Beau Brug, 22 – Being the youngest Councillor in South Australia
What makes a 22-year-old leave the excess of youth and embrace the murky world of politics? Maybe, Beau Brug could provide an insight. This Northern Suburb resident - only 22 - was sworn in as the local Councillor for the City of Salisbury in May, making him the youngest Councillor in South Australia. His predecessor Brad Vermeer’s resignation pushed the neighbourhood into a by-election, and after three months of rigorous campaigning, Beau Brug won the election with 1223 votes, decisively beating his opponent who won around 300 votes. The University of Adelaide student currently represents the three suburbs of the City of Salisbury – Pooraka, Mawson Lakes, and Parafield Gardens.
In a conversation with TAL, Brug talks about the reasons that prompted him to stand for the election, the changes he initiated, and how he manages to remain upbeat in the face of bureaucratic hurdles.
What prompted your entry into politics? Was it something that interested you since you were a kid?
Growing up I always knew I wanted to make a difference. This vague idea got some direction in school when I realised that the best way to positively create an impact is through either politics or law. I got into a decent school, graduated with a good academic score, and then got accepted into the University of Adelaide. Currently, I am pursuing a double Bachelor degree in Law and International Studies. As for getting into politics, I am a Northern Suburbs boy and have lived here all my life. I am acutely aware of the issues plaguing this area.
My nana (grandmother) has been a resident of Parafield Gardens for close to 50 years. She has seen the area develop and has been privy to the consequent problems this development brought. She has tried to draw the attention of the local representatives towards these problems but to no avail. When Vermeer resigned, a chance for by-election came about. My Nana wanted to run for the elections. But, I stopped her and explained that she was probably not as young as she thought she was, and might not be able to deal with the rigours of campaigning and active politics. Therefore, I decided to run. I understood that her need was emblematic of the community at large – have someone in the position of power who would listen to the community’s woes and rectify them.
My family and friends came together to help my campaign. We worked hard for three months, going from door-to-door, listening to residents’ complaints from the three suburbs of Parafield Gardens, Mawson Lakes, and Pooraka. And, thanks to their support, I managed to win.
What type of research did you undertake to understand the myriad problems faced by the suburbs you represent?
I think that the best research is to have direct conversations with the residents and local businesses, and that’s what I did.
Walking through the three neighbourhoods and having conversations made me realise that the problems faced are unique to each community. That was an important learning because it would help me create neighbourhood- specific solutions.
For example, illegal dumping of television sets, mattresses, among others is a huge issue in Parafield Gardens and Pooraka. On the other hand, lack of adequate parking space is a problem in Mawson Lakes.
Taking stock of work done after three months, what would you say your achievements have been?
In my recent council meetings, I have tried to pass many motions; emergency phones in the community, accreditation to White Ribbon, a dog park for smaller dogs and opposing the increase in rates and the construction of the $43 million dollar Hub in Salisbury Centre. A future motion that I am currently drafting would enable the building of a multi-deck car parking in Mawson Lakes Interchange.
I am currently working on a report that investigates the reasons behind the rampant spread of illegal dumping in Parafield Gardens and Pooraka, and recommend ways to curb it. Illegal dumping is becoming a menace in Mawson Lakes as well. I want residents to take pride in their properties and community at large. Through my report, Council will provide recommendations that I hope will enable the residents to get rid of their waste more efficiently legally. These recommendations, once approved by the council, will be publicised for the residents to refer to.
I get frequent emails from Mawson Lakes residents citing various grievances; a tree that needs to be trimmed, or cleaning of duck poop near the lakes, among others. These interactions help me understand the issues in our neighbourhoods. Recently, under my advocacy, numerous faulty lights around the lake near the Promenade have been replaced, and the lake cleaned for leaves/faeces.
The last one year has seen a decline in terms certain community-based services in Mawson Lakes and that is not acceptable. After all, Mawson lakes is one of the largest and the more expensive areas in the City of Salisbury.
We used to have numerous events like Community Christmas Carols, Doggy’s Day Out, street parades; but all those have been done away with. Under my advocacy, and support from Mawson Lakes Centre, we are trying to get more events going, including an expansion to the Salisbury Secret Garden for coming years.
What can the residents of the City of Salisbury expect going forward?
Along with at the team at the Mawson Centre, we are organising a Christmas Markets on November 26. I am also working towards securing funding for Doggy’s Day Out next year, in addition to Carols.
I have spoken to a couple of churches and have requested them to initiate Christmas Carols this year. We might end up having two carols instead of one!
Another important initiative I have helped start is Neighbourhood Watch. The first meet took place on October 10, with an attendance of over 50 people and numerous ideas and strategies pertaining to the safety of the community were discussed.
I want to be a proactive councillor, and Coffee with Councillor is a step towards this direction. Every month I meet with the residents at a local café and to listen to their complainants. This will serve the dual purpose of providing the residents with a platform to air their issues, and boost local businesses. Most recently, 40 people attended one in a café at Mawson Lakes.
Given your age, was it hard to get people to take you seriously?
The other day I was out letterboxing for an issue, when I heard someone tell my friend that they didn’t vote for me because I was too young!
There is a perception that people in politics should be of a certain age and demographic. That’s a stereotype I must work against. And, I hope instead of seeing a 22-year-old guy, they see a conscientious young man who worked hard to get elected so that he could represent them and their problems.
Look, my age is not something I can change, and neither am I going to wait till I am 40 to make a difference. To be honest, as a single, young, University student I have more disposable time and energy to invest into making the community better.
Why do you think youngsters shy away from joining politics?
Unfortunately, young people don’t realise that the decisions Governments make do have a tangible impact on their lives. They are not invested in local level politics. This lack of interest stems from an education system that does not teach enough about politics. Education should encourage youngsters to take an active interest and understand the nuances of grass root and local politics. Currently, we find out about politics or our representatives through television or social media campaigns just before elections.
Having youth engaged in politics bring a different and fresh perspective. Their presence will persuade policymakers to comprehend issues from their perspective and make policies that will benefit the latter.
Politics is riddled with red tape, meaningless bureaucracy, and corruption. How do you manage to stay upbeat in the face of it all?
There have been numerous frustrating moments. I initiated a motion to keep the Christmas Carols on – it is important to have community-based activities that bring the neighbourhood closer. But it was voted down once and didn’t even a second nod, that got me extremely frustrated!
Though annoying, these moments help me mature as a Councillor and make me understand that I need to not only work harder but smarter as well.
It has only been four months since I was voted in, and I am still learning new things; how to write a motion, and put them into action, and the workings of the parliament, among others.
I am enthusiastic and I want to bring in numerous changes, but I have to realise that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I need to be savvier, and I working towards it.
How does your typical work week look like?
I work full time and attend Council meetings Monday to Wednesdays. Post five pm, I catch up on my university studies. And, weekends are meant for studies and other local initiatives like Neighbourhood Watch and Coffee with Councillor.