FREMANTLE’S mayoral debate at Notre Dame University on Tuesday neatly captured the flavour of this year’s campaign.
The 130-strong crowd was feisty and clearly welded to their candidate, mirroring how the city is still polarised over issues such as Australia Day and speed humps. Incumbent Brad Pettitt stuck to his line that golden times were on the horizon, while challenger Ra Stewart nipped at his heels over the gaps she says have left Fremantle languishing behind its bustling cousins Leederville, Mt Hawthorn and East Vic Park.
“I’ve spent pretty close to half my life living, working, playing and volunteering in my home town, and during that time I’ve seen buskers replaced by beggars, our streets are dirty and unkempt, our verge collections are sporadic – there was not one in the last financial year – and our tree canopy has dropped to the state’s second lowest with only 10.98 per cent,” Ms Stewart said in her opening address.
But Dr Pettitt countered that the tough planning decisions made during his first two terms had laid the foundations for a renaissance as a compact, sustainable and liveable city with a creative and entrepreneurial population.
“You’ve got the sense of a city that’s on its way back,” he said, citing 1799 new apartments being built in Heirloom, Liv, WGV and the Knutsford precinct, and 700 new hotel rooms.
Dr Pettitt says an application for the 10-storey Woolstores shopping centre redevelopment is before the council’s design advisory committee, and in response to Ms Stewart’s criticism he’d not facilitated student or aged housing, claimed major applications for both had recently been lodged.
There were a few terse exchanges between the pair over “facts”, particularly Ms Stewart’s claim Fremantle Hockey Club is defecting to Cockburn in 2018.
“I think we need another fact check here,” Dr Pettitt said, pulling out an email from council staff saying only club members who play on astro turf at Curtin University are relocating.
“If you actually go to the Fremantle Hockey Club website; and I haven’t spoken to your officers at the city, obviously, Brad, but I’ve spoke to the clubs and they’re leaving,” Ms Stewart parried. “They’re currently in negotiation to try and keep their juniors at Stevens Reserve, but they’re going.”
Club president Rob McPherson confirms Dr Pettitt’s correct on this, and “for the foreseeable future” the club’s presence at the Stevens Street reserve won’t change as it can’t get access to enough grass fields in Cockburn.
Ms Stewart said Freo needed to attract more people to boost business; the speed hump “bypass” along South Terrace and disappearing parking spots gave the wrong impression.
Dr Pettitt said with state-leading initiatives such as flats without grannies, the council was leading the way in providing the housing diversity that will give people the opportunity to live in Fremantle from the cradle to the grave.
by STEVE GRANT