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Councillor Profile - October 2014

02 Oct 2014

The experimental politician

By Shane Scanlan

Councillor Arron Wood has an amazing CV but it remains to be seen whether “politician” will be added to the list.

His current term as a City of Melbourne councillor is largely an experiment to determine whether or not he is suited to political life.

“I thought I’ll dip my toe in the water with a metro council which is supposedly at a more strategic level and see what it’s like.  And if it’s something I like maybe I’ll head down that path further, otherwise I’ll return to my normal life,” he said.

At the half-way point in the four-year term, the jury is out.  But he gives the impression that the experience is not pushing him further up the political food chain to Spring St or Canberra.

For starters, he has an obvious problem with honesty and straight talking.  He’s got way too much of it for his own good.

And he’s also in trouble because of pesky principles that become a burden when he is supposed to be playing for the “team”.

The laconic, but polished, Cr Wood was elected on the “Team Doyle” ticket and is often obliged to vote accordingly.

“I do find on most things if you put a good argument and argue on its merits then you can get some things across but there are those times when things fall on political lines. And that’s the stuff I struggle most with,” he said.

Cr Wood came into the Doyle camp before the 2012 election almost as a celebrity candidate.  As a youth, he came to national prominence for his successes in sustainable waterways programs.  He still runs the renowned “Kids Teaching Kids” program.

He had a meteoric rise to stardom winning numerous national awards and ended up hosting television and radio programs.

In 2001 he was Young Australian of the Year, in 2006 won the United Nations’ Individual Award for Outstanding Service to the Environment and in 2007 he won the Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year award.  He’s on numerous boards, works the professional speakers circuit and has a page on Wikipedia.

Growing up in the country and being courted at a young age by the National Party, Cr Wood finds himself in 2014 marooned in a political no-man’s-land because of his environmental focus and deep beliefs.

He bemoans the demonisation of environmental issues by today’s conservative parties and says he could clearly not work with them.

Even within the relatively moderately flavoured town hall politics Cr Wood struggles at times.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Robert (Doyle) as a meeting chairperson, as an advocate for the city and as a mentor for me in terms of how politics works.  He’s also quite a pragmatic Liberal,” Cr Wood said.

“But, at the end of the day, if you have to put me in a box politically, my politics is probably further to the left, it’s safe to say.”

“What I find most difficult is a loyalty to a person for whom I have a huge amount of respect for but in also finding my own voice in the council.”

Cr Wood doesn’t describe himself as a left-winger though – more of a business person with a love of nature.

“There are a lot of small ‘l’ Libs who have a business focus but love the natural environment,” he said.

“I’ve got a far more mainstream view of environmentalism. I think most of the best environmental decisions are also good business decisions and vice versa.”

“I think it’s a great shame that, for some reason, the environment is heavily politicised because, back in the day, national parks and having a clean beach, etc, all parties agreed on.”

Another major factor in whether or not Cr Wood’s political career starts and finishes at the City of Melbourne is his health.

At the peak of his “fame”, and perhaps because of it, he suffered a serious mental breakdown some years ago and still encounters anxiety and panic attacks.

He uses daily meditation rather than prescription drugs to keep on top of his condition but agrees it is not the best situation to take into an unforgiving political arena.

A recent unexpected loss in the council chamber made him question whether he was cut out for the role.

“What started out as a winning position in the morning was a losing position by the end of the day.  You live and learn!” he said.

“Probably everyone went home and forgot all about it.  I spent the whole night analysing where it went wrong and why people didn’t stand up and want to make a stand.”

“I know there are some very good operators who can divorce the emotional aspects for whom ‘politics is politics’ but for me, if I move a motion, I’ve got a lot of emotional investment in it.”

“That stuff is difficult not to take to heart.  Maybe I’ll learn that over time.  Maybe that’s not something I want to learn over time?”

“I understand that compromise is important – that’s what a democratic society is all about – but there are certain lines in the sand that I’ll draw where my values and what I believe in are going to cut through pretty strongly.”

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