Get to know the MidCoast election candidates

Pre-poll voting is underway in Taree at the Uniting Church hall.
Pre-poll voting is underway in Taree at the Uniting Church hall.

How well do you know the people standing for the MidCoast Council local government election coming up on Saturday, December 4?

With 80 candidates contesting the election, we have asked the lead candidate for each group, plus the one ungrouped candidate, to provide us with an introduction so you, our readers, can learn more about them, to help inform your vote.

The introductions are listed in the order they appear on the ballot.

Peter Epov (Choose Wisely - Mid Coast), and Troy Fowler (Liberals) did not respond to our invitation.

Last week a Meet the Candidates night was held at the Manning Entertainment Centre, hosted by 2BOB FM Radio. Candidates from Troy Fowlers' Liberal Party and Luke Cubis's group were apologies, along with the ungrouped candidate Mick Bergin.

Group A - Alan Tickle

The Team is Alan Tickle (lead candidate) Jason Ryan, Donna Ballard, Rodney Percival, Trent Chapman, Carley Burke.

Alan Tickle has had a career in financial planning and banking spanning 45 years. He has tertiary qualifications in financial planning, and has completed the Executive Certificate in Local Government.

Past local government experience includes three terms with the former Greater Taree City Council, deputy mayor, and board member of Mid Coast Water.

Alan didn't contest the last election, instead continuing his commitment to the local Health Action Group which he founded in 2016. He is very still active on that committee. This group has more than 1000 members and has taken the lead in the community push for better resourcing for the local hospital.

Alan also maintained a strong connection with the community when he headed GTCC Sport and Recreation Committee, local Cricket Association and his support of the arts and local Uniting Church.

Jason Ryan (Tinonee) and Donna Ballard (Wingham) both have degrees in business or economics. Donna is a well-known local identity due to her role in organising the local Akoostik festival and CEO of the Taree University Campus while Jason is a consultant.

Trent Chapman is a self-employed businessman operating the Local Pest Experts, while Carley Burke is the franchisee of Laing and Simmons Real Estate Taree.

According to Group A, being effective on council requires meaningful dialogue with the community and teamwork amongst council colleagues to achieve fair outcomes for the whole local government area.

While the road and bridge length of MidCoast Council is massive which brings with it financial challenges, there needs to be a balance with support of economic development and tourism which includes the arts, sport, as those elements drive an economy and increases long- term sustainability.

Group B, Jeremy Miller team. Photo supplied

Group B, Jeremy Miller team. Photo supplied

Group B - Jeremy Miller

I am running for council because I believe it's time for fresh voices and fresh ideas for the long-term success of our region and our community.

As the lead candidate of Group B, I am proud of Team Jeremy. Every one of our candidates has the energy, experience and proven commitment to our community that we need in our councillors. We are MidCoast locals, small business owners, passionate about our community and we love where we live! Most of us are raising families here and we have all lived here for 20 years or more. We have lived the history of our area and we can see the brilliant opportunities for the future.

We believe in a different way of doing local government - a way of mutual respect, accountability, allowing all voices to be heard and harnessing the energy and ideas of young and old, focussed on solutions.

We put people before parties with the current needs and long-term future of our region coming before party politics.

We have pledged to work effectively with all councillors, working collaboratively for the good of the whole MidCoast region.

As part of our commitment to transparency, we have published these values in full on our website:

It is time for fresh voices and fresh ideas. Our community has incredible things going for it, but we lack effective leadership.

Our region is being left behind and we're missing opportunities. We can't afford to wait. In this election, we have an opportunity to vote for people who want to celebrate the good things and fix the stuff that's broken.

Not just for now, but for the next 10, 20, 30 years too, because we need to start that right now. Let's all strive for a better MidCoast. Please vote '1' for Group B.

Group C - Peter Epov (Choose Wisely - Mid Coast) - did not respond

Group D - Paul Sandilands

My name is Paul Sandilands. I am the lead candidate in Group D, I have lived in the region basically all my life. I am a registered midwife and registered nurse. During my life I have worked in Forster, Tuncurry, Taree, Wingham and Bulahdelah.

Why am I running for council? Like a lot of people in our community I believe we need a change. A change in how our council operates, more support for a frontline council employees who often cop the brunt of public opinion. There seems to be a few that have forgotten that we pay their wages.

