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Leo Foley on the HCC steps. Pic: Margot Giblin

A Conversation with Alderman Leo Foley

Leo Foley was elected to the Hobart City Council in 2011.

Foley says the reason he stood for Council was to pursue his aim of having rates based on land value.  ‘I want to even up society and the way to do that at the local level is to rate on land value only. Don’t penalise people or businesses for improving their properties.’

TT:  Do you think you have a real chance of effecting that change?

LF:  I do. Access Economics’ latest report on the rating system in Tasmania set up 8 criteria for the best system. On all criteria AAV was rated lowest. Rating on land value was rated highest on 7 of the 8 criteria. So it’s not just Leo Foley saying this. As you know, I’ve been banging on this drum for some time now, and for a while it did feel lonely. Now Ken Henry is saying we should get tax away from work and onto things like natural resources.

TT:  Do you belong to a political party?

LF:  No. I did once. I signed up to Labor when Jim Bacon became Leader of the Opposition. When he went, and after a couple of years of Lennon, I resigned. I couldn’t live with the new style.

TT:  What’s your view of limiting the number of consecutive terms an alderman can serve?

LF:  At heart I’m a democrat, so if some-one has put their hand up, and been elected, they’re entitled to hold the position. I wouldn’t kick them out on the basis of age, or on number of terms. However, staleness can set in and people should recognise when it’s time to go.

People do get voted out. I think if Council got better information out to the public, they could make better decisions at elections.

TT: How do you see Council increasing public involvement in local government?

LF:  I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of more people attending our meetings. But it would be good to improve the planning process. The first thing most people know about a planned change is a sign going up on a property that affects them, with fourteen days to respond. Too bad if your wife is due to give birth in that time, or you’re on holidays.

It would be good to have some fact based information out there, including the grounds for objection. People waste time and emotional energy objecting to things that really matter to them, only to get a briefly worded, ‘Not grounds for objection’ result.

I’d like to reduce the public’s cynicism and open the Town Hall up so people feel it’s their place. We’re talking about how to use rooms here to meet with community groups. There’s waste space in this building. Above the aldermens’ offices there’s space being used for storage.  I’m interested in looking at how Council can help in a practical sense, for example, by offering secretarial services to these groups.

I’m also very keen for people to contact me with ideas on how we can re-engage with the community.

TT: How could the level of debate be improved at full Council meetings?

LF:  I’ve never been on a committee that wouldn’t have been improved by having less members.  We don’t need twelve aldermen at full meetings and we don’t need five at committees.

Twelve aldermen standing up and having their say on every item makes it clear there are too many people at the table. It should be self limiting. You should only speak if you are bringing up new material and have something substantial to say.

I don’t understand why some of the more experienced councillors speak to every item. If you were on the sub-committee for it you should have spoken then. If you weren’t, and you have a question, you should have asked a committee member.

It surprises me how little communication there is between aldermen. We don’t get together except in the ten minutes gathering before meetings start.

TT:  There’s another Council trip to Yaizu, Japan, one of Hobart’s two sister cities, coming up. Do you think these trips are really necessary to keep the relationship alive?

LF:  Yes delegations are important, but they should be kept small. So, three aldermen.

TT: And officers?

LF: Yes, two. The work gets done by them.

TT: Is there a real benefit for Hobart from sister city status with either Yaizu or L’Aquila, Italy?

LF: I’m unsure of the benefit to Hobart of either Yaizu or L’Aquila. The reasons they were chosen may no longer be the best reasons for having a sister city relationship. I’d be happy to explore an exact cost analysis of these relationships and for that to be made public. I’d also be happy to look at other potential sister city arrangements on the same basis.

I think sister city relationships should be reviewed every five years. There should be clear cultural or economic benefits for Hobart.