Meeting the Greens party faithful in Wills and a curly question on economic transition @takvera reports

John Englart

John Englart

Citizen journalist at No Fibs
John Englart has always had a strong social and environmental focus and over the past 10 years climate change science, climate policy and climate protest have become an increasingly important and primary focus of his work as a citizen journalist.
John Englart
- 3 hours ago
John Englart
I am involved in various Moreland-based community groups including Sustainable Fawkner where I blog on local and sustainability issues, Climate Action Moreland and Moreland Bicycle Users Group. I am also a member of Friends of the Earth, off and on, since 1976, and wrote the contribution on the Rides Against Uranium in the 1970s for the Friends of the Earth Australia book to mark the 30-year anniversary of FoE – 30 Years of Creative Resistance.
Dr Tim Read, Greens Candidate for Wills, with Janet Rice and Senator Richard Di Natale

Dr Tim Read, Greens Candidate for Wills, with Janet Rice and Senator Richard Di Natale

By John Englart

8 August 2013

I took the plunge on Friday night and went along to my first candidate launch in the Wills election campaign in Melbourne. It was organised by the Greens for their candidates Joanne Nevill, standing for the seat of Calwell, and Dr Tim Read for the seat of Wills. Victorian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale (not up for re-election this time), and Greens lead Senate candidate Janet Rice were also sharing the limelight.

The launch was held in the Alehouse project on Lygon street, one of those trendy bars that have increasingly been sprouting in the ‘latte zone’ in the southern portion of the electorate, in Brunswick. As I outlined in my profile of Wills, this area is strongly contested between the Labor Party and the Greens. The Liberal Party now poll third in the ‘latte zone’.

It has been many years since I last attended such a meeting packed with party faithful. Many years ago I attended with my office colleagues the 1974 lunchtime Labor campaign launch with Gough Whitlam which packed out the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House. After the dismissal in November 1975 I attended the Labor campaign launch held in the Sydney Domain amid tens of thousands of people.

Labor's campaign launch in the Sydney Domain on 24 November 1975 (Own Collection)

Labor’s campaign launch in the Sydney Domain on 24 November 1975 (Own Collection)

The launch tonight was a much smaller affair, packed with the local Greens party faithful, perhaps 50 people in the room. Moreland Greens Councillors Samantha Ratnam and Lenka Thompson were both there, as was Greg Barber, the Greens member for the area in the Victorian Legislative Council, and Alex Bhathal, Greens Party State President and running as the Greens candidate for Batman (See Batman seat profile)

I had advised Tim Read of my intention to come along as an active observer and citizen journalist. I knew this meeting was essentially for the party faithful to interact with their candidates and ask questions. Although I was made welcome, I was also aware in my mind of my role there was as a journalist to cover and report the event.

I have over the last couple of weeks drawn up a list of questions to ask all the candidates standing in Wills. I knew I had the opportunity to ask perhaps one good question at this particular event. It would be unfair on the party faithful to impose any more. And after my first question they just might decide to eject this obvious interloper.

Jo Nevill was first up discussing her candidacy in Calwell for the Greens (See her Facebook campaign Page). She also MC’d the evening. She is a community development worker who works in Calwell, based on Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs of Broadmeadows, Craigieburn, Sunbury and Tullamarine. Fairly safe Labor territory, with new housing estates, plus high rates of welfare dependancy and unemployment …and Ford’s Broadmeadows factory. The Greens vote in Calwell has been increasing over successive elections achieving a respectable 11.86% in 2010.

A litmus question on dealing with economic transition

So, a litmus question. I could have asked a question on refugee policy or climate change, and I would have got a very thoughtful, but probably expected response. Asking such a question would be little better than asking a Dorothy Dixer in parliament.

So I chose an issue that is both local and national that deals with economic transition, employment and jobs. A bread and butter issue. A bit of a curly question. But sometimes it’s the difficult questions that elicit the interesting responses. How a person, or a political party, answers a difficult question is sometimes as important as the answer they give.

The Greens have developed quite a thorough environmental and social policy manifesto. A question about employment and jobs, and closure of businesses, if anything, may be a weak point.

After Jo Nevill had finished her introduction and her campaign manager had spoken, I politely asked my question, especially as it directly related to Jo’s electorate of Calwell. This isn’t my exact wording, but fairly close:

The announced closure of the Ford Motor vehicle factory in Broadmeadows in two years’ time will impact many workers and residents of Calwell as well as residents in Wills. What will you do regarding these impacts if you are the local MP and what should be done?