I have been involved in many things over the years, volunteering to assist with events like the Great Lakes Ironman. I managed and ran the Viking Challenge for 25 years into the biggest event in our area. I started Hallidays Point Sports Club and helped to develop the sporting amenities in the Hallidays area. I helped to get Rainbow Warriors off the ground. I have been involved with Forster Tuncurry Hawkes. I have been directly involved in football (soccer) administration for about three decades.

I would like a council that is more accountable, more transparent and more capable of listening. Making it easier for people to do business. Marry up development with infrastructure and importantly the community's expectations. Many people don't want another Gold Coast. We need to make our region one that is attractive to businesses that are looking for new homes to develop and grow their business.

We need an area where our children can find jobs, where they can study and importantly where they can buy a home and grow their own family.

I feel that it's important that the council listens to their community and that community input is part of councils normal day and normal meetings. Again they are paid by that community that currently cannot address their own council or have their words recorded.

Critically we need councillors that work together, that don't form cliques based on who has the numbers, a council that is focused on one thing - that which is best for their community!

Group E - Dheera Smith (The Greens)

My name is Dheera Smith, and I am leading The Greens ticket in this unprecedented election.

The Greens are committed to urgent action on climate. Our goal is net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Actions that benefit our environment and climate are possible if local councils strengthen transparency and adopt grassroots solutions that benefit the wider community.

The Greens don't accept donations from businesses or commercial interests, unlike other parties. We value ecological sustainability, social equality and economic justice, peace, non-violence and disarmament. These are the same values that I support along with each member of our team.

I am actively engaged in public education and work within various local community organisations to promote and preserve our region's unique and increasingly diverse cultures.

Originally from the United States with degrees in journalism, drama and education, I am immensely proud to have raised my two boys here and to have taught in regional high schools for nearly 20 years.

I understand the need to preserve the land for future generations and build resilient and sustainable communities.

As a local council reporter I covered one of the longest droughts in Californian history. I personally experienced the impact on people's lives. Here in Australia I have reported for community radio and the ABC and promoted community events. I believe residents' opinions deserve to be heard, respected, and responded to in a timely manner.

I strongly support community arts and affordable housing, and believe it's essential that council levies developers to ensure that workers in this region have a place to live. We need to adequately care for our aging population, visitors and newly-relocated professionals coming to this region. A dedicated Women's refuge in Taree is a high priority.

My contribution to council, once elected, will reflect my commitment to fairness and accountability.

Group F - Katheryn Smith team. Photos supplied

Group F - Katheryn Smith team. Photos supplied

Group F - Katheryn Smith

If you are after a representative that gets straight to the point, then read on. My name is Katheryn Smith, and I am leading Group F.

I live in Gloucester and travel to work in Taree and Forster, which means I am on the road a lot and I understand how important the road network is, and how frustrating it is when you hit a pothole or at the present time it's many potholes. I fight every year for lower fees and charges, and for two years in a row I was the only person to vote against councillor allowance increase.

So, what I am planning to do if I get elected again? The answer is implementation. For the past four years council has been busy making plans: strategic plans, pedestrian plans, disability inclusion plans and recently Manning River Estuary Catchment Management Plan (just to name a few). These plans are great, but now is time to lobby for funding and support the programs and get the work done.

I'm committed to reducing red tape, improving the road network, and continuing curb side waste collections. Water Security is close to my heart since the last drought, and we can improve our storage capabilities.

Housing is under high demand no matter if you are trying to purchase or simply rent. Land release must be considered as well as smaller subdivisions, however everything needs a balanced approach and environmental factors do need to be considered.

My team is made up of people who turn up and contribute to their community, they are the ones who roll up their sleeves and volunteer in your community. I ask you support the team that doesn't just talk but supports you.

Team F: Katheryn Smith, Lance Fletcher, John Sahyoun, Stewart Carruthers, Mydie Keegan and Simon Eyre.

Group G - Karen Hutchinson. Photo supplied

Group G - Karen Hutchinson. Photo supplied

Group G - Karen Hutchinson

Independent, Karen Hutchinson leads Group G, with a team comprising entirely of women. A diverse group of purely independent candidates who are committed to creating a strong representation between MidCoast residents and council.

Vote 'one' above the line for Group G to re-energise the locale and have council re-connect with locals.

Group G will put the community first and be responsive to their needs,. W will support local business and showcase the Mid Coast as a premium tourism destination.

We are a group of long standing residents and local business owners, and it is this connection that will allow us to meet the needs of all residents.

