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Riley to call it a day at next election 

Greens select transport planner as candidate for Randazzo ward

“Ultimately, most people want to see things get better, and if you work together, you can fix those fairly quickly,” says Mark Riley. 

Mark Phillips

SENIOR Greens councillor Mark Riley has decided he will not seek another term at Merri-bek Council elections later this year. 

Riley, 63, told Brunswick Voice that after two terms as a South Ward councillor and a year as Mayor, he would step aside to allow younger candidates to stand for the Greens in the new Randazzo and Warrk-Warrk wards which cover Brunswick East. 

But he says he will remain active in local affairs and as a mentor and sounding board in the Greens. 

Riley said he had considered running again, but was conscious of not overstaying his welcome. 

“The good thing is I’m going to leave on a positive note and I won’t be leaving under any cloud or feeling burnt out or anything and I’m really pleased that’s the case,” he said. 

“I also want to make space. I believe in sharing leadership … and leadership for me is about giving people opportunity and letting them take on projects and advance their interests and display their passion … I also like the prospect of having young people stepping up and being active in their community and being involved in local democracy.” 

Riley said he had made his decision after confirming that the other two Greens councillors, Angelica Panopoulos and Adam Pulford, would both be standing again and available to shepherd any novice councillors who were elected in his place. 

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Riley was first elected in 2016 and served as Mayor in 2021-22, a period when the city’s name was changed from Moreland to Merri-Bek

He has been a member of the Greens for almost a quarter of a century after first becoming involved in the campaign that resulted in Fraser Brindley being elected the party’s first City of Moreland councillor in 2002. 

After spending years as a community activist, including as part of the group that founded Climate Action Moreland in 2009, and contesting the federal seat of Wills at the 2010 election, he was elected a councillor in a cohort of four Greens in 2016.  

Riley considers the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ and actions to reduce the council’s carbon emissions among the main achievements over the eight years he has been a councillor. 

“We as a corporate body became carbon neutral with offsets well over 10 years ago, we were one of the first councils to do that. And we’re now really working hard to try and get the whole of Merri-bek to be net carbon neutral by 2035. That’s a huge task.” 

He also regards the renewal of an urban forest and tree planting policy and work by the council to combat violence by men towards women as positive results in his time. 

But his biggest regret is the failure to implement a plan to turn over parts of council-owned car parks to affordable housing organisations

“My biggest shame is we’ve built nothing,” he said. “It’s taken so long and we’ve produced the same results as the state government rather than innovative models we were trying to use.” 

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‘To do nothing would have been a really shameful thing’

When Riley was elected Mayor in November 2021 – the first Queer person to hold the position – he found himself immediately thrust into the centre of a campaign to change the city’s name from Moreland, which had unsavoury connections to colonialism and the slave trade. 

The name change to Merri-bek was completed within 12 months with what Riley considers surprisingly little opposition. 

“It was actually an incredibly privileged experience for me,” he said. 

“I mean, I had no idea this was coming.  Once I took the oath and signed up, the CEO said, ‘Look, we’ve got a meeting on Friday morning, you need to make yourself available, it’s a pretty important letter we’re going to receive so come along’. 

“I arranged to take some hours off as I was transitioning out of teaching into the Mayoralty and then attended that meeting and it was pretty clear how important this was to the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and to the many white fellas who were working with them in the No Moreland group.” 

But Riley says most of the work of a councillor is not so dramatic and many of the most satisfying outcomes from his eight years were not headline making. 

He said the various ways the council supported people who were struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic shows the importance of local government in delivering a wide range of services. 

“I really try to work on a positive note and work with people to resolve problems. 

“Often they’re fairly practical, mundane things that people are worried about in their local street, or whatever system might not be working right now. But ultimately, most people want to see things get better, and if you work together, you can fix those fairly quickly.” 

Riley said he was likely to be criticised over the timing of his announcement after fellow councillors two months ago approved almost $12,000 in funding to allow him to study to become a company director.

“I think I’ll be criticised for this because it costs a small fortune and I got approved this year and I prevaricated about doing it for seven years and then finally bit the bullet.

“But even though I may not be on council to use it, I know I’m going to be using that in wearing other hats and doing other community work so I feel like that’s part of the professional development … I may not even pass it but my intention is to sort of use that as a way of continuing to give back and get involved in local communities.” 

The Greens have pre-selected transport planner Liz Irvin for the new Randazzo ward which covers central Brunswick at this year’s elections. They have not yet announced their candidates for the other three Brunswick wards.

Riley’s retirement announcement comes as long-term Labor councillor and former Mayor Lambros Tapinos said he would stand again for a fifth term in the new Brunswick West ward. 

The third incumbent South Ward councillor, independent James Conlan, has not yet decided whether to run for another term. 

Both the Greens and Labor are expected to announce more candidates in the next few weeks. 

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