Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Asbestos at the Roberts Street flats

Given that the flats at Roberts Street Northcote contain asbestos and are slated for imminent demolition, nearby residents need answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the likely timing of the demolition?

  2. Has an asbestos audit of the buildings been undertaken? If so, will the findings be made public? If not, why not, and when will an audit be done?

  3. What requirements does the presence of asbestos place on the demolition of buildings, and how will these be applied to Roberts Street to ensure the safety of the community?

  4. Has a demolition tender been let? If so, has a company been appointed, and when will this information be made public?

If readers can think of any more questions, feel free to leave them here by using the comments link on this post - the same goes for any answers the government might deign to provide. I'll be sending Northcote MP Fiona Richardson the post, so she can't say she doesn't know.

This issue has gone under the radar a bit with the election and the generally poor communication about the project. The advisory committee meetings, for example, are held on working days when many people can't attend, and the website hasn't been all that informative, is very general, and was a long time coming

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rudd's election a chance for progress

The night before the election I was out to dinner with my family at an inner-city pub in the seat of Melbourne. On the next table, the conversation mixed popular culture and, of course, the election. 'Instead of changing their own lives, they'll change the government,' a young man said.

Last night's emphatic defeat of the Howard Government was also a defeat of the kind of distorted aspirational thinking captured by this comment. At its heart was an arrogance that suggests that everything affecting our lives is within our grasp to change. For the inner-city professional classes, that may largely be the case. But tell that to Australia's Indigenous people, to refugees in mandatory detention, and to workers suffering under Howard's industrial laws.

Despite my disagreement with some key ALP policies - the mining of uranium and the pulp mill among others - there was enough in last night's victory speech by Kevin Rudd to hope for a more progressive Australia. I'm looking forward to a new vision for education, for cooperation on health, an improvement in the plight of Indigenous people, action on climate change, and fairer workplace laws.

In particular, I saw Australians unite in last night's vote to defeat together efforts under WorkChoices to fracture their collective power in the workplace.

I was heartened that, at the possible dawn of a new progressive era, Kevin Rudd chose to acknowledge the approaching end of Bernie Banton's brave life.

I was heartened that Greg Combet, who has stood with Mr Banton in his fight, was acknowledged in his victory as a man who has consistently worked for the rights of Australian workers - recognised as a champion of workers' bargaining equality in spite of a scare campaign demonising unions for opposing the one-sided power of business.

Yet last night's victory is also a challenge to Mr Rudd to acknowledge the debt owed to the Greens in ousting the Howard Government. As Bob Brown noted, it was Greens preferences that substantially helped the ALP over the line. Even in safe Labor seats, the growth in the Greens vote sends a clear signal to the new Rudd Government to reconsider the drift of the party to the right.

In Batman, won convincingly by Martin Ferguson, the Greens' Priya Carey continued the rapid growth in the party's support. In Melbourne, Adam Bandt signalled the Greens' eclipse of the Liberals as the second political force.

With the new Senate still emerging, it is to be hoped that the progressive note sounded by the vote in the House of Representatives will be echoed in the house of review. It is a sadder note of this election that we will likely lose the proven qualities of Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett and Victorian Senator Lyn Allison. With the retirement of Andrew Murray and Natasha Stott-Despoja, that would signal the end of the Democrats' contribution in the Senate.

A strong Senate – with the Greens possibly holding the balance of power – would test the new Government, in particular where Kevin Rudd's victory speech signalled cause for concern in its call to move past 'old battles' such as the one between 'public and private'. We should remember that Rudd's election is a chance for progress, not its fulfilment.

This article is cross-posted at

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A final word on the 2007 Federal election

Essential reading for anyone who might be slightly mystified by voting preferences is Beth Spencer's recent article for The Age, 'Your voting preferences really do matter'. I encourage everyone to have a read and spread the word among your friends.

As for me, through letters to the editor, web articles and posts on this blog, I've made my own modest contribution to highlighting some of the issues that will be important in deciding my vote next Saturday. Below are some links to these for easy reference.

The unknown Batman Liberal - in search of Jonathan Peart

Interview with Priya Carey, Greens candidate for Batman

'Sticky John' a double-standard distraction for Batman

Questions for Martin Ferguson

Vaile's attitude proves the point (Letter to the editor, The Age)

Hidden dangers (Letter to the editor, The Sunday Age)

The first four articles were written for, a citizen journalism project focusing on the election and run by the Queensland University of Technology. Contributing to this project has been an interesting experience, and I hope citizen journalism grows as an inclusive and participatory means of shaping the future of our democracy.

Vote well!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The unknown Batman Liberal – in search of Jonathan Peart

Who is Jonathan Peart, the Liberal candidate for Batman. I tried to find out.
Beyond a short piece on candidates' policy promises in last week's Northcote Leader, I've seen little about 27-year-old Liberal candidate for Batman, Jonathan Peart. There's been nothing in my letterbox and he certainly hasn't been in the neighbourhood door-knocking. So I thought I'd see if I could get any more response from him than the complete silence I received from Martin Ferguson. After all, the Liberals polled nearly 26 per cent of the first-preference vote in Batman last time around.

After an email bounceback from an incorrect address on the Liberal Party website, I sent Jonathan two emails to the corrected address requesting an interview for YouDecide2007, explaining that it was a citizen journalism project focusing on the election from local perspectives. With no response, I thought I'd do a web search on the candidate, and finally came up with a mobile number since removed from a live business web page but still captured in a cached copy retained by Google. Sure enough, I got the voicemail of the candidate and left a message. When there was no response, I left another.

Two emails and two voicemails later, I figure Jonathan isn't going to play ball, which is a pity because I had some good questions to ask him, which I will discuss here anyway. What I'll also do is email him this story to see if he will offer any response on this site. The only problem with that is readers won't know if it is Jonathan answering or a party spin doctor – just like his entry in the local paper, really.

Read the full article at YouDecide2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vaile's arrogance on grant audit signals need for change

I hope as many people as possible read Mark Vaile's comments cricitising the release of an Auditor-General report into the Coalition's political abuse of regional grants. That's because I believe the arrogance of his reaction signals the need for a change of government. Today The Age published 'Vaile's attitude proves the point', my letter responding to the article in which Vaile's comments were reported:
Nothing could better clarify the need for a change of government than Mark Vaile's criticism