As the council elections approach in Adelaide, many hopeful candidates are out knocking on doors, meeting local residents and feeding letterboxes with their policies.
One man who has been representing Adelaide for the past four years and running again this month is the youngest Lord Mayor in history, Stephen Yarwood.
A self confessed nerd, committed family man and genuine fan of Adelaide, the Right Honourable Lord Mayor caused a stir by winning the prestigious position in his thirties.
“I like to joke that I’m old enough to be the Lord Mayor now,” Yarwood said. “Having worked in State Government, Local Government and Parliament, as well as having qualifications in urban planning and an MBA, whilst I may have been the youngest Lord Mayor in history, I’m suitably qualified and experienced.”
A town planner by trade, Yarwood has studied the future of cities for more than 20 years and wanted a chance to improve his home town.
“From a guy who was just a ratbag with no political ambitions – I still don’t want to do state or federal politics – I still can’t believe I got away with it in the first place!” he laughed. “I’ve spent my entire life being a nerd about cities. All I really want to do is make a difference. I genuinely love Adelaide.”
And while he’s been a part of noticeable change in Adelaide like the Rundle Mall upgrade, Victoria Square revamp and the planting of 10,000 trees, he said he wants to invest in Adelaide’s youth.
“I really want young people to be engaged in terms of starting new businesses, and creating new technology businesses and jobs,” he said.
“I don’t want young people to leave Adelaide. I don’t want young people to be looking for a job. I want young people to graduate from their universities and create these new businesses because they are more digitally literate than the people they would be working for and that’s the problem we face in transitioning from an old economy to a new economy.”
But the 43 year old doesn’t take credit for all of the things that have happened under his leadership; he believes it takes a community to create a community.
“People achieve great things when motivated. It’s all about teamwork and that’s the most important thing. It’s actually acknowledging that the Lord Mayor doesn’t have power, but if used well, can influence the community to do good things,” he said.
And while this sounds ideal, Yarwood said the job isn’t easy and he faces many challenges balancing life as a Lord Mayor and family life.
“It’s a hard job. You do the morning shift, the day shift and the night shift. Your first phone call is radio at 6am and your last public appearance can be 10 o’clock at night and you have to back that up day in, day out,” he said.
“Having age on my side has meant that I have the stamina to provide the energy to motivate and inspire people. Also, I’ve been more accessible, whether it be social media, email or public speaking.”
Yarwood wants to make Adelaide more cosmopolitan and, during the past four years, we’ve seen that in an increase in outdoor dining, a city wifi network and a live music action plan.
But the Lord Mayor also wants to diffuse the war between bikes and cars in Adelaide’s CBD – an arduous task – by getting the community involved.
“This election isn’t about winning a campaign, it’s about engaging people in the future of the city; getting them to understand why a traffic-calmed, tree-lined, shared transport system is actually going to increase development in the city, get more people living in the city, make it more cosmopolitan,” he said.
“The car versus bike thing is so destructive for the liveability and the productivity and the economic development of our city. We need to move beyond that.”
Voting materials have now been sent out to residences around the state and Yarwood encourages people in South Australia to vote for local representation in the upcoming elections.
“I’d like to see more people vote and I’d like to see the average age of elected members reduced so that we get a good governance: younger people as well as more experienced people on council,” he said.
You can get more information about the South Australian council elections at the Local Government Association website.
Interviewed by Libby Parker