NEW LORD MAYOR
Anna Reynolds chats over a cuppa about her plans for the city.
Trick or treat? Hobart’s new Lord Mayor divides opinion. Anna Reynolds, whose win was announced on Halloween night, swept in on a tide of change. Some are hailing the progressive independent as tailor-made for the times, but others think she is the worst thing since plastic pumpkins. The 51-year-old’s track record is strong on some of the most pressing social and environmental issues of the day, she is a font of ideas for urban renewal and she has the political nous to both drive change and shepherd the city through the challenges of rapid growth.
But Reynolds’ elevation is not a cause for universal celebration. To others, she is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, a Greens turncoat nevertheless poised to unleash a radical anti-progress agenda on poor unsuspecting Hobart. Whose win spells the end of boom-time building and the beginning of the end of growth.
“I am certainly interested in development, but I think the idea of pro- and anti-development is an old dichotomy, a bit like Right and Left,” Reynolds says in her almost hypnotically calm voice during an interview at her South Hobart home before her swearing-in last Monday.
“Today it’s all about style, direction and suitability of development. We have a choice. Do we set our bar high and say we want development, but we want it on our terms: respectful of heritage, good design, high environmental standards, and ideally with developers giving back more to the community through the provision of affordable housing units and contributions to bike lanes, footpaths and trees?
“Or [do we accept] the other type, the get rich quick, crass overdevelopment lobby that says all we need to think about is making it as easy as possible for developers to do exactly as they like and not to get in their way. Both of them are development agendas, it’s just that one is saying that the community, and the council on behalf of the community, wants to ensure development is respectful and high quality.”
It was a different landscape five or 10 years ago. “Hobart was in the economic doldrums and council gave away big incentives for developers to build pretty ordinary buildings just in the hope of getting economic activity.”
One of the new council’s first jobs may be responding to a long-awaited development application for a kunanyi/ Mt Wellington cable car. “I am not a fan of the currently advertised project that I’ve seen the basic promotional materials for because of the route over the Organ Pipes, the very substantial function centre and restaurant built on it and the need to make available public bushland to be cleared to create a 2.3km road,” she says. “The whole proposal is asking a lot of the Hobart landscape.”
Any Mount Wellington Cableway Company application to Hobart City Council will be assessed on planning law and public submission considerations. Unable to comment decisively without a detailed proposal, Reynolds says at face value the proposal’s major impact on such a significant natural feature “could be a deal-breaker”.
Conversely, she strongly supports plans for light rail along the old rail corridor between Hobart city and the Northern Suburbs as an activator for new medium-density housing as much as a mode of public transport. Sharing the vision of the project’s long-term champion, Glenorchy Mayor Kristie Johnston, Reynolds believes the unfunded $100 million project, which may attract federal City Deal backing, is a solid example of desirable development with successful precedents elsewhere.
“I want to see our council be more proactive in driving development like this that is good for the community, city design and environment,” she says. “Our job as elected city leaders isn’t just to sit and wait for things to be presented and wave them through. Our job is to help shape the city in the long-term public interest.”
She does not fully support the current draft of the council-commissioned Building Heights Standards Review by architect and urban design consultant Leigh Woolley, which allows buildings in the heart of the CBD to reach 60m (or 20 storeys).
“I think Leigh’s approach is limited to how the city looks from afar,” she says. “He presents [it as] if we build the city in this way, it will have this nice shape to it that’s in keeping with the mountain, but it’s almost like he is viewing the city from the Eastern Shore or the middle of the river.
“While I respect his work from that [whole landscape] perspective, I think we need to think about height in a much broader way. I’m not saying there is no place for 15-20 storey buildings in Greater Hobart, but we have something unique here we are rapidly losing, which is a charming, human-scale city that is worth a vast amount economically.
“Rather than approaching [development] on the basis of the property sector’s profit margin, I am thinking about the broadest economic benefits to the city, hanging on to our human scale and not overwhelming our heritage.”
Reynolds conducted walking tours around the city in the election lead-up to not only highlight heritage but to show people what 60m feels like for a pedestrian on the street. She is particularly concerned about the recommendations for the next height zone out, on the West Hobart city fringe. Here she believes four to six or eight storeys, not the 15 storeys suggested, would be appropriate. Public consultations on the Woolley recommendations closed on October 17, and the new council awaits a staff report, which will also consider public submissions.
