Clover Moore is the longest serving Lord Mayor of Sydney and was the first popularly elected woman to lead the City of Sydney.
Between March 1988 to September 2012, Clover also served as an independent member of the NSW Parliament and at times was concurrently Lord Mayor and Member for Sydney. This dual role lasted for eight years.
She is recognised for her concern for the environment and the vulnerable, and an uncompromising advocate for housing for those who need it.
BiziNet caught up with Clover to discuss her passion for creating a sustainable environment for all to enjoy in the Greater Sydney, and to seek a glimpse into what led to this ever-lasting passion of purpose.
Establishing Sydney for all of Australia
Clover's vision for a sustainable and green Sydney has been unwavering ever since she entered the public domain. Speaking to Clover there is a fundamental belief that the people of Sydney need to work and live in an environment that nourishes and fulfils. An environment that is natural and accessible. More than that, Sydney is recognised as an iconic part of the Australian landscape. It is for all Australians, so it needs to reflect that.
As Clover highlights, "Sydney really does belong to everyone, and we take that responsibility very seriously."
The influences that influenced Clover Moore
Clover's formative years were positively influenced by a strong mother and a strict education. Both influences contributed to a high level of personal discipline. It is this sense of order and focus that have driven Clover to achieve the goals that she set herself. It is no easy task to survive in the daily challenges that is New South Wales political life, but Clover's resilience to the demands of the career can surely be attributed to her orderly upbringing.
Her early political influences were the former independent members of the NSW Parliament, John Hatton and Ted Mack. They were both role models of political advocacy - each determined to call out the wrongs that they saw and sought to redress their negative impacts.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore at the opening of the City and South East Sydney light rail.
Photo: Jack Begbie / City of Sydney
The template of a political independent suited Clover. The ability to be uncompromisingly true to her vision and by ensuring that the vision reflected her community gave Clover the best chance to create change.
Clover's other major influence was her experience as a young mother living in London. The newly arrived family was living in a tiny apartment, with an active two-year-old wanting to explore more than their cramped living space. The local parks in the London area were luxurious, spacious, and stimulating. The parks were usually supervised and constantly upgraded. They contributed to a healthy environment for all families to explore and enjoy.
After five years in London the family returned to Sydney and were immediately struck by how poorly resourced the open spaces of inner Sydney were. With her second child, Clover was keen for the family to experience what they had in London. But the options were disappointingly sparse, rundown, and under-resourced in most parts of the metropolitan area. "The state of the parks seemed to reflect the intent of the local representatives to neglect the areas so much."
Lord Mayor Clover Moore at a press conference in October 2020.
Photo: Renee Nowytarger / City of Sydney
It was from that point that Clover was determined to make a difference.
The initial campaign of letter-writing didn't prompt a response, so she turned to gathering a petition from the locals, although she knew very few of them. Walking up and down the main streets of inner Sydney, pushing a pram with her baby and a toddler alongside her, Clover quickly gathered a petition of more than 500 signatures also wanting an improvement to the local community spaces. The petition was presented. And still no response.
A coordinated groundswell of community concern was nevertheless gathering. The group needed a leader, someone to strongly represent their concerns to the Council. All eyes turned to Clover as the natural spokesperson in the group. So it was decided that she was to nominate to represent the community on the local Council. No experience, no personal ambition, just a desire to make a change. Clover won a seat on the Council.
Her time on the council saw some considerable changes, including first amalgamation, and then six years later, dissolution. Clover was outraged at this latter event and decided to stand for State Parliament to oust those people who had determined that a community-elected voice should no longer be heard. Clover stood as an Independent. She knew no other way.
"People said, you'll never get elected as an independent," she recalls.
After spending six months door knocking the entire electorate, Clover won her seat in the NSW State Parliament.
During her time in Parliament, Clover still felt the needs of the community in the Sydney Local Government Area weren't being met and so gathered a strong team of candidates to stand for Council election. Clover's team won.
Now, she was both an MP in the State Parliament and Lord Mayor on the Sydney City Council. The dual roles remained for eight years until the State legislated against the one person holding both positions.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore at the opening of the Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre in Green Square.
Photo: Renee Nowytarger / City of Sydney
Being as one with the community is key
In her capacity as Lord Mayor, Clover was always driven to serve the needs of the community she represented. To this end, it was important for Clover that the community be consulted about their priorities and then a plan of action be developed.
The extensive community consultation returned a single overwhelming direction. That the concerns about the environment was their number one concern.
"I feel that my success has been because I have always considered myself a community-based grassroots progressive independent."
As a result of this consultation process, a plan was developed.
The long-term plan of Sustainable City 2030 came to being. She explains that "The Sustainable City 2030 plan is our blueprint for anything that our council does".
The residents and visitors to Sydney will have seen the substantial improvements already implemented as a result of this far-reaching plan.
"We have set about renewing all of our major parks as well as creating new ones. We have built beautiful community facilities, including the aquatic centre, education facilities, upgraded the library, the Town Hall and the town centre. And much more."
