Vote 1 Tom Wegener!
If you follow the conversations on Swellnet, you’d be aware that we believe there should be more surfers in politics, at all levels, and across all jurisdictions. Increasingly, the coast is a contested space as surfers who once held sway now compete with the needs of fishoes, boaters, surf clubs, and worst of all *shudder* developers.
It’s a great idea in theory, it really is, but the reality was driven home to me the other night when I had to attend a local council meeting and saw what it is those people we elect to local government actually do. It was late on a weeknight and motions were being passed, hands raised, again and again, and for all manner of things: driveways widened, new street lights, a roundabout installed. I don’t want to call them trivial, but they were to me, yet each councillor gave them complete attention.
I like to think I’m a big picture guy, which is another way of saying ‘marvellous at pointing out mistakes, not so hot at coming up with solutions. But in politics, the latter is important, vitally so.
All this is a way of introducing the news that Tom Wegener, AKA the sunniest bloke on the coast, is making a tilt at local politics.
Swellnet: When did you decide to run for Noosa Council?
Tom: Well, it came to my attention on Boxing Day. I had some people that had worked in council come to me and they said, "You know what, Tom? Noosa Council's in danger. There's a very, very strong lobby of developers that are putting these candidates forward, throwing a pile of money at them. And if they get in, if they can buy their way in, Noosa will change forever."
They then said they’re looking for the best person to run against them. The implication being that was me.
And your reaction?
Well, I was just honoured that they came to me, I couldn't believe it. And so I said, "All right, I'll have a look at it." I told my wife and I expected the worst then she said, "No, that's a great idea. Let's do it."
So that was it, and then soon I created a bit of support and a fantastic group of people that I've met so far that have formed around me. We have the common goal of maintaining Noosa's legacy of being a very environmentally friendly place to come, maintaining small business and just not letting it become a Coolangatta or a Gold Coast.
Are you prepared for public life? As a shaper you received many accolades, but as a councillor you’re sure to get some arrows.
Oh, I've had plenty of arrows shot at me. When I was the executive director of the Surfboard Industry Association, a lot of shapers had it in their mind that I was there to shut them down. The opposite was true, I was there to help them comply with the regulations to make sure that they didn't get shut down.
So yeah, that was a time in my life where I received numerous death threats for actually backing the backyard surfboard shaper like I have my entire life.
Surfing has its own politics. Now, can you give me a crash course in local politics. Can we lump Noosa in with Queensland politics, or is it something a little bit different?
Well, it is different because Noosa is still basically a small town. And that’s because of things that a small group of environmentalists fought for, such as stopping a road going right around to Sunshine Beach, or opening the entire north shore to sand mining. Those things that they fought for made Noosa the tourist destination that it is right now.
Noosa had $1.2 billion in tourism revenue last year.
I understand that tourism is a bit of a bit of a touchy issue up there.
Well, it is a bit of an issue, but I'm happy to point out that it’s only an issue for two months of the year.
I'm sure that people get very uppity about the fact that it's very, very busy over the Christmas season. But on the other hand we have paradise for the other ten months of the year.
So yeah, some people say it's being loved to death, but then I actually think, say, not having enough car parks sometimes is actually okay.
That's got to be a tough one to argue though, Tom.
Well, it is a tough one to argue, but if we made a million car parks down there we’d change what it is people come to Noosa to see in the first place.
And the argument goes that, if you put more car parks in, they’d fill very quickly creating the desire to build yet more car parks.
What are some of the platforms that you're taking to the council elections?
Well, one of them is the AirBnB issue - which is very, very controversial.
We've watched other places like Byron Bay be negatively affected by the AirBnB's. When I say negatively affected, I mean the community has been compromised. Other people might say, “Well that's great because the real estate values are the highest in Byron Bay,” and that they look to AirBnB as a reason for that success. That's the measure of success.
Where I as a councillor would measure success by happy residents.
Also, if we have this new technology called AirBnB then it needs to be regulated or else it just takes the zonings that have been implemented and just throws them out the window.
That's a real big one up here.
It sounds like it might be another tricky debate, are you prepared for that?
Well, I worked as an environmental lawyer in California, and as a Ph.D. student I looked at small manufacturing, and I understand there are some winners and some losers on each side, but mostly you have to communicate the principles you used to come to the conclusion.
I've been putting on these forums up here where we talk about principles going all the way back to the nature of democracy coming through Athens. I have my favourite topics: Socrates, the American Revolution, talking about how democracy works. I like to explain how Noosa democracy has worked really well because we have created a paradise for ourselves that is working economically and on a cultural basis really, really well.
We've created all this, it’s become the envy of many, many places. I mean my gosh, there's no unemployment here and so why change that? Democracy has served us really well, so in democracy there are debates but the best debate is when you follow principles and not emotions.
It has to be, especially when the other side has a few people throwing big money at their candidates.
Noosa needs someone who can be trusted to stand up against the forces that would be very, very happy to throw out the height restrictions on buildings, or giving the okay to massive developments.
Okay, let's just zoom out for a moment then Tom, because Australia is going through a population boom. We have a growing domestic population, plus successive governments have increased immigration and those people have to live somewhere. How do you resolve what you're doing there at Noosa and what's going on with the broader Australian government?
Noosa's one of the only councils in Australia that is actually saying, "Hold on, we'll just limit the amount of people coming in here." Most councils do not, we are so different from every other council and we just feel as though Noosa is so darn special that it should be preserved as.
As you know I originally come from Southern California and Santa Barbara to the Mexican border was a paradise. You had salmon swimming up the Los Angeles River, which is now nothing more than a storm drain. All of those beautiful wetlands through San Diego are just lifeless, polluted marshes that could have been treated so very differently. I'm looking at that and say Noosa does not need to be just like the rest of them.
Noosa is the way it is because of the foresight and the planning of the environmentalists through the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, but we need to continue the fight to maintain Noosa's individuality.
Interesting you mention Southern California as I recall an interview with Bob Cooper who recently passed away and he mentioned that he doesn't take Australia for granted because he's seen what's happened in California.
That's exactly right and I'm the same. People took California for granted and I saw how it was sold off too quickly. I’ve seen how things can go very wrong very, very quickly.
Okay Tom, when are the elections?
You've got a busy two weeks coming up.
Well, for a politician about 20% of the people are aware of what's going on, but 80% of them are busy raising kids, working all that. So my real, real journey is to get through to those people and say, “Noosa's in good hands with me.”
If you like the way Noosa has developed until now, I'm your guy. If you would rather see rapid development and maybe a short term economic boom, well then there's the other candidates there.