Locals can rest assured that we will continue to work closely with all levels of government to procure funding to improve our roads, bring a fresh outlook on new recycling initiatives to minimise waste, support community infrastructure and ensure the effective delivery of new and exciting community programs and services. And, a priority is to continue to implement our Barrington Coast Destination Management Plan as economic development is vital.

Karen Hutchinson has been a vocal advocate for Mid Coast residents for 17 years and is an active member of the Mid Coast community and involved in multiple community and not-for-profit groups across the local government area.

She lives in Booral with three generations living on the family farm. She is also a small business owner and an integral part of Stroud's co-op retail shop, Crafty Friends.

She holds committee positions on the MidCoast Regional Recovery Business Roundtable, Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park, Floodplain Management Committee, Hunter and Central Coast Joint Regional Planning Panel, and MidCoast Council Policy Committee.

Closer to home, she sits on the board of the Stroud Community Lodge, is the proud patron of the Stroud Men's Shed, president of the Stroud Brick Throwing Committee and chair of Stroud's Showground Management Committee.

Group H - Claire Pontin (Labor)

I was first elected to council in 2017 and have been deputy mayor since 2019.

I spent 30 years in the federal/state public service and was a general manager for 10 years, with an $80m budget, and represented Australia in international negotiations.

I have tertiary qualifications in ecology, property economics and finance, and am a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Labor's priorities for MidCoast Council are making development sustainable to protect our local environments; economic development to help our businesses thrive; better community support and involvement; vibrant and connected communities, more roads maintenance; more use of renewable energy; and improved financial performance, transparency, and accountability.

Labor has a great team of candidates - Gaye Tindall, resident Green Point Association and deputy chair of Community Resources Ltd (a large community development organisation operating from Worimi land); Phil Costa, former MP and State government minister, former Wollondilly Shire mayor and councillor; David Glenn-Hume, musician and former teacher; Heather McLaughlin, musician, volunteer music teacher, and secretary of U3A; Dianne Foster, childcare and women's advocate.

I have done my apprenticeship on council and know how to be effective and work with others to achieve great outcomes for Mid Coast residents. I am proud of what I have achieved on council so far with the Climate Emergency declaration; permanent site for the Forster Womens' Shelter; tree protections not removed; developments that are sustainable (the right development in the right place); more rigorous and more frequent financial reporting; and better operational performance measures.

I have the analytical and negotiating skills to continue to achieve hard results. I don't let party politics get in the way of good outcomes. I work effectively with both the independents and other party representatives on council to ensure that it is the MidCoast region that benefits. I represent all MidCoast residents, not just those in my local area.

Group I - Bell Team, Kathryn Bell

Over the past 13 years as a councillor Kathryn Bell has proven her commitment to putting the community first. Kathryn is known for taking a stand on issues even in the face of opposition from other councillors. She ensures that the needs, hopes and ambitions of the community are known to council when decisions are being made.

Kathryn has been raising her family and running small businesses in the MidCoast area for more than 25 years. Currently, Kathryn balances her role as a councillor with her work as a building regulation consultant in partnership with her husband Jim. Despite this busy schedule Kathryn is always available to discuss concerns and ideas with community members.

With three adult children, Kathryn is invested in a positive future for our area and has a passion for representing the community on council.

Kathryn has been an active councillor, chairing committees advising council on heritage, disability access and tourism and deputy chair of the Rural Fire District Liaison Committee. Kathryn's small business skills have been put to good use on the Event Sponsorship Panel and the Annual Donation Assessment Panel.

Kathryn has engaged with a wide range of issues impacting on our society as a Life Education Ambassador and sitting on the Community Consultative Committee for Mental Health. Since 2013 Kathryn has represented Myall Lakes and North Coast on the National Women's Council and the LGNSW Local Water Utilities Policy Advisory Group.

Kathryn has what it takes to be a positive influence in MidCoast Council for our community.

Group J - Len Roberts

The Len Roberts group is a formidable team with business, community and people skills.

Len Roberts heads the ticket. Mike Parsons, Mel Rosamond and Cliff Hoare are all executive holders of their respective chambers of commerce.

As a council and community we have faced difficult challenges but we have worked together and become a sound financial council. We cannot go back. We must move forward.

Therefore, we need to focus on:

Economic Development and Tourism council developed an economic development strategy in 2018. A review is vital as Australia looks to recover post COVID. It needs to be whole of shire economic development taking advantage of our waterways, transport corridors, Taree airport and proximity to Newcastle airport enterprise hub.

