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‘You can stand on the sidelines complaining, or you can step up and try make a difference,’ says new Bayside political party

Emboldened by its success at the last council election, safety and sustainability action group Peaceful Bayside is set to become an official local political party.

A local action group is on its way to becoming an official political party in the Bayside area, hoping to be a more formidable force in next year's local government elections.

The grassroots action group, Peaceful Bayside, is currently in the process of getting registered with the NSW electoral commission, which is expected to officially recognise the group as a party later this year.

The group was founded by local mother of two and film director, Cr Heidi Lee Douglas, after she was inspired by the 3000 people that signed her petition for safer streets in 2020, following countless incidents of reckless driving in the area.

A year later, Cr Douglas was elected to Bayside Council as an independent councillor on the Peaceful Bayside platform, promoting “fresh, visionary leadership” and advocating for inclusive family neighbourhoods, sustainability and better management of green spaces, as well as safer streets.

Heidi Lee Douglas and voters at the 2021 local government election. Photo: Supplied

“[We decided to formally set up the party because] it makes it easier for people to vote for us, because they can just vote one above the line,” Cr Douglas told the Bayside Beacon.

Passionate about gender equality, Heidi hopes the party can shake up local council politics for the better.

“As a Mum with kids in the local school, for me things that are really important include safe routes to school because that enables them to travel independently, and me to go back to work,” she said.

“If you have a council that is dominated by older men who don’t have these caring responsibilities, they’re not necessarily representing a large portion of the community.”

To become a registered political party in local government, you must show you have at least 100 members, all of whom must be registered to vote. The group has so far collected 130 signatures and welcomes more locals to get involved.

“Any new political party is always good for the area because it creates healthier competition between existing politicians and new politicians,” said local and admin of a Brighton-Le-Sands community Facebook group, Sanjay Colaço.

“It adds quality, people try to get more things done…it gets the old timers to think of new ways of improving the area, otherwise it (their position) can be taken for granted,” said Colaço, who keeps a close eye on local politics.

Cr Douglas and volunteers campaigning at the last election. Photo: Supplied

Uninterested in following a party line, Douglas said running as an independent last election and now a minor party was an obvious choice.

“I don’t have aspirations to run for state or federal government. I think a lot of people who are in local council who are part of the Labor or Liberal Party are there to get ready to run for the next level of government. I’m not interested in that,” she said.

“I think that’s really important. That we have less people on there who are there for their own ambition and more people there for their community.”

A call to action

“We had hooning in the Bayside that had been keeping me awake for nights over summer,” Cr Douglas said, as she unravelled how Peaceful Bayside began in late 2020.

“I almost got hit twice by dangerous driving…I really, honestly saw my kids be orphaned, it made me really upset.”

Desperate to see change, Heidi made a petition for council to act which gained traction among other locals. Within days she found herself at the centre of a local lobby group of impassioned residents.

The group went on to provide council suggestions on ways to crack down on dangerous driving, which all passed unanimously. Yet after the dust settled, little seemed to have changed.

“After council unanimously passed our suggestions, you know, we didn’t see a lot of change happening very quickly,” she said.

“We were also hearing a lot from councillors that they thought they’d done enough and that these things could never be fixed.”

Locals suggested Douglas run for council to bring about change from the inside. “Quite a few people in our local community started asking me if I would run for council…at first, I didn’t take it seriously,” she said.

Cr Douglas and supporters during the 2021 election. Photo: Supplied

With two children and a demanding career, Douglas admits that she initially didn’t decide to run, but when headlines broke in February 2021 of the alleged rape of a federal political staffer, she reconsidered.

“When the whole Brittany Higgins saga happened…like others, I was horrified by what I was finding out about Australian politics and the misogyny and abuse that I thought, look, I’ve got this opportunity to step up. As a woman, I pretty much owe it to myself and my community to do that,” said Cr Douglas.

“[As an independent], I can make decisions based on merit…I can ask the hard questions…I don’t have anyone else in the party telling me officially or unofficially how to vote.”

“I can stand up and say what I want for the community.”

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