“If anyone thinks anyone's going to tell me what to do if I'm Lord Mayor, then they've got another thing coming,” a fiery contender in the Adelaide City Council Lord Mayoral race tells CityMag.
The obstinate will of Jane Lomax-Smith
Jane Lomax-Smith cuts a formidable presence.
A steely gaze looks through her sharp brown bob, sitting on top of her six-foot-tall lean build.
The veteran politician – a former Labor minister, lord mayor and local government councillor – uses her physicality to reinforce her arguments.
At Queen of Tarts on Hutt Street, the 30-year resident of the postcode 5000 grabs the sides of the table with her hands when speaking about her local passions: protecting heritage and the Adelaide Park Lands. Her gesticulations drive her points home.
Jane’s speech, with a formal British accent signifying her London-born-and-raised upbringing, features carefully selected words. There are no ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ in her transcript. Hers is a vernacular sharpened by decades of stump speeches and fronting the media.
This isn’t Jane’s first rodeo.
“If anyone thinks anyone’s going to tell me what to do if I’m Lord Mayor, then they got another thing coming,” Jane says about her renewed political career as an aspirant Adelaide Lord Mayor.
“The reason I’m standing for election is that I’ve been disappointed by the way the city has been managed.”
Jane is one of five candidates vying for Adelaide Lord Mayor in the upcoming general council elections. She’s up against incumbent Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor, former senator Rex Patrick, accountant Vivek Gupta and businessman Steven Kelly.
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Jane spoke to the media last month when she announced her campaign, telling various news outlets the Adelaide City Council and its purported toxic culture were in dire need of a “radical reset” and the elected body must stop being the “butt of jokes”.
She has not outlined her policy platform – until now.
Effective leadership sits at the top.
If elected as Lord Mayor, she would try and save the heritage-listed Thebarton police barracks from being bulldozed to make way for the new $3 billion Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
To her, heritage and health should not be seen as at odds. “In a civil society, one should have both,” she says.
The council should make itself available for discussion with the state government, but because the elected body has made itself “irrelevant”, she says, they are not part of the discussion.
“The debate about the WCH doesn’t appear to have included council’s views about the Park Lands or heritage,” she says.
“If I were the Lord Mayor, I would want to be sure that was not the case.”
Just seen this petition. Please share https://t.co/Lj7uKXPLzD
— Jane Lomax-Smith (@DrJaneLS) October 4, 2022
One challenge regarding the hospital, however, is that the people Jane is running against don’t carry her same political baggage. Jane’s applicant profile lists her political affiliations: “I am a member of the Australian Labor Party (South Australian Branch),” it states.
The former Rann Government cabinet minister held various portfolios, such as Minister for Education and Minister for Tourism.
When asked how she would balance the needs of the city against the needs of the party she is a member of – the same party that wants to raze the barracks – she digs into her ministerial past.
A famous example of the former eight-year Member for Adelaide’s commitment to green space was when, in 2012, she “broke Cabinet solidarity” to abstain from supporting a major infrastructure project in the Adelaide Park Lands, she says.
Jane recalls this as a moment where she argued “for our city”. InDaily’s political columnist Matthew Abraham remembers it differently, describing it as a way to “quarantine” Jane from “any voter fall-out,” he writes.
“Labor Cabinet supported building a 200-metre-long corporate grandstand in Victoria Park,” Jane says.
“I was obviously opposed to that and I refused to support it and I was given the right to step outside Cabinet and not support it because it was, I thought, morally wrong.”
Given the opportunity to lead the council, Jane would work to expedite major work. She refers to large projects, such as the $4 million Moonta Street upgrade, as indicative of “council failing” their basic duties.
“Good governance”, such as strictly adhering to audits, progress reports and KPIs, is the solution, Jane says.
“At the moment, there’s an impression there’s no accountability; things go wrong, you have to undo and redo them, and nobody’s responsible,” she says.
But council staff and inner-machinations (such as the Audit Committee) are not to “blame”. Instead, the responsibility must lie with elected members for not adequately adhering to deadlines.
“It’s standard governance. This is not rocket science,” Jane says.
Next on her list would be fixing issues presented by COVID-19. Namely, the high vacancy rates for retail and office-dwellings. CityMag has already reported hybrid working (such as working-from-home arrangements) are “here to stay”, and fewer boots-on-the-ground could throw up issues for the city’s economy.
She believes the first part of solving this unique crisis is admitting it exists.
“Let’s be honest,” Jane says, “we’re never going to return back to 100 per cent office occupancy.
“Clearly, if there are 10 or 20 per cent less office workers in the city so there’s going to be a reduced demand for retail.”
She says attracting low-to-middle income South Australians to live in the postcode 5000 would have beneficial economic effects on the city.
“Working people, people who are engaged in essential services, people who work in retail, people who work in cafés, or restaurants, they tend to spend a bigger proportion of the income locally,” Jane says.
“They’re the sorts of people that I would like to see more of in the city.
“If you can put a man on the moon, you have to be able to put a flat in Rundle Mall.”
She would also explore other ambitious housing initiatives, such as growing council-owned affordable housing stock, rather than scaling them back or prioritising “luxury apartments” (read: Eight-Eight O’Connell).
The final campaign commitment is to fill the city’s “skills shortage”, particularly around hospitality. Jane says there are “plenty of restaurants in town” that can’t fill rosters or open every day of the week.
When asked what data she is referring to, in particular around the culinary crisis, Jane asks if we opened The Advertiser this week. “It’s from the paper almost every day,” she says.
(The Advertiser story we believe Jane is referring to includes anecdotal information from local venue owners outlining significant rostering issues. A more recent ABC story reports the largest job vacancies nationally are for registered nurses, software engineers and care workers.)
Working with struggling businesses and education providers to see how they can meet in the middle is one fix.
“We need to look at ways for TAFE to feed into apprenticeships, school-based apprenticeships and new apprenticeships,” Jane says.
“We have to look at ways of training people for these vacancies because there are people who are unemployed.”
Australia’s unemployment rate for August was 3.5 per cent – the lowest since 1974. South Australia is sitting at 4.5 per cent joblessness.
Having got to the bottom of Jane’s policy platform and our coffee, we conclude the 35-minute interview and turn off the tape recorder. Now off the official record, for the first time during our appointment, Jane’s polished political exterior cracks.
She whips out her iPhone and shows us a photo of her “hero”, who she met today, Costa Georgiadis. Jane lets slip she isn’t good at taking selfies, despite her social media campaign being dotted with these kinds of personal videos.
The mother-of-two, with a penchant for gardening in her RM William boots, also has a love for all insects – demonstrated by the silver cockroach brooch, pinned to her red cardigan which was knitted by a friend.
Though Jane is well-practiced in politics, and her stubborn will keeps her firmly rooted to her values – like the trees she hopes to keep planted in the Park Lands – she is able to switch out of politicking mode and be human. Maybe that’s the point of her janky personal videos: proving there’s also someone real behind her professional exterior.
Voting packs for the Adelaide City Council election will be mailed out between October 14 and October 20.
Voting will close on November 10 and the count will begin on Saturday, November 12.