Not an easy question to have asked point blank at a meeting of the party faithful. But to her credit Jo made a valiant attempt:

“The closure of Ford is like the closure of the Pacific Brands factory, is contributing to a lot of unemployment in the area and that is very unfortunate. That is why I am standing for the Greens because I think our policies; I think we can really help a lot of people in the area who have been made redundant.”

Just for background, the Pacific Brands clothing trade restructure hit Calwell hard in 2009 resulting in 298 job losses from the Coolaroo hosiery factory, while the executives of the company were giving themselves handsome pay rises, tripling their income. They were declared as ‘obscene’ at the time, with both Labor and Liberal politicians condemning the increases at the time when the Global Financial Crisis was hitting hard. There were also redundancies at the time from the Ford Broadmeadows factory. (See The Age: Work heads offshore as Pacific Brands axes jobs)

I think the question made her uncomfortable. She diverted to her role as MC, saying “I have actually got a set of questions here that I would like to put to this panel. If that is okay? If we can just hold the questions for a moment, we do have some to get through…”

Jo Nevill launching her campaign for the Greens for the seat of Calwell

Jo Nevill launching her campaign for the Greens for the seat of Calwell

And so we heard from Dr Tim Read, the candidate for Wills, Janet Rice, the lead Greens senate candidate for Victoria, and Senator Richard Di Natale (See Facebook page) on several questions asked by Jo Nevill and from the floor. Fairly easy Dorothy Dixer type questions, but eliciting some interesting responses, nevertheless. More of that later.

Tim Read, to his credit, went back to my question again and asked Janet Rice to have a go at answering it. Janet Rice did a creditable job in supplying an answer off the cuff, arguing for the need for economic transition to a more sustainable business model. She explained that for 18 months she had worked with Hume Council in the electorate of Calwell, so she is familiar with the social issues of people in the electorate and the need for transition to sustainable business and programs to resolve the high unemployment in the area.

Video Janet Rice on Ford Closure

“The big issue about the Ford factory at Broadmeadows is that it is an industry of the last century. It has been kept afloat by subsidies after subsidies. They were not responding and reinventing themselves to be a sustainable industry. There is potential for a sustainable car industry. It has got to be based on electric cars, almost certainly. And Ford were not responding to that.

“So I think we have to accept that we need to change our industries that are going to be economically viable and environmentally sustainable. And also we have got to be doing it in a way that is socially just and actually having fair transition packages. It means there does need to be Government involvement. There needs to be quite intensive transition programs for people.

“But the other issue is the massive amount of unemployment in the area. There are people who wouldn’t be able to even get a job at the Ford factory, lacking in basic skills. It is a failure of our social programs, failure in our education programs, a failure in our health programs. Basically really tackling all of those issues. Building the work skills of people so they are able to find jobs and can be placed in jobs in sustainable industries.”

Thankyou Janet Rice (see her Facebook Campaign page). That was a thoughtful response, given it was off the cuff, to a difficult question.

I raised later with Senator Di Natale, that in any economic transition such as the closure of Ford’s Broadmeadows plant, reskilling and retraining is important. But the TAFE sector which likely would be responsible for work skills retraining has been hit hard by the reduced funding by the Victorian State Government. Kangan Batman Tafe Institute located in Calwell have closed courses as a result of the cuts to Victorian Tafe funding. Vocational education and retraining is important for any proper and just economic transition program.

It was a valuable and important point which Senator Di Natale listened to and took on board. We need politicians who are willing to listen, to sometimes say they don’t have all the answers, but are willing to listen to the community and to then find solutions. I think the Greens have this capacity more than either of the established parties, as shown in the number of Senate enquiries they manage to have established to ask difficult questions and get community responses too.

Greens Candidate Tim Read on the main election issues in Wills

Tim Read on Climate Change and Public Health

One of the first questions asked by Jo was to Dr Tim Read. It allowed him to highlight why climate change should be a health issue this election. In particular he drew attention to an article by Professor Anthony McMichael published on the Conversation website: Why climate change should be a key health issue this election.

He then elaborated on how the heatwave of 2009 actually killed more people than the devastating Black Saturday bushfires.