Tourism is a key driver for our economy. We need to ensure our unique qualities are presented in a breathtaking way.

We intend to have an economic development forum, not a talkfest, but a working group of council and community to harness these advantages.


The Mid Coast is rich in natural treasures that provide many of us with a lifestyle that we love. Council adopted a Biodiversity Framework 2021-2030 for managing the diverse natural heritage found across the region.

The Len Roberts group supports the framework.

Manning River

Our Manning River is the lifeblood of the local community. Its estuary is important for oyster-growing, fishing, tourism and recreation. Upriver the Manning and its tributaries provide water for drinking, stock and irrigation. We are now working in partnership with government to ensure it remains open.

Strong local voice

The Len Roberts Group supports and encourages the development of community plans. Local people are the experts when it comes to their own community needs.

Given the size of our shire we propose that council establishes geographical area reference groups to ensure we have strong and vibrant communities.

Group K - Troy Fowler (Liberals) - did not respond

Group L - Luke Cubis. Photo supplied

Group L - Luke Cubis. Photo supplied

Group L - Local Independent Group (Luke Cubis)

The Local Independents candidates believe we have an incredible region with incredible people and we want to celebrate and nurture our people, environment, businesses, successes, strengths, assets, arts and culture.

The Local Independents are running in order to make a positive difference and to find win/win opportunities for our residents and ratepayers.

The Local Independents candidates have the following key priorities:

  • Connection and collaboration between council and community.
  • Facilitating a safe and thriving community.
  • An effective and sustainable response in regards to assisting community members affected by natural disasters.
  • Increased communication to those already impacted by natural disasters to ensure information is updated regularly and easily accessible.
  • Continued focus on koala conservation in our region.
  • Overall strategy for safety and wellbeing of women and children facing domestic violence and homelessness, including adequate emergency housing and ongoing food assistance.
  • Ongoing assistance and support for homelessness in our community.
  • The Local Independents value an approach that incorporates, celebrates and builds to the strengths of each of the individual areas. This includes an approach to development, planning, environment and support of local not-for-profits and small businesses.
  • Strengthening of relationships with other levels of government to ensure our regions interests are being represented at those levels.
  • Safe roads and effective traffic management.
  • The Local Independents would like to keep rates affordable.
Michael Bergin (ungrouped). Photo supplied

Michael Bergin (ungrouped). Photo supplied

Group M - Jessica Corkill

A local from Coopernook, currently I run a beekeeping business. I completed all my schooling in the area and at the age of 19 I left to join the Navy. This career took me to all the corners of the world but I have a passion for our area and I've always called the MidCoast my home. I returned to this beautiful part of the world in 2014.

The forced amalgamation threw us some curve balls and we are, as a community, wanting more engagement from our council as several aspects of our local government area and it's management have deteriorated.

Group M is genuinely independent, we are all like minded locals wanting to see a more economically healthy future for our kids and grandkids.

I want to be a voice for the smaller communities in our area than can often feel forgotten about. Every voice counts and I want to ensure that these voices are heard.

I want to see more jobs, better roads, competent management, more community engagement, more practical spending. The list is longer than the mighty Manning River, but the difference is, I will work harder to see these things eventuate.

I've had enough of the excuses. I want to be a part of the solution.

Michael Bergin (ungrouped)

I am a 56 year old retired company director of a roofing supply business In Sydney that manufactured and supplied high end copper and zinc roofing products, which was started from scratch and turned into a 10 million dollar a year business. At present I do some part time work as technical manager for the Metal Roofing and Cladding Association of Australia.

I am a Life Member of Parklea Soccer Club, one of the largest local clubs in Sydney, having held various positions including club president.

I am also involved in several committees with Standards Australia and have been involved in the development of the new TAFE Apprenticeship course for Roof Plumbing among other things.

I am sure this experience will help in the decision making of the council if elected.

I have put my hand up as a candidate for the upcoming local election as I know that I can make a difference in the way council makes decisions.

My agenda is the 'local community' and I intend, if elected, to attend as many local community groups and clubs to hear their concerns and to find out what the local community actually needs and want, and to then take this to council.

I will also endeavour to make sure that council matters will not be hidden behind closed doors and that all decisions will be as transparent as possible, as it is not the council's money but the local community's, and I will do my utmost to 'keep the bastards honest'.

I am not one to complain about past council decisions, as the past cannot be changed, but am more focussed on making sure the correct decisions are made in the future.

I have no affiliation to any political party and will not be influenced by other parties or groups.