. Reflecting on your past term, is there anything you would change? Things you want to improve on? Things you were disappointed by?

A. Time and time again I’ve seen that we can get the best outcomes when we collaborate and have a wide range of voices around the decision-making table.

As Lord Mayor, I have always managed to build relationships, and work with others to get great outcomes for our city. Often, this involves reaching across the political divide to work with conservative ministers in Sydney and Canberra.

Recent successes include the announcement of assistance from the NSW Deputy Premier to address Stockton erosion, the significant improvements I negotiated to the Newcastle Light Rail project, our success in gaining federal support to upgrade the Newcastle Airport, and funding for the business case of the Broadmeadow Hunter Park precinct.

It’s disappointing that some councillors have not shared our vision or enthusiasm for the projects we are delivering for our community, instead focusing on themselves or a political agenda. When they go low, we go high.

Q. What are your reasons behind running for Lord Mayor again? Why should voters re-elect you?

A. Our Labor team has got the job done! Since taking on the Lord Mayoral role, I can confidently say that we’ve got the city moving in a really great direction. That’s evident in the investment and confidence of Novocastrians, our great lifestyle and the resilience of our region. We consulted, then established the vision, then set the strategic directions to deliver the projects that Novocastrians are now starting to see the real benefits of.

As Lord Mayor, I’m proud of our achievements with significant infrastructure renewal including the Bathers Way along our coastline, the long-overdue Wallsend Flood Mitigation Works including bridge replacements, the upgrades being delivered in suburbs and local centres across the city, and the innovative approach we are taking to address future issues, such as creating a circular economy hub at Summerhill as part of our leading action addressing climate change including strong action with ambitious Net Zero emission targets, which will deliver environmental and economic benefits for local residents.

Within council as an organisation, we have done an enormous amount of work to instil a citizen-focused approach. This has been recognised by residents with consecutive improvements in our community satisfaction scores.

Newcastle is a city on the move, and Novocastrians know that I’m working hard to deliver for them.

We’ve got a lot more hard work to do to see these projects through and I’m dedicated to getting the job done.

I’ve got a very strong track record of taking decisive action to get on with the job of renewing our city’s assets and services, while modernising what the city offers to our ratepayers, from the City Centre, right out to our city’s mighty western suburbs.  

Q. Has the mayoral role been more difficult during the pandemic? What have been the main sources of stress for you? How do you feel about it now? Are you confident in the city’s ability to cope with growing infection rates?

A. Newcastle didn’t wait for state or federal action to provide support to our community during the pandemic.

In response to the pandemic, we have delivered a targeted program with hardship measures for ratepayers, support for small businesses, assistance for local charities and families in need, and job-saving investment into local infrastructure projects that created 700 local jobs. This work started in early 2020, before JobKeeper or JobSeeker had been announced. Ensuring Novocastrians are healthy and that our economy is resilient to withstand the lockdowns has been our priority.

As Lord Mayor, I’ve been working very closely with NSW Health, NSW Police and other state government agencies throughout this current outbreak to ensure that we can assist to protect Novocastrians, ensure they have the most up-to-date information about the pandemic, and ensure our community can maintain adequate access to services.

Our Local Emergency Operations Centre (LEOC) at our City Administration Centre was enacted as COVID began to spread locally, providing state-of-the-art facilities to help facilitate the city’s collaborative approach to dealing with the pandemic. It’s a great result for our move to 12 Stewart Avenue, and just one of the many benefits of our new headquarters.

During the last outbreak, we moved quickly to introduce an additional phase of the economic resilience package for residents and businesses, and we’ve further extended that support through to the current lockdown period.

We’ve extended hardship provisions for locals and businesses, and I encourage anyone who is struggling to contact our rates team who can assist.

We’ve invested into significantly upgrading our digital offerings through our amazing Newcastle Libraries, and I encourage all Novocastrians to head to their website to see the wide range of resources you can access to keep the family entertained and informed. Our libraries have been doing amazing work keeping Novocastrians connected, including with contactless home deliveries.

In terms of my role, it’s been busy! The national media spotlight has been on our region, and many people are reaching out for assistance and guidance to understand current restrictions for our city. Our local members of parliament have been wonderful in assisting to keep our community updated too.

But we’re also continuing the work to deliver our city-wide works program, which will see around $100M invested in renewal and upgrades to our environment, roads, parks, drainage, libraries and much more across Newcastle over this financial year.
It means lots of Zoom and Teams meetings with our staff and stakeholders across Newcastle!

Q. Newcastle is in transition from coal to renewable energy. What is your plan for this transition and your stance on the matter? What can be done at local government level to make this happen most effectively? 

A. Our Newcastle Labor team has focused on improving our natural environment and taking progressive action on climate change. The Newcastle Labor team has delivered a large publicly owned solar farm at Summerhill (Wallsend), a new recycling centre, invested more than $4M to plant new street trees since 2017, and led the city to become the first council in NSW to use 100 per cent renewable energy in its operations from January 1, 2020. We’ve been leading by example and are recognised internationally as a local government leader in addressing climate change and protecting our natural environment.