Indeed, while 173 people lost their lives in the Black Saturday Bushfires, 374 people died in Victoria due to the heatwave according to a report by Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr John Carnie. And it will get worse in the future. The 2013 State of Australian Cities report just released found that heat related deaths are likely to quadruple by 2050. Climate Change really is a public health issue. (See SMH report: Heatwave deaths to quadruple, government report finds)

Video Tim Read on Climate Change and public health

There were also a question on the Live export trade in animals. The responses detailed the importance of the humane treatment of animals and whether this was compatible with live animal export, and the economic importance of local butchering and meat processing here in Australia where we have control over the standards for slaughtering animals as well as boosting local jobs.

Refugee issue a matter of humanity

The Greens have also been very outspoken on the need for humanitarian treatment of refugees, arguing strongly against both Labor and Liberal policies that demonise refugees and abrogate the basic human right established after World War II to be able to seek asylum, and have their requests for asylum processed fairly. Kevin Rudd’s PNG solution may win votes from the Liberals, but will also alienate many intelligent Labor voters, a good proportion of whom will vote for the Greens in protest.

A far more interesting development was former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser attending a forum in Adelaide with Sarah Hanson Young in early July on Why Humanity matters in politics. You can watch the full video (1:18:54) or the highlights broadcast on 9 News Adelaide below (1:29). Sarah Hanson Young is up for re-election as the Greens Senator for South Australia.

As a lefty person who lived through the dismissal in 1975, and the Fraser razor gang fights in the late 1970s, I well remember my political hatred of Fraser. One of my favourite songs of the time was a little piece recorded by ‘Red peril’ – Give Fraser the Razor. But on a number of issues of the time – Aboriginal land rights, apartheid in South Africa, and dealing with the refugee crisis post Vietnam war, Fraser demonstrated his capacity for humanitarian policy action. I don’t think Malcolm Fraser has moved left over the years, and I daresay I would still disagree with him on many local economic and social policy issues.

What has happened – particularly on refugee policy under the succeeding governments of Hawke, Keating and Howard, is that Australian refugee policy has moved substantially to the right. And this policy shift to the right demeans our very humanity as a nation, as well as abrogating our commitments to the United Nations Refugee Convention. (See Law lecturer Azadeh Dastyari article from the Conversation: Explainer: Australia’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention

You can read the Greens media release by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young: Greens Refugee Policy The Practical Humane Alternative. or watch on youtube the announcement (16:54) by Greens leader Christine Milne with Senator Hanson Young of the Greens Refugee policy.

The mood beyond the ‘Latte Zone’

There was a question from the floor addressed to Janet Rice on what she thought the mood of the electorate outside the ‘latte zone’ was like. As the lead Senate candidate for the Greens Janet Rice has been campaigning across the state, in rural, regional and city areas. Janet answered that to most people, its the pressures of everyday life, the bread and butter issues that appear to matter most. The Greens already have comprehensive policies, but need to break through to ordinary people to explain these policies. This is not easy to do with a mainstream media that focusses primarily on the policies of the Labor and Coalition parties.

Victorian Greens Senate candidate Janet Rice on election mood outside the latte zone

Discussion on Civics Education and lowering voting age to 16

The last question of the evening related to lifting the understanding of civics and politcs in the population and whether the voting age should be reduced.

Tim Read, Janet Rice and Richard Di Natale all responded and discussed this in an interesting interchange. Tim said reducing the voting age to 16 and making voting optional until 18 was a way to introduce civics in school education, to prepare young people for active citizenship.

Dr Tim Read, Janet Rice, and Senator Di Natale on Civics education

Senator Di Natale stressed the importance of the campaign for the Senate, for Janet Rice. It took him two elections to eventually get a quota and be elected, as many of the minor parties may not allocate preferences to the Greens. The first time in 2007, even though primary votes were in the double digits of 10.08% and ordinarily likely to be enough to elect him on preferences, the small party preferences favoured election of 3rd place person on the Labor ticket, David Feeney. That means the Greens often need a higher primary vote to be elected, fighting for that last senate seat in each state.

So I walked out of the Greens election launch a little relieved it was all over, but also with an appointment to interview Dr Tim Read (See Campaign Facebook Page) one-on-one. As I mentioned previously, I have drawn up a list of questions to ask each candidate. Some are easy, some are hard. Answers are important, but so is how they are answered. That tells me about the person.

I have also emailed requests to meet with Liberal Party candidate Ms Shilpa Hegde, and Kelvin Thomson, the sitting Labor MP. I dare say I will have to chase them both up. Then the minor party candidates. And there are other campaign launches to attend, and a meet the candidate public forum in Wills organised by Climate Action Moreland on August 19…

Note: Videos taken on the night are not presented in chronological order.

More Wills Report


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