The walking tours were also a way of harnessing enthusiasm for heritage restoration in retail areas. Her plan over the next four years is to grow the council’s heritage unit and ensure it is resourced beyond report-writing capacity and into restorations and beautifying of our heritage streetscapes. “There is a lot of heritage in the inner city which is hidden behind bad awnings or airconditioning units,” she says. She points to smaller Victorian cities Ballarat, Bendigo and Perth’s Fremantle as inspirations. “I was gobsmacked by the high quality streetscapes in Fremantle,” she says. “It felt very intact whereas in Hobart we have lost some of that intactness.”
Internationally, she keeps an eye on urban renewal in many places but thinks Edinburgh is a particularly interesting case study for Hobart. “It’s a fairly small city, economically vibrant and with an incredible brain gain, with one of the highest rates of tertiary-educated people in Europe. And it has defended the character and heritage of its city, understanding its great economic value, and invested in its people, festivals and creativity.”
She is a fan of pilot projects to enhance streetscapes and improve amenity around the city and suburbs. Though she doesn’t like the term “tactical urbanism”, she embraces the concept. “The idea is that if you want to test a new bike lane in Collins St, say, rather than developing the plans, putting them out for consultation, getting them through council, finding the money and building it, you do something quickly, trial it, see how people respond to it and build the community support for it.
“I will be advocating for much more of this approach. Councils and governments around the world are struggling [financially] and sometimes we overdo things. We feel we have to create enormous plans and completely dig up the street with massive and expensive infrastructure [before testing the waters] with pop-ups and considering less expensive options.”
She is concerned a State Government takeover of Macquarie and Davey streets may result in alienating freeways, lost tenancies and “a Brooker Highway-type situation”. While this might temporarily ease traffic congestion, she says such a move would be counterproductive. “The small-business community is an important partner in making our streets more vibrant. That’s a big shift happening around the world: people-friendly streets are better for business.”
We are sitting at the kitchen table of the lovely old weatherboard farmhouse high in South Hobart she shares with her partner, Mark Horstman, a leading scientist communicator (whom you may recognise from ABC-TV’s Catalyst), their 17-year-old son Jarra and 11-year-old daughter Jess. Behind her are an exquisite congratulatory bunch of peony roses and lilies that look just right in the laid-back elegance of her living room. On the front porch are stacks of campaign posters with her beaming face and “Go Anna!” stamped on them, with Mark and an offsider out retrieving the rest of them before predicted big winds hit.
She thinks her new role will be quite manageable in their usual busy family mix. She knows there will be occasions when Jarra and Jess get frustrated she is not there, but it’s not as if she is schlepping off to Canberra regularly, she says.
Every job has its ups and downs for a family and a dynamic modus operandi is the norm for this one. “We’ve always had both parents working. There were times when I was going to Canberra regularly, and Mark would be off to Antarctica. There’s always been a lot of comings and goings and trying to share things. It’s not like we’ve always had one of us at home packing lunches and doing the washing.”
Reynolds was a politician’s daughter, too. Her mother Margaret was a senator for 16 years. “I can remember being a little resentful in some ways because Margaret had to go off to Canberra. I had a bit of attitude,” she says with a laugh. Her father is eminent historian Henry Reynolds.
On the evening of Halloween, two days before our visit, Reynolds’s attention was flicking between her iPad and the spaghetti bolognaise she was cooking for Jess and six of her school friends. The girls were getting ready for trick or treating when the election result was confirmed on screen. Reynolds experienced a quiet ‘wow’ moment before the girls appeared in ghostly disguise, this newspaper rang for comment and a bunch of roaming neighbourhood kids arrived at the front door in search of sweets. “It was a lovely moment, work, family, all rolled into one,” she says.
Reynolds gained the most metaphorical lollies by far for mayor. It was a stunning victory, with Reynolds on 62.35 per cent, well ahead of runner-up Damon Thomas on 37.65 per cent. What seemed to be a sluggish voter response over the three-week postal ballot period ended with a flurry that shot participation in the voluntary election to a record level. Reynolds also topped the aldermanic poll, with more than double the votes of second-runner Thomas.
