Yvonne Weldon has always been surrounded by strong leaders, and many in her community consider her to be one, too. But she’d never seriously thought about running for political office until quite recently.
“I swore black and blue I’d never do it. It’s not for the faint hearted and certainly doesn’t come with ease, it’s often very challenging,” Yvonne tells Women’s Agenda.
But now, the proud Wiradjuri woman has entered the race for Lord Mayor of Sydney as an independent candidate and says she was prompted to do it because she believes she can bring a fresh approach to local politics and engage with the community in a more meaningful way.
She replaced Kerryn Phelps in the mayoral race, after the former Member for Wentworth bowed out earlier this year, and will take on incumbent Clover Moore – the longest serving Lord Mayor of Sydney, currently in her fourth term.
Weldon is the first Aboriginal person to run as a candidate to run for Lord Mayor of Sydney, and she says her work in the community makes her a true, grassroots candidate.
“I’ve listened and I’ve watched the council meetings and I was very disappointed to see the views of the people were not truly being represented or being voted on in a representative way,” she said.
Weldon has over 30 years’ experience working in government and Aboriginal organisations, and is the elected Chair of the Metropolitical Local Aboriginal Land Council, Deputy Chair of the NSW Australia Day Council, and is on the board of Domestic Violence NSW, and Redfern Jarjum College.
She says the diversity of roles she’s held, in both formal and informal capacities, have prepared her to enter the realm of politics.
“Being involved in non-profit and community-controlled organisations for my entire working life, I have a very strong take on what I need to be on council,” she said. “If I was to become Lord Mayor I have lots of experience in managing committees and dealing with contentious issues in large and small forums.”
Weldon is running on a policy platform that includes a focus on community engagement and inclusiveness, improving housing affordability and social housing in the local government area, prioritising a green economy, and support for small businesses, local entrepreneurs, and creatives.
She says she’s concerned that local residents are being pushed out of the city because it’s no longer affordable.
“We’re all part of the fabric of our society, and we need to be inclusive of all parts, making sure there are opportunities,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re going to have an elitism and it will change what this city means to all of us. We need to make sure that is accessible to all of us.”
For Weldon, being a grassroots candidate means prioritising inclusion, something that can’t be done without accountability and integrity.
“The way that I’ve watched the council, especially in council meetings, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent approach around that. It’s about how you’re treating those who pay their rates and have lived here for decades,” she said.
“For myself, and my team, we’re not career politicians. We’re bringing fresh eyes and a true voice to the people we’ve engaged with in a meaningful way.”