As the only Greens Councillor in the Colac Otway Shire, Stephen Hart has lived permanently in Lavers Hill off the grid with solar power and his partner, for over 20 years. First elected to the council in 2002 then re-elected in 2008, 2012 and 2016, this year he is again running for re-election, with hopes to continue his work with the local community.
“I’ve been particularly outspoken on environmental issues and actions on climate change, I will work to ensure that Council becomes carbon neutral. Council has the plan, it just takes the will to fully implement it. Working towards net zero emissions across the community is also a priority.”
With tourism in the Colac Otway region bringing in close $200 million for the local economy each year the impacts of COVID-19 have been particularly devastating for the local area.
“COVID-19 has hit the tourism industry particularly hard, and we had the COVID cluster in Colac as well. It hurt businesses and continues to do so, the international traffic has stopped. It’s had a hard impact in terms of people having reduced work hours or no hours during some of the hard lockdowns, and the lack of tourism numbers, economically it’s been quite difficult.
“On the other hand, living in rural areas where you at least have some room to move, and not being as restricted as if you were living in an apartment in Melbourne has made it a bit easier.
“It is also going to be important for Council to take a more accommodating attitude toward businesses that may have fallen behind on their rates, such as not charging penalty interest because we want those businesses to come out the other end of this.
“Some of the other areas I am interested in are the ones that tend to get overlooked by local councils such as libraries. I’m a passionate supporters of library services. There is a lot of disadvantage in this municipality and you would be surprised at the number of people who don’t have internet access. The younger people in particular can find public libraries can help in that situation, with homework and accessing resources online.
“The other thing is the arts sector, there is a strong arts community throughout Colac and Otway, but unfortunately they don’t always get the attention and support they deserve. If you are running a football club in Colac council money just comes flowing, but if you are in the arts community there is support but it requires much more effort.
“We are also after more train services per day. There are currently four services on a weekday, we are trying to get that to five. Public transport is important for people who need to get to other areas, or medical appointments or even just going out for the day.”