When her moment came for dress-ups at her swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Reynolds wore the mayoral chains but ditched the traditional gown, tri-cornered hat and lace gloves. It was a symbolic gesture that heralded the dawning of a new era, a change also apparent in the new council line-up, which includes four new faces. Father and daughter Mike Dutta and Zelinda Sherlock, Holly Ewin and Simon Behrakis join returning aldermen Thomas, Jeff Briscoe, Tanya Denison, Bill Harvey, Peter Sexton and Marti Zucco. With Green Helen Burnet winning the deputy role, Hobart City has its first female leadership pair.
“It is a council that is more broadly reflective of the community that we are serving,” Reynolds says. “It is a more youthful council with one-third of the aldermen aged 40 or younger. And it is a more culturally diverse council. There is strength in diversity and so the mix of new and incumbent, men and women, younger and older, as well as a diversity of perspectives should make this is a very interesting and balanced council.”
Reynolds and Burnet did not have a close working relationship during the previous term though they represented the same party for most of it. Reynolds left the Greens in March when she realised she was acting as an independent anyway, without the solidarity she had expected a party alliance to bring. “I think it will be an interesting new chapter for us,” she says. “It’s clear the community like the idea of me in the mayoral role and Helen in the deputy role. I think we will rise to the challenge.”
They often voted together on big issues last time, she says, adding that her own style of working can take others some getting used to. “It’s funny with politics. There’s how you approach issues, your philosophy and the concerns that drive you, but there’s also how you ‘do’ your politics. Sometimes you can be very similar in your beliefs on issues, but you might have a different approach in the nuts and bolts of how you do issues.
“I’ve brought all my campaigning, lobbying and policy background into council and some of my approaches would [have been] a little bit new to many of the other councillors, not just Helen. One alderman said to me soon after the  election,‘why are you still campaigning, why are you still out there raising issues and doing media?’ And I said ‘that’s how I work’. You get change whether you are working for an NGO, a corporate organisation or as a decision-maker by bringing campaigning skills to those roles: raising awareness, looking for allies, building the case for policy change.”
She describes the last elected mayor, Sue Hickey, as a very good retail politician. “She knows how to identify something people are concerned about and then speak about it and engage with people. I think she is very clever in that respect… Sue came in with an idea of improving public toilets, which is a great and practical and tangible ambition. I have a slightly different or bigger [vision]. I hope my ambitions for the role and Hobart cover a broader scope.”
She says a writer friend helping her refine her campaign material kept asking her “What’s your public toilets?” But she was unable to narrow her focus. “I am interested in so many things. I guess my equivalent over my term as an alderman was action in the suburbs of Hobart — playgrounds, footpath upgrades and pedestrian crossings. My most practical work in the past four years has been working with communities on improving neighbourhoods. By doing that, not only do we build a lovely city full of vibrant, easy to live in places, we build the social capital. If people have a great neighbourhood and it’s easy to get around in, they meet each other and develop connections and their own ideas and projects.”
Anna Reynolds was born in Townsville in 1967 and raised in North Queensland by her Tasmanian parents, whose roots here stretch back to 1850. The family visited the state every Christmas, with Henry and Margaret also returning south to live, at Richmond, about a decade ago. The North Queensland home of Reynolds’s childhood was full of ideas, people and striving. Her academic father was becoming increasingly engaged in indigenous land issues, going on to play a significant role in the historic Mabo decision that led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993. And as a teenager Reynolds watched her mother enter Townsville local council for a term before entering the Senate. Reynolds all but ruled out a federal trajectory for herself in an earlier interview with TasWeekend.
She attended Pimlico State High School in Townsville and went on to study at the Australian National University in Canberra. Her first job was as a roving art teacher in Aboriginal communities. As a young woman she was much more interested in social than environmental issues. Her roles included setting up a north Queensland office of the Tenants Union of Queensland in Cairns, while partner Mark worked for rising Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson in land management.
It was during those years that she became interested in environmental issues, joining the board of the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre. “I was interested in the role the environmental movement played in the discussions about the future of Cairns and the region,” she says.
