By Sean Car
Having snuck into the final councillor position at last year’s local government elections, CFMEU member and new councillor Elizabeth Doidge said she was looking forward to helping shape and reactivate the city that she loves.
A proud “unionist at heart”, the 31-year-old was elected to the City of Melbourne council on Lord Mayoral candidate Jennifer Yang’s union-backed ticket, with the CFMEU alone providing more than $195,000 for the campaign.
Working in policy and stakeholder engagement with the CFMEU, Ms Doidge told CBD News that the union’s desire was just to have a place on council so it “could influence policy” and “play a part in the city that we built”.
And in what will come as music to the ears of many local residents, she said part of her ambition as a councillor and chair of the council’s sustainable building portfolio was to help improve dialogue between the council, the building industry and residents.
It was a relationship tested in the CBD during the height of the pandemic when out of hours construction permits were granted by the council last year and Ms Doidge said there was a lot her union could do to help residents.
“There’s never been a dialogue between the building industry and local residents, I suppose we’re at loggerheads and that’s something the CFMEU can do,” she said.
“It’s not just because we have a lot of resident members but there can be a lot of issues resolved through collaboration – you just need those channels and I would love to be a part of that.”
In addition to her roles with the CFMEU and now as a councillor, Ms Doidge is, remarkably, also currently completing a master’s degree in communications at RMIT University, where she has been previously studying politics, international relations and media during the past 14 years.
She said the city was a “huge part” of both her own and her family’s lives. Her grandfather once served as the manager of Flinders Street Station, while her grandmother was a regular shopper at Queen Victoria Market and visitor to St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Having lived and worked in Melbourne her entire life, she said it was that affinity with her city that led her to the union movement, and she was looking forward to using her role as a councillor to change perceptions about the CFMEU.
She said all CFMEU members, including its controversial secretary John Setka, were far more progressive than many gave them credit for, and had many overlapping ambitions with the council such as greening the city, sustainable development and community outreach.
“When John Setka and I were sitting down and talking about the relationships we have with council and things like that he said, ‘we need more trees, we need more green in the city … it’s getting ugly’,” she said.
“There’s a lot of perceptions that the unions and the employers in our industry are always fighting with each other which is not true at all. We have fantastic relationships with builders and bosses of constructions companies, and we all work together to make sure the construction industry is healthy and safe.”
“There are jobs for our members so it’s not in our interest to make building difficult it’s quite the opposite – we want it to continue as much as possible and we want jobs for our members. But we want to make sure they’re good jobs, they’re safe jobs and we want to see the products we’re building are quality.”
With the impacts of COVID-19 sure to play out across the city for many years to come, the current council term marks as one of the most critical periods in City of Melbourne’s history as it recovers from the pandemic.
In addition to the Environment and Creative Melbourne portfolios, Ms Doidge has taken on the role as deputy lead of the all-important City Activation portfolio, which is being led by fellow first-time Cr Roshena Campbell.
While she is still wrapping her head around local government processes, she said her councillor colleagues and others at the City of Melbourne had provided great support in helping her settle into the role.
It’s been wonderful,” she said. “Especially now that I’ve been there for a while and I’m really starting to understand the role that councils play in actually shaping the city and having a really positive impact on the future of our city.”
“I pay very close attention to everything everyone says! I’m never going to walk into that room and think I’m the smartest person there or think I’m the best politician or the best councillor but that’s why I love it. There’s a great group of people who have very diverse political views and political backgrounds and I think we can all come together and make a big difference.”