Wayne Jansson

Wayne Jansson

Chief reporter & photographer at No Fibs
Wayne Jansson is an Australian citizen journalist and photographer. He covered the seat of Indi during the 2013 federal election and since has covered the growth of the community independent movement.
Wayne Jansson
Ellen Sandell MLA

Ellen Sandell MLA. Photo: Wayne Jansson

Note: Since this interview, The Greens have also claimed the lower house seat of Prahran, the second Greens lower house seat in Victoria.

Ellen Sandell MLA (@ellensandell), the new State Member for Melbourne agreed to be interviewed by No Fibs after her historic win for The Greens. We met at a cafe in North Melbourne last Friday.

No Fibs: How does it feel for The Greens to own Melbourne.

Ellen Sandell: It feels good. We’ve got federal, state, local. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.

No Fibs: On election night I noticed quite a bit of chatter on Twitter, some very contradictory comments such as “another career politician” and “not experienced for the job” etc. Apart from the usual trolling that goes on, I put much of it down to the fact that outside of Melbourne you’re a relative unknown. What is your background, what were you doing before entering politics?

Ellen Sandell: I think I’m the opposite of a career politician because I never thought I would go into politics. I started my career as a scientist and I worked briefly at the CSIRO as a researcher. I realised the big issues like climate change, the change had to be made in policy. Scientists were already doing everything they could, they were telling us what was needed.

It was the Policy makers who were not doing the right thing

I went and worked in climate change policy in the bureaucracy under the Brumby Government for a couple of years, but had experiences there that made me pretty disappointed with the Labor Party. Things where they’d change reports so it looked like the coal industry needed more compensation than they did. I wrote a draft chapter on forestry and it got completely changed by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries to be exactly what the forestry industry wanted, they took out all the science. As a scientist and someone who cared about policy, it was extremely disappointing for me. So I left and I ran a national not-for-profit for 5 years, The Australian Youth Climate Coalition. We did a lot of work internationally, mostly lobbying the Federal Government but also education work on climate change in schools and things like that. It wasn’t until I left there and saw the rise of Prime Minster Tony Abbott and realised he wouldn’t listen to science or the community. That’s when I decided The Greens were the only ones who were standing up and making change and voting for the right things, Melbourne was a good opportunity when we were not going to get any action at a federal level, to take Melbourne and try and get some action on a state level.

No Fibs: How does it feel to be the only person that knocked off a sitting member from the Labor Party?

Ellen Sandell: It feels pretty historic in terms of getting The Greens first lower house seat in Victoria. It will be interesting being the only Green in the lower house, hopefully we’ll have a lot in common with the independent from Shepparton, Suzanna Sheed MLA (@SheedSuzanna), and we can support each other.

No Fibs: On election night you claimed victory, but as they started counting pre-poll votes it started to tighten up, were you nervous?

Ellen Sandell: That’s not really how it happened. We looked at all the numbers on election night and it was very clear we were going to win. We were happy to claim victory. Then they counted some of the postal votes on Sunday and our margin was cut back to around 300, we always knew with pre-polls and absentees that margin would blow out again. We were never worried, we knew postals always do badly for us, but our lead was so great we knew the number of postal votes cast couldn’t take us backwards.

No Fibs: Even though The Greens won their first lower house seat, your vote across the state went backwards a little. What are your thoughts on why?

Ellen Sandell: Our vote stayed pretty stable. I personally think it’s because we focused a lot more, rather than a scatter gun campaign, we said we need to increase our representation. We focused on two inner city lower house seats, Melbourne and Prahran, upper house seats Western Victoria, Eastern Metropolitan as well as our existing seats Southern and Western Metropolitan. There are opportunities for seats in Northern Victoria, Brunswick, Richmond and other places, but when you’re a small party that doesn’t have any corporate or union money, it’s very hard to run a huge campaign. The places where we did focus, we had huge swings towards us. Our strategy did work, although we knew we’d take a hit across the whole state.

No Fibs: It’s been reported The Greens will block the Back To Work Act if the Government doesn’t agree to amendments granting payroll tax credits to employers who employ migrants and refugees. Why do you think the amendments are important enough to block the bill and have you spoken to Premier Daniel Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) or members of the Government regarding it yet?

Ellen Sandell: I never said we would block the bill. The journalist reported that, but it’s not actually what I said. I think it’s a good bill. We have particularly very high youth unemployment in Melbourne and we do need some incentives to get young people jobs. But I’m seeking an amendment and I’m happy to sit down with Daniel Andrews and I will write to him about this. In Melbourne we have a very high migrant (and particularly refugee) population, especially from Africa. There are so many people who tell me stories, even though they’re highly qualified they can’t find work or suitable work. We have people with PhD’s and masters degrees driving taxis. A women who volunteered on our campaign, 22 years old, has a degree, she told me she sends her resume with her African name and the exact same resume but with an Anglo name, she only ever gets a call back with the Anglo name. That’s pretty disappointing, she was born in Australia, was educated in Australia and is highly qualified. There’s obviously some structural problems with access to employment for young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Daniel Andrews first priority is the Back To Work Act and it’s my responsibility to improve it to help my constituents.

We’re not going to block the whole bill, but we think it’s a good improvement.