After completing her Masters in Management at Sydney’s University of Technology, at 28 she became a national lobbyist for the Australian Conservation Foundation. “Through that job, I learnt so much about parliamentary process, engaging with politicians, media, bureaucrats and other stakeholders,” she says.
Swept up in the emerging climate change movement in the lead-up to the Kyoto Protocol, she travelled to the Japanese city with the ACF in the late 1990s. Engaging with environment groups at an international level, she came home to set up an Australian branch of the peak body Climate Action Network in 1998. That set her path working in climate change for the next decade, with a switch to WWF in 2002, where she worked mostly on its international climate change program until 2007.
After a shorter stint as a private sector consultant to business, she moved her family to Hobart in 2009 to take up a job as international adviser to then Australian Greens leader and senator Bob Brown. The role included foreign policy assistance and capacity-building of Greens organisations in the Asia Pacific.
During that time she worked closely with Ben Oquist, then Brown’s chief of staff and now executive director of the Canberra-based Australia Institute thinktank, which opened its first state branch in Tasmania two years ago.
“Anna matches the times,” says Oquist, who has been watching his former colleague’s career with satisfaction. “Anna represents the shift in Hobart to a modern dynamic city. That’s Anna to a T.”
He says he has observed her career up close and from a distance over many years. “She comes to things with a great deal of energy, persistence and professionalism. That struck me right from the beginning when I saw her engage with Parliament House, bringing ideas that weren’t on the agenda.
“It’s no use simply wanting to change the world, a policy or practice. If you want to effect change, you need a long-term view. She had an activist heart but a pragmatic brain. And I think she is a very ethical person.
“I think people will find she has and will work well with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, so attempting to pigeon hole her will be at their detriment, not hers.”
When Brown left the Senate in 2012, Reynolds joined incoming Greens leader Christine Milne’s team before moving on to lead the Multicultural Council of Tasmania, where her early passion for social issues found a new outlet. During her time, the organisation increased engagement with newer arrival communities and helped raise its profile through both events and media. Back in the community space, the time felt right to have a tilt at council.
If you work in climate change for long enough it’s easy to despair and feel overwhelmed by its magnitude, she says, explaining her zigzag pathway into local politics. She had noticed, though, that when she read about various cities’ proactive responses to climate change, she felt inspired. “I began to think that cities were a really interesting place to do work because you could do very practical and tangible things.”
She was elected as an alderman for Hobart on her first attempt, in 2014.
Her mother Margaret, who was the local government minister federally for three of her 16 years in the Senate, says the local sphere of government is a vital and sometimes conduit for community-led change and growth.
“Local government today is much more than roads, rates and rubbish,” Margaret says. “Much as there’s a lot of work you can do in the federal arena in terms of policy reform, I still maintain local government is perhaps the most significant sphere, and if they both work together with state, you can get excellent outcomes for the community.”
What does she make of her daughter’s reputation as a nononsense operator with a steely resolve? “She has progressive views in many areas, but her prime focus is how to achieve workable agreements. Politics is the art of compromise and Anna knows that. She knows what she wants to achieve and she will keep talking and she may well be the last one talking. She has the capacity to try to work around problems or barriers people may put up.
“Many people who are not as into being in a leadership role will say let’s not go there [in discussing difficult issues], but she sees things through until she gets an outcome.
“Strong women are still not universally admired in Australian politics. Sadly they are still resented by some men and women. Any woman in a leadership position faces that reality.
“In terms of Anna as she was growing up, she has always been a strongminded independent person and frankly I wouldn’t want to have raised a daughter in any other way.”
Our new Lord Mayor, meanwhile, says she feels well-prepared for challenging days ahead.
“I’ve been around politics and hostile debates around issues for most of my career,” she says in her usual calm manner.
“It is really important to stay focused on the issues and understand that sometimes you need to crack some eggs to make an omelet.”
Anna Reynolds with family, Jarra, Jess and Mark Horstman.
Clockwise from top left: Anna Reynolds’s mother Margaret Reynolds, in 1987, as a Labor Party senator; Young Anna with her hand on the shoulder of her mother Margaret and alongside her father Henry and sister Rebecca; and checking out the Organ Pipes track on kunanyi/Mt Wellington in her role as an alderman with Hobart City Council last year.