THE Fremantle Society chooses a new president on December 7, and John Dowson is seeking to make a comeback in what’s shaping up as a sizzling campaign.
While Mr Dowson claims the current society leadership is freezing him out of a fair contest, his opponent says Mr Dowson represents a return to division and “community disconnect”.
Mr Dowson led the society for five years a decade ago and is a former deputy mayor, while Chris Lewis once headed WA’s largest PR firm and is a one-eyed Fremantle Dockers supporter who led the campaign to try to keep the team from relocating to Cockburn.
Mr Dowson claims Mr Lewis is closely aligned with former WA Labor premier Peter Dowding and a loose group of mates known as G4F who will bring a strong pro-development focus to the society.
But Mr Lewis, who’s president of Relationships Australia, scoffs at any claims he’s a patsy.
“I have no connection with any developers or investors in Fremantle,” the long-time South Terrace resident says.
“I am a friend of the community and give half my time gratis to various causes.”
He says he has, quietly and behind the scenes, played a pivotal role in establishing the Fremantle arm of the Committee for Perth known as Future Freo, a project linking seven local historic sites which is being taken up by the Freo council and chamber of commerce, a commemoration for the 100th anniversary of the return to Fremantle of ANZAC troops, and the Better Cities Conference, which he dreamed up with Mr Dowding and Curtin sustainability professor Peter Newman.
“The old guard led by John Dowson, which was divisive in the past, wants to re-take control at the AGM … and risk continuing the community disconnect,” Mr Lewis says.
Mr Dowson says his task has been made difficult because the current committee, which includes Mr Dowding’s wife Benita, is working against him.
He says he’s asked three time for a list of society members and their contact details, but has been ignored.
If true, that would be a breach of the associations incorporations act.
Society president Henty Farrar told the Herald Thursday morning he hadn’t seen any requests from Mr Dowson, and dismissed claims he’s being frozen out. “The term scuttlebutt springs to mind,” Mr Farrar told the Herald.
He acknowledged that of the two candidates, he’d only alerted Mr Lewis to an extra committee meeting where supporters could be signed up as members, but said he doubted it’d even get a quorum as its main focus was to “talk about how many sausage rolls we should put out”.
Ms Dowding says she’s only seen one request from Mr Dowson, that was Thursday morning and she’d immediately flicked it to Mr Farrar for action.
“I’m a volunteer and I’ve got a day job; I don’t check the emails all the time,” she told the Herald. She took on the job as membership secretary last year and says she trawled through a decade of membership lists urging people to rejoin.
“Nearly every one of those had a handwritten note saying ‘we’d love to see you back again’,” Ms Dowding told the Herald, adding it was a laborious task that had yielded great results.
She’s furious her effort is being thrown in her face as an attempt to “stack” the society to support Mr Lewis.
Ms Dowding said the controversy had made her consider resigning.
“This is why people don’t put their hand up,” she says.
“We are not policy makers, this is supposed to be fun.”
Mr Dowson says if elected, he’ll urge the society to tackle government-appointed development application panels, saying they have been foisting unsympathetic and unwanted developments across Perth because they’re not answerable to voters.
He also wants to examine a clause in the council’s planning rules which allow developers extra height if they maintain heritage, saying it is being misused.
by STEVE GRANT