Importantly, the plan is being implemented without jeopardising the financial standing of the Council. "We were particularly aware that we had to have a strong financial basis to be able to do the work that needed to be done in the newly amalgamated city."
Proudly, Clover points to the fact that "We have had a surplus in our budget for the last 17 years."
The Council receives financial support from its strong rate-paying base, but also from its substantial investment portfolio.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore touring the SubStation No.164 development on Kent Street, Sydney.
Photo: Jack Begbie / City of Sydney
Building partnerships that create change
An important part of the plan was to reduce emissions by 70% by 2030. The Council is pleased to report that this has already been achieved - nine years early.
Much of this was achieved by creating strong partnerships with the major landowners within the Sydney Council.
"Many of these major companies had never worked together before, and now, having addressed the emissions issue by accepting joint responsibility, many of these are keen to see what else can be achieved by combining their efforts."
The Sydney Council is facilitating a similar partnership with the hospitality and entertainment industries.
Clover sees this as an important part of her role as Lord Mayor of Sydney - creating community conversations at all levels.
Business success is Sydney's success
Sydney Council works closely with all business sectors - the not-for-profit sectors, the night-time operators, the small business community, medium business, and corporate entities. The strategy here is to support and stimulate all commercial activity through forums, grants, visiting entrepreneurs and simply getting people together to work together to grow together.
The positive impact of the Sustainable City 2030 Plan is making Sydney an attractive place to live and work.
As Clover acknowledges, "I know that having a well-cared beautiful city is very important for business operations."
Lord Mayor Clover Moore presents Lady Gaga with an Honorary Citizenship of Sydney in July 2011.
Photo: Katherine Griffiths / City of Sydney
Communicating is a grassroots essential
Clover has identified that her campaigns have been successful because of her determination to keep close to all members of the community. For the Lord Mayor, it has always been a grassroots approach. An important method of making that connection has been the use of a regular newsletter distributed to a massive database of interested recipients.
"The newsletters were a way of telling my community what I was doing on their behalf," she says. "They were quite amateurish to start with, but the standard improved when I went to parliament. But tellingly, I was the only one doing it at the time. The strategy has since been copied by others."
An aspect of Clover's forward-looking policies is the need to ensure that the area is an enjoyably healthy place to live. An environment to be proud of. With improvements evident in the city, Sydney has now become a preferred place to live and work. This has contributed to attracting high performing staff to the Council who are tasked to ensure the plans are fulfilled and decisions are made with the highest level of commercial acumen.
The constant in all of this has been the continuity in leadership. This has been key ensuring that such a long-term plan as the Sustainable City 2030 plan is fully implemented. Clover's seven years on Council has provided that continuity.
The impact of COVID and steps for recovery
Before COVID-19, the City of Sydney economy generated around $140 billion annually - 7% of Australia's economy. The cumulative total decline of the city's economic output has been around $7 billion due to the pandemic.
In discussing the impact, The Lord Mayor says, "We also suffered more unemployment than other parts of the city and state, because our economy is strongly reliant on sectors that have been disproportionally impacted by COVID restrictions, including tourism, hospitality, events, arts, entertainment, leisure and higher education."
In late July 2021, the City of Sydney announced increased support for local businesses, the creative sector and vulnerable communities.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore distributes masks at the OzHarvest food market in January 2021.
Photo: Renee Nowytarger / City of Sydney
This included $5 million in grants and donations, and an additional $7.8 million in estimated revenue foregone each month to provide relief through fee waivers, rent reduction, quick response grants and food security.
The Lord Mayor said plans to revitalise the city will include more outdoor dining, live music, events and performances when the health crisis has passed.
"The pandemic has had a severe impact on our community and economy. We are providing support through the crisis and ensuring we're ready to help breathe life back into the city when lockdowns are lifted," she said.
Focus on development to promote public space and benefit
Clover has focused on development that prioritises public space and community benefits. One recent issue that has raised concern is the Sydney Fish Market renewal.
"In relocating it along the water, the Government wasn't simply delivering on a promise to revitalise Blackwattle Bay, it was creating the space for Barangaroo-style mega apartment towers right up to the harbourside," she says.
"Pyrmont is already a densely-populated area. Any new development should be sensitive, enhance its existing character and prioritise employment growth. And any development on our precious harbour foreshore should prioritise public space and benefit, not developer profit."
In response, she brought a Lord Mayoral Minute to Council outlining very serious concerns with the development and directing City staff to undertake a design review that identifies possible improvements to the proposal.
Providing ongoing consistency creates success
The Lord Mayor Clover Moore has shown no sign of weariness in her determination to fulfil the vision of healthy and thriving community. In fact, she has outlasted seven different Prime Ministers and seven Premiers - and counting.
Clover is proof that when the values are clear, the path is simple.
"It's been a very challenging life, but it's also been a very rewarding life.