Lankan woman elected Mayor in Australian city

A Sri Lankan born woman whose family fled riots for a better life has been elected the first Greens mayor in Moreland, an Australian city.

South Ward councillor Samantha Ratnam won the mayoral vote 6-5 over Labor candidate Cr Lita Gillies, bringing an end to the ALP’s stranglehold on the mayorship, the Herald Sun reported.

Cr Ratnam had been unsuccessful in the previous two mayoral votes, but secured the vote of independent councillor Helen Davidson, who had backed Labor candidates in previous mayoral votes.

“I was more confident this year than the past two years, when I was pretty sure I did not have the numbers, but until the hands went up I was not sure it was going to happen,” Cr Ratnam said.

“The night was quite surreal and it’s just still sinking in.”

The ascension to mayor has capped an incredible personal journey for Cr Ratnam, who arrived in Australia with her family in 1989 having fled war-torn Sri Lanka and spent time in Europe and Canada.

Aged 6 at the time, Cr Ratnam said she remembered the 1983 riots in Colombo that gave rise to the country’s 30-year internal war, including her family being split as they took refuge when Sinhalese Sri Lankans burnt Tamil Sri Lankans’ homes.

“I remember seeing the streets burning and for the first time seeing adults crying,” she said.

“It was an experience that changes you in many ways, but going through it together with family helped the healing.”

Her family left Sri Lanka in 1987 and Cr Ratnam said it wasn’t until she moved to Brunswick seven years ago that she felt at home.

She said her experiences fuelled her interest in social work and motivated her to take the program manager position at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Looking forward, Cr Ratnam said planning issues would be high on her agenda.

She said she would advocate that Planning Minister Richard Wynne approve the Brunswick Structure Plan, Environmentally Efficient Design policy and Apartment Design Code with minimal or no changes.

“We need these rules set so people have certainty and clarity,” she said.

She said other major projects in the next 12 months would include the design of the Oak Park pool redevelopment, construction of Pascoe Vale Community Centre and transport infrastructure, including improvements to Upfield Shared Path.

The major challenge facing Moreland Council, and all local governments, would be rates capping, Cr Ratnam said.

The State Government has introduced a Bill to stop councils increasing rates by more than the Melbourne consumer price index.

“It is really going to be a significant challenge,” Cr Ratnam said. “It is going to put a level of restriction on what services we can provide the community.”

Cr Ratnam said being head of what had at times been a divided council could be challenging but she was confident councillors would work together.

“It should be an interesting year and there has certainly been a change in dynamic of the council,” she said.

“But I have faith that everyone will put their best foot forward and make the last year of this council a successful one.” (Colombo Gazette)

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