Flinders University now has its own hub of local government – staff members Luke Hutchinson and Robert Simms, who happen to share an office, are both serving on councils.
Mr Hutchinson was recently re-elected to the City of Marion Council, where he is also Deputy Mayor, while Mr Simms was elected for the first time to the Adelaide City Council. Both work as professional staff at Flinders in the area of student policy and projects.
Mr Hutchinson was originally prompted to run for council by a lukewarm response from a sitting councillor to ongoing community concern over a local issue.
Mr Hutchinson said he was both independent and a ‘cleanskin’ when he was elected: “I’ve never been a member of a political party and never been involved in student politics over the years I’ve been studying or working in universities.”
Mr Hutchinson considers himself part of a new wave of working professionals who are entering a realm previously dominated by retirees.
Mr Hutchinson said accountability and tangible value-for-money are foremost in his approach.
“In large bureaucracies there is waste, and that is something communities take exception to.”
Mr Hutchinson said many residents resent their rates disappearing into promotional or “feel-good” projects, especially at a time when rate rises have been outstripping inflation.
“People want to see the impact when they walk out their front door,” he said.
“My goal in this term is to see resources move from areas that merely create red tape and put them to best use in the public realm, such as streetscapes.”
Returned for a second term in the recent elections with an increased majority, Mr Hutchinson says that he intends to stay on as long as the people he represents think he’s doing a good job.
Robert Simms, now the youngest councillor on the Adelaide City Council, has a different background: a former student politician and activist, he says his experience as a student president has proved useful in his new role.
“It was a really valuable training ground. I learned a lot about politics – community campaigning, advocating for your constituents and of course, working with people of differing values and perspectives to deliver results,” Mr Simms said.
He ran for council with the conviction that he could “make a difference”.
“I was attracted to the fact that local government most directly impacts on people’s lives, and a lot of the issues I’m passionate about, like action on climate change or disability access in the City, are things that you can only advocate on a local level,” Mr Simms said.
A strong believer in achieving consensus, he has already achieved unanimous Council support for a motion to develop a policy for “green” walls and roofs in the City.
“I’m really enjoying working with the new Council: I think it’s a good mix of new ideas and experience, and we’re working really well together as a team,” he said.
“For me it’s a bit more than just rates, roads and rubbish: it’s also about setting out a vision for our capital city and a direction in terms of the way we want to be heading.”