Youth to make council dash

DISRUPTOR: Brenton Johnson moved to Bendigo to found a tech company, now he wants to bring council 'into the 21st century'. Pictures: DARREN HOWE

DISRUPTOR: Brenton Johnson moved to Bendigo to found a tech company, now he wants to bring council 'into the 21st century'. Pictures: DARREN HOWE

The average age of Bendigo’s councillors is 60 – but that could be dramatically reduced next year. 

The Bendigo Advertiser spoke with two 26-year-olds who have already decided to run at the next election.

One, Thomas Prince, was born and raised in Bendigo and will be known to many as the president of the local gridiron team. The other is Brenton Johnson, an entrepreneur who moved to town to start a tech company.

Both live in share houses, both dropped out of university and neither will have much trouble doing their bit in the City of Greater Bendigo’s push to encourage all residents to leave their cars at home at least once a week. 

Johnson lives and works in the centre of town, Prince doesn’t own a car.

Both Prince and Johnson say they want to shake up council.

“There are good councillors in there at the moment, but many of them have been there for a very long time,” Johnson said. 

“I think it’s time for young people to say – ‘they’ve contributed a lot, but I reckon I have something to offer’ – and just be brave enough to put their hands up.”

And they may yet do so – the Advertiser understands several more young aspirants are considering it and the elections are still more than 10 months away. But Prince, who works part-time as a nursery manager, said there was a reason he had to launch his campaign so early.  

“I certainly won’t have the finances other candidates might, so I’m starting early to give myself the best chance possible.” 

NEW GROWTH: Thomas Prince wants to encourage a new breed of small business focused on local produce and innovation. Picture: DARREN HOWE

NEW GROWTH: Thomas Prince wants to encourage a new breed of small business focused on local produce and innovation. Picture: DARREN HOWE

New crop of political aspirants 

When Bendigo Mayor Rod Fyffe was first elected to council in 1983, Thomas Prince and Brenton Johnson weren’t born. 

Now, two 26-year-olds want to take his job … or join him as one of nine City of Greater Bendigo councillors after next year’s election. 

Nor is Mayor Fyffe a lone veteran among Bendigo’s councillors – Barry Lyons first served on local government in the 1970s and the average age of the current cohort is 60. 

Johnson, who founded Uptake Digital 18 months ago, said the lack of youth in Town Hall was costing the city. 

“At the moment, there’s no one on council who is talking about the great opportunities we have with digital technology,” he said.  

“Council haven’t been able to identify those opportunities because no one on it lives and breathes digital.” 

Johnson was born in Ballarat and lived for several years in Horsham, but moved to Bendigo to start his business a year-and-a-half ago because he believed it was an “innovation town”.

“But there are opportunities for council to be more efficient, to do more with less and, if they don’t start talking and implementing digital, the city is going to be overtaken quickly by Ballarat, which already has NBN, by Shepparton, which already has NBN… ,” he said.

“We need to be prepared to take our opportunities when NBN arrives and I want to be on council to help set up Bendigo for that, and for industries of the future.” 

Prince, the nursery manager at Bendigo Wholefoods, said he also wanted to bring a fresh perspective to council. 

“That shop is a great example of what I want to promote – it is all about local foods, local products and promoting a healthy environment and healthy living,” he said. 

Johnson's business is based in a shared office space in the CBD which also houses national franchises, not-for-profits and other start-ups.

Johnson's business is based in a shared office space in the CBD which also houses national franchises, not-for-profits and other start-ups.

“I’d love to see council supporting small business more effectively by giving them ways to remove some of the barriers and hurdles they face, and just be able do new things, more simply.” 

Both said they saw council as a next step to work they were already engaged in. Johnson said his company was about bringing modern tech support to regional businesses. Prince that he’d always pursued community work. 

“I grew up in Bendigo and have always been involved in different community groups … this year as president of the Bendigo Dragons I’ve really tried to get the club more community focused.”

Fresh faces hit campaign trail 

There’s still more than 10 months to the next local elections, but two would-be-councillors are already hitting the campaign trail, and hard. 

“I don’t have an advertising budget or a media presence,” Thomas Prince explained.

“So over the next six months I’ll be looking to get myself out there, meet as many people as possible, go to as many of the ward meetings and community forums as possible… then there’s the door knocking.” 

Like Prince, fellow 26-year-old aspirant Brenton Johnson said he had already spent months preparing himself for a tilt at council.

“I’ve been doing a lot of community leadership courses, I’ve been meeting with a lot of mentors,” he said. 

Council elections will be held October 22.

Prince is president of the Bendigo Dragons gridiron team.

Prince is president of the Bendigo Dragons gridiron team.

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