No Fibs: Do you think there are other initiatives the Government could look at to help refugees and migrants find work?

Ellen Sandell: Yes there are. Some of the things I talked about during the campaign were targets for the pubic service. The public service has programs for employing Indigenous workers, we could expand that to include recently arrived migrants and refugees. I believe there are similar programs for people with disabilities, but they could be improved. A lot of people in my electorate of African background live in public housing, but there’s very few Africans that work for the Office of Housing. I think it would benefit both the Office of Housing and the community to have that bridge. Adam Bandt had a similar bill in the Federal Parliament to double the representation of migrants in the federal public service, we could do a similar thing at the state level. Melbourne City Council is working on an initiative to create a one-stop-shop funded job service agency, particularly for different migrant communities because the job service agencies don’t really work for them. One that employed a couple of African people who could be that connection, where people could go to find job opportunities, or to get qualifications registered in Australia. A very small amount of state money would make that happen.

No Fibs: What climate change initiatives will you be seeking to implement at a state level and do you see a role for a state based Emission Trading Scheme (ETS)?

Ellen Sandell: It’s more efficient a lot of the time to do climate change action at a federal level, but now we have Abbott it’s impossible and we don’t have any time to waste, the states need to step up and there is a lot they can do. We campaigned on a Victorian renewable energy target, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have them, they work well, there are ways we can do them. Some small regulatory things like getting rid of the anti-windfarm laws, Labor’s only promised to half roll them back. You can have appropriate controls to protect the community from noise levels rather than having a blanket no wind-farm 1km or 2km radius from housing – in line with the science of noise control rather than fear of wind-farms. We announced a plan to shut down Hazelwood and Angelsea which are the most polluting power stations. I think that absolutely needs to happen, you can’t continue to have coal and think you are going to solve climate change. A moratorium on coal seam gas across regional Victoria, which will help farmers as well. An ETS at a state level may be difficult because you could just bleed your emissions to other states.

No Fibs: What will be the main transportation initiatives The Greens will be advocating for in this Parliament?

Ellen Sandell: Number one is stopping East West Link, making sure Daniel Andrews rips up the contract. He said he would release the contract to the public, but now he’s seeking advice from bureaucrats, we’ll keep on his case and hold him to account on that. First thing I did after I was elected on Monday was went out to visit residents picketing at Royal Park making sure surveying wasn’t happening, its been a great campaign. Take the money from East West and spend it on public transport. We’re open to talking to the government about what transport initiatives they want to spend it on. Things that we think are most effective are, a Doncaster rail, that’ll get cars off the Eastern Freeway, it’s been planned for over 100 years. Labor’s Melbourne Metro is a good plan, we think it should be built quickly. There’s a bunch of smaller things like upgrading the train signalling and connecting a few new tram routes across the city. Buying new trams would significantly increase the service without that much investment. Then things like 24hr public transport, that’s been our policy for a long time and now Labor has adopted it.

No Fibs: Labor is opposed to cattle grazing in The High Country, but with the make up of the upper house it could be used by the government as a bargaining chip. Will The Greens be calling for an immediate end to cattle grazing in The High Country to avoid that possibility?

Ellen Sandell: We absolutely oppose cattle in The High Country, always have. I guess we didn’t hear much about it during the campaign because it is Labor policy, we’re very happy with that. I very very much hope that Labor doesn’t use it as a bargaining chip and give it away to the Shooters and Fishers and Country Alliance. Labor, to get things through the upper house need The Greens and two other cross-benchers, we definitely will not be compromising on cattle grazing in The High Country. There’s also the Great Forests National Park which we heard more about during the election campaign.

No Fibs: I was going to ask you about the proposed Great Forests National Park. What solutions will you be seeking to the environmental disaster unfolding in the Central Highlands?

Ellen Sandell: It’s an interesting one for me, I grew up in Mildura but moved to Melbourne to attend university. Forestry was one of the things that first got me to be an activist, learning that we use tax payer money to log our native forests that are huge carbon stores, huge water sources. It was pretty devastating that 12-13 years later I was here fighting an election on the same issue. We’ll keep running the campaign to get a new National Park in those area’s. Labor has caved into pressure from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and said they won’t do it, but we won’t give up. Logging looses money, it destroys the environment, it destroys our water sources and it’s bad for climate change. It would make the state money to protect the Central Highlands.

No Fibs: There is growing concern in rural area’s that both major parties have a hidden agenda to expand coal seam gas (CSG) mining in Victoria. CSG is often a divisive issue in rural communities, with some thinking about the environment and the health of their farms and others looking for jobs it may bring. What will be your tactic if Labor does attempt to expand CSG in Victoria?

Ellen Sandell: It’s not as divisive as we think, it’s one of those issue’s that brings people together. You have farmers, environmentalists and people who care about their local communities, people who are traditionally not on the same side coming together and saying no way. There’s so few jobs in CSG compared to farming or renewable energy. I think it’s only divisive in that it pits vested interests and big business against local communities, and local communities should win out. We ran a strong campaign on it, particularly in Western Victoria. We focused our resources there partly because we care so much about that issue in those communities. Labor said they’ll review the moratorium in 12 months time, when that comes up, we’ll work with those communities and push as hard as we can to make sure it’s a proper moratorium.