Group focus - Les and The Doc – less red tape, raise Warragamba Dam wall, a less ‘woke’ Hawkesbury
Les Sheather is no stranger to Hawkesbury Council, he served on it for almost two decades, and he says the animosity he has seen among its members this last term needs to end.
Mr Sheather is heading a team of six independents and like the Liberals in this election each of his candidates has a moniker. With the Liberals it’s titles like The Leader, The Farmer, The…you get the picture – with Mr Sheather’s group there’s The Doc, Coldy, Hodg, Morgs and Shell.
So, let’s take a look at this first, because there has been talk in the community about Les and The Doc being a front for the Liberals, a way to get more like-minded people on the Council.
It’s not overly fanciful - as the Sydney Morning Herald reported four days ago there are Liberals standing as independents in a number of other local council elections – there is a pattern.
Mr Sheather’s number 2 – Dr Warwick Mackay, himself also an ex-Hawkesbury councillor - is a member of the Liberal Party. Mr Sheather previously stood for One Nation at a past Federal election, though he’s not currently a member of any other political party, apart from his own, and he says he resigned from the Liberal Party in the 1980s.
Les and The Doc are preferencing the Liberals.
Like the Hawkesbury Liberals, who have run what one Liberal insider told us was seen as a “presidential campaign”, in other words the two main candidates Conolly and Richards fronting the posters and most appearances, so too have Les and The Doc mostly fronted theirs.
Even the icons used on Les and The Doc’s Facebook posts follow a similar pattern to the Liberals – and the colours are the same too.
It’s all the more surprising because back 8 months ago Mr Sheather told the Post he didn’t have a Facebook page and didn’t even know how the social media site worked.
The Les and The Doc team: L-R: Morgan 'Morgs' Mackay, Dave 'Coldy' Coldrake, Dr Warwick Mackay, Gerard 'Hodg' Hodgskin, Les Sheather, Michelle 'Shell' Sheather
And on Facebook, Dr Mackay said, “We are not constantly attached to our keyboards and our iPhones like others seem to be. We don’t care about that rubbish,” but their Facebook posts have been extremely well written, presented and put together – in fact they have been among the best this campaign has seen. Where's that come from?
When Mr Sheather wanted to set up what turned out to be a short-lived Facebook page eight months ago pushing the raising of Warragamba Dam wall – yes he’s in favour of that - he turned to family friend, property mogul and leading local Liberal, Matthew Bennett, to build it for him.
So who has been doing all the social media work, taking the pictures and writing the words, given these two blokes Les and The Doc say they don’t have a natural affinity for social media?
“We’ve got other people who help with those things,” Mr Sheather told the Post when we put the questions a lot of people are asking.
“The pictures are taken with a telephone, it’s no big deal, we’ve got Coldy [Dave ‘Coldy’ Coaldrake – one of the groups’ candidates] who does this stuff regularly. Gerard [Gerard Hodgskin – another candidate] who gives us a hand but he’s a bit like me. Between us we’ve worked it out.
“We’ve sought advice from different people but they have only been friends who are supportive of what we do,” says Mr Sheather.
“As to being tied into the Liberals, Warwick has been a member of the Libs, he may still be, I was years ago, I’ve always been to the right, I’ve been for One Nation once, I’m not hiding that. But in saying that, I don’t care what’s being said, people know where I stand.
“In council my political views will not have a bearing on decisions I make.”
“That’s why I resigned from the Liberal Party in 1983 because we were being dictated to by people from outside of our city on how, and what’s in the best interests of our community, and our community know that, I work for people who elect me.”
Okay, we’ve got that out of the way – now let’s look at what Mr Sheather wants to achieve. We should say straight out, he is a bloke who clearly has the community at heart and he’s involved in many community groups. When others might be retiring, he’s still out there and engaged with the locals.
You will not find anyone who speaks ill of Les Sheather – even political foes tell you he is a true gentleman who politely but firmly speaks his mind. What you see if what you get.
“I wanted to stand the election before but the wife was a bit reluctant for me to do that,” he says. “We have put nearly half our life into council in the past and it’s a big ask. But she changed her mind when he saw how passionate I was about it.”
Les Sheather and Dr Warwick Mackay, hands on hips in South Windsor
He says council processes need to be streamlined and he cites too much red tape as a major issue. He also can’t see why it took 18 months to get a report on sullage and pump-out from Council staff and says that is indicative of unacceptable delays.
In one early Facebook campaign post, Les and The Doc said for four of the last five years, “Council has been governed by incompetence”, which suggests the last year it wasn’t, yet the last year has been one of the most divisive we’ve ever seen.
“They raised our rates by 30% but our roads still need repair, sporting fields are at capacity and our community facilities are worn out. You can't even get a shed approved by the planning department without major hassles and lots of expensive reports,” said Les and The Doc.
“During this time, the Council had its biggest staff ever, it spent millions on consultants and focussed on ‘woke’ issues.
“The councillors have spent hours debating unnecessary motions that are not part of the Council’s responsibilities, rather than fixing the potholes and playgrounds. It is a Council, not the ABC.
“During those four years, they turned the Council WOKE and that means it is now going BROKE!”
Fighting words indeed, and catchy too, but what does Mr Sheather believe he and his candidates can really bring to the Council?
Men at work: Sheather and Mackay on the road...
“How can they [Council] take up to 18 months to give approval for a house? There are thousands of homes built every day, there’s got to be an easier process to deal with those things,” says Mr Sheather.
“It’s not just housing, any development at all. People want to get on with their lives and they are being frustrated through red tape. If the councillors aren’t making an issue about it then I don’t expect the staff are going to change it,” he says.
And what would a Les Sheather-led group of councillors look like?
“If I get elected, I’m not naive to think I’m going to make this massive difference by myself. If I get elected I’ll be one of 12 there, and if Warwick is there we might be 2 of 12.
“Warwick and I, while we have got a lot in common, there may even be times when we will vote separately. That’s what independence is about and that’s one of the things that we want to bring back to local government.
“The people will choose who, and it’s up to those 12 people who work there to get common objectives and make it a better place.
“We’re very passionate about the Hawkesbury and the people who live in it.”
One thing he is very passionate about is looking at the committee structure which was radically changed after Labor and Liberals voted together to push it through. He doesn’t believe it was the right thing to do.
“That [getting rid of the original committee structure] was dumb, it’s crazy. You can’t understand what the community feels, or look at their values or way of life, if you are not communicating with them.
“And if you isolate it to just a small group of people then you get repetitious views which may not be the view of the general community. From Bilpin to St Albans and everything in between, values or opportunities do vary and it is up to the council to massage those and have a good community.
“They [councillors] do all want to make it a better place, but you can’t lead a football team if you don’t have everyone playing together. Council is no different.
“That would be my main objective, to bring cohesion, because unless that happens the other stuff falls away.”
Mr Sheather says he sat through a few council meetings in this current term and he didn’t like what he saw.
“I sat there a couple of times and I was embarrassed. As a prior councillor I have pride in the people who have been before us. And the custodians, the elected councillors today, have got a responsibility.”
He says he has spoken to both sides in the Council and reckons they need to take stock.
“They both see evil but do no evil. I’m saying have a look in the mirror. You can’t chuck a rock and say it fell out of the sky. The people deserve better. I know all of them in there and I know their direction of view is not hostile and they are community minded, but for some damned reason they will not work together.
“And they blame the politics. Politics is out there somewhere but you’ve got a personal attitude to how you deal with things and that is your responsibility. I would seek strongly to encourage the better side.”
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