Coming up to the half-way point of her term as a Melbourne city councillor, Beverley Pinder-Mortimer is starting to get the hang of how the town hall operates. Perhaps the most unlikely politician of the city’s 11 councillors, the charming career public relations consultant is the first to admit she had little clue about what she was getting herself into.
“I am so much not a politician and I really knew very little of how local government works,” she said. But despite these challenges, Cr Pinder-Mortimer is thriving in the role and is loving every minute of it. The current team of councillors is a well-balanced group of disparate individuals with a broad range of capacities, interests and intellects. Cr Pinder-Mortimer says she contributes a “soft-centre” and a “warm heart” to this balance and, in return, is well supported by her colleagues.
“All of my colleagues are so good to me. I am learning so much about life and, in particular, people,” she said. Despite being elected to office in late 2012 on the “Team Doyle” juggernaut which stopped just one seat short of an absolute majority, Cr Pinder-Mortimer says there are really no factions within the council.
“We seem share a common vision on many issues, but when it comes to making decisions, everyone’s view is important and respected. We each have one vote and you’ll find that on many occasions this council will reach a unanimous decision,” she said. She said she had reached a point in her life when she wanted to start giving back to the community when the Lord Mayor, Cr Robert Doyle, first approached her to run for office. “I didn’t need much convincing. I was very honoured and said yes there and then,” she said.
“For me, this is very much about community. I am such a passionate Melburnian that the opportunity to serve as a councillor is priceless.” As the council’s marketing portfolio chair, Cr Pinder-Mortimer has been given the chance to indulge her passion for promotions, tourism, events and retail.
She said her other major interest within council was in helping the less fortunate members of the community. “I guess this matches with who I am – first and foremost a compassionate person who believes in humanity, humility and hard work with a focus on family and community,” she said. While she says council life is tough, she doesn’t consider it a sacrifice in any way.
“I am learning so much and getting so much back through the role, that I certainly don’t begrudge the extra 35 or 40 hours a week devoted to the job,” she said. Cr Pinder-Mortimer “fell into” the public relations industry after winning in 1978 the beauty pageant Miss Universe Australia.
She says she learned from the best and has been in business for herself for nearly 30 years. As the only girl and middle child of an immigrant family, she arrived in Australia from her native Sri Lanka as a highly-motivated teenager.
“I remember arriving on the tarmac at Essendon Airport and seeing that great big sky and all that space and saying to myself – ‘Yes, I’ve arrived’,” she said. Growing up in and around St Kilda (with a brief stint in the outer suburbs), Cr Pinder-Mortimer is still in love with Melbourne and St Kilda Rd.
She is realistic about how much a city councillor can actually achieve and likes to talk about “advocacy” rather than “change”.
She said it has been an eye-opening experience to see the way councillors and council staff work together to make things happen. “Getting the balance right in terms of my role and council officers is a challenge and I’m always learning,” she said. “There is no shortage of advice on our responsibilities, particularly statutory obligations and those relating to conflict of interest.” “I’m learning as I go but I really would prefer to just pitch in and get things done,” she said. “Politics is part of the landscape here but I’m a straight-shooter and am more interested in getting the job done.”
No doubt Cr Pinder-Mortimer will be more effective if she is returned for a second term. At this stage she says she has no aspirations in this regard but, looking at how much fun she is having, don’t be surprised to see this most unlikely of politicians lining up again in 2016.