Farewell Cr Hayes

Published on 20 November 2017

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From this year the Town of Victoria Park Council will feel very different.

Not because following the election in October, we have a line-up of some new faces on Council, but mostly because one particular, familiar and resounding voice of the people will be missing for the first time in 25 years.

Keith Hayes has chosen to retire from Local Government service after representing Carlise as a councillor for nine years as part of the City of Perth, and for the past 16 years with the Town of Victoria Park (which became a local government authority in its own right again in 1994 following the City of Perth Restructuring Act 1993).

Born and bred in Carlise, the 69-year-old started his local government journey in 1981, was the deputy mayor of Vic Park from 2007 to 2009, held a seat on the Burswood Park Board, championed for several causes within the disability space and chaired many committees.

Most recently he chaired the Town’s Lathlain Precinct Redevelopment Project Team. Within this project, he is well known as the main driver behind the planning, design and construction of the new community building, recently opened in Lathlain. 

Over the years, Keith has also been the Chairperson of Victoria Park’s Disability Advisory Committee, and a member of the WA Disabled Sports Association Management Committee, the Blind Citizens Australia Transport and Access Committee, and the Main Roads Vulnerable Road Users Taskforce.

Keith notes some of the highlights of his time as a councillor with fond reflection, emotion and humour.

“Supporting the controversial planning approval for the Nardine Women’s refuge, in Victoria Park, is a big one for me,” he said.

“As was establishing the AIDs self-help family support centre, which faced many appeal processes and a lot of community bigotry and bias and was taken to the Equal Opportunities Commission before finally getting across the line. I was called as a witness by the applicants, it was a gruelling process I will never forget.

“I’m also proud of assisting with the establishment of the Carlise Food Centre, a Uniting Church project, because it met a huge community need of the time, when low-income families were struggling and weren’t able to access low-cost food, even on welfare.” The centre, fully run by volunteers only closed around 12 months ago. 

But it doesn’t stop there, as Keith is credited with being the driver behind the introduction of many more initiatives for the Town, such as the Adopt a Verge program, the Causeway Precinct Plan, the WA Youth Orchestra Music by Moonlight Symphony Concerts, the Sporting Walk of Fame, the Land Optimisation Strategy, the program to remove redundant crossovers which allows more room for planting street trees and much, much more. 

Breaking new ground became common practice for Keith ever since he negotiated his way into a local high school, bucking the system at the time which told him if he wanted to continue schooling after primary level, he would have to travel to Melbourne.

“I lost my sight at nine years old,” he said.

“Then, as was typical of the day for people with a disability, I was put into special education until I was 14. Normally after that, you were entered into a sheltered workshop and that was that.

“But I said, no way, I’m going to high school!”

“After a two-year application process involving many knockbacks, I did years eight to 10 at Belmont High School, and years 11 and 12 at Kent Street High. 

“Of course in those days, there were no education assistants like there are today, and no text reader or email voice production technology, so I relied heavily on my parents to get through high school. When I went to University I had a team of helpers who spent about two hours a day reading textbooks to me,” (some years later reading Council agendas and marking assignments is how he met his wife of 31 years, Margot).

Keith has degrees in economics and education and also completed his Masters of Education. He then went on to lecture at TAFE in economics, business and community studies.

In the early years of being in Local Government, Keith faced a lot of prejudice and criticism for his choice to enter politics and was commonly written about as ‘the blind Cr Hayes’. 

“Probably dealing with people’s attitudes around that was the hardest thing in the beginning,” he said.

“There was a feeling of how can someone who is blind get onto Council, how can they contribute effectively or handle the job? I think I’ve proven that we all have different talents and it’s the mix of people on Council that matters most at the end of the day.

“I was re-elected seven times, so that said to me that people were selecting me as an elected member and not as a disabled representative.

“The other struggle, of course, is just the slowness of local government, keeping up the energy, and continuity of project delivery with members of council potentially changing every two years.

“Nowadays the role has gotten harder with the dynamic of social media and much more open criticism, opinion and comment being more immediate and easily shared – it can be a massive cause of distraction and allows for people to be too reactive without responsibility.

“I think councillors need to understand and harness it a lot better and become more involved in community engagement activities, so we don’t just read reports, but can read a room, hear the passion and feel the mood of the community around the issues.”

Keith says his time, particularly at Vic Park, has been the most rewarding with a very team-oriented environment that has seen a lot of change and progress – but if you think this is the last you’ll hear from him since his decision to ‘retire’ – you should think again.

“There’s always more to do,” he said.

“There is a bit of unfinished business for me and I will be keeping a close eye on the completion of the Lathlain Precinct Redevelopment Project and the Urban Forest Strategy. I think greening our public realm is crucial.

“I hope to continue to do some community service in the disability field, but will also be able to focus more on my personal health, do some travel and aim to be a bit more self-indulgent.”

Keith’s contribution was recently recognised when the Town named the newly opened community building in Lathlain after him – a fitting tribute to his dedication and service to the community over a very long time and a significant portion of his life.