Continuing to lead on environmental issues, including organic waste recycling, while promoting local jobs and diversifying our economy, will remain a focus for a re-elected Labor team.

We have recently adopted a Climate Action Plan, which sets out ambitious targets for Net Zero that will continue to drive Newcastle’s emissions down even further.
City of Newcastle intends to transition to a fleet of electric vehicles, build operational resilience through additional renewables and battery storage, and switch all city lighting to LED, saving thousands of dollars in electricity and reducing our energy usage.

Our Climate Action Plan covers both City of Newcastle operations and Newcastle as a whole to accelerate emission reduction across the city through a suite of sensible and prudent actions and initiatives.  Working collaboratively with other progressive organisations, the plan takes advantage of the economic opportunities that arise from a clean-energy and low-emissions industry landscape.

City of Newcastle has formally committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, and we accept there is a global climate emergency.  We owe it to our children to prioritise concrete action on climate change.   

It’s strong actions like those in our Climate Action Plan that I encourage all of our local government colleagues to pursue.

With a lack of any significant policy at the Federal Government level, it’s been up to local governments to take strong, decisive and rapid action. 

Q. Some councillors and community members have criticised indulgent council spending, specifically around the construction of the administration building. What is your response to these criticisms? Can these expenses be justified? 

A. When they go low, we go high. I’ve found that the community has been really supportive of our new administrative HQ.

We used to have our staff work in multiple locations, split across numerous sub-standard buildings, with outdated working arrangements (think limited female bathrooms, no common staff kitchen, and timber desks that hadn’t been upgraded since the 1970s). It was no longer an appropriate workplace for a modern, agile organisation. 

By choosing to move our staff into a new facility, we have significantly improved the working environment, making the city a much more desirable place to come and work. We’re a modern and agile organisation and we need to be adaptive to our growing city’s needs.

In addition, moving also provided the opportunity to improve our community service offering too. We delivered an award-winning digital library on the ground floor at 12 Stewart Avenue, which welcomed 59,000 visitors in its first year. The new library is always buzzing with energy and programmed for interactive learning among all ages groups, from toddlers all the way to seniors.

The new City Administration Centre allows our staff to perform their core job of improving our city and suburbs for all Novocastrians, better than they ever could before. Staff can now collaborate, across teams, they have a much better COVID-safe working environment, which ultimately makes our teams more productive for our ratepayers.

Very significantly, the new City Administration Centre now also houses the Newcastle/Hunter region’s Local Emergency Operations Centre (LEOC). This facility is a critical part of this region’s response to emergencies and disasters and has been in use during the pandemic to coordinate the city’s response alongside emergency services and NSW Health.

The LEOC’s technology, flexible design and independent power supply allow emergency services, including Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Police, Ambulance NSW and the NSW SES, to join with City of Newcastle and other agencies to coordinate responses to a range of incidents and natural disasters. Storms, floods, bushfires or earthquakes, we are now vastly better prepared to manage and coordinate our region’s emergency response.

Moving from the Roundhouse also allowed that building to be upgraded, with adaptive re-use of the iconic building as our city’s first five-star hotel, which is a wonderful outcome.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the move enabled our people to work seamlessly from home when required during COVID because we had the right processes and technology in place. Not all councils were as prepared, with our peers needing to stand down staff while they worked through these issues.

Unfortunately, my political opponents have chosen to ignore the above, issuing relentless negative criticism including releasing false and inflated numbers.

Moving to 12 Stewart Avenue is an investment in our people that is already returning dividends for all Novocastrians.  

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

A. I’m part of a great team. My achievements as Lord Mayor are only possible with the support and collaboration of the great group of Labor councillors that share the load and the amazing staff that serve our community with dedication.

I’m proud of our achievements. Together we’ve doubled our infrastructure budget, protecting local jobs and delivered new and improved public facilities.

I can say with confidence that the Newcastle Labor team has been delivering for Newcastle. We work as a high-functioning team dedicated to public service and together we have literally transformed Newcastle over the last seven years. Standing up for climate action, affordable housing, diversity and inclusion while delivering renewal across the city, with fiscal responsibility ensuring that council is financially sustainable while protecting local jobs.

I proudly stand behind my track record of delivery as the city’s Lord Mayor since 2017, and as a councillor since 2008. I bring significant experience to the role, passion for social justice coupled with relentless advocacy for our fair share.


For more information on the policies, plans and priorities of the Labor party visit their website at https://www.nuatalinelmes.com/.

Read our other Lord Mayoral Q&As:

Greens candidate and Ward 1 Councillor John Mackenzie

Independents candidate and Ward 1 Councillor John Church

Liberal Lord Mayoral candidate Jenny Barrie

Hayley McMahon

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2 Comments

  1. There is virtually no comment or plans to provide or improve the woeful lack of inner-city parking.
    Trying to visit anything in the CBD is a horrendous experience and evening concerts are becoming almost impossible especially for the elderly (and I am a healthy active almost 83) driver. Central parking appears to have no priority on anyone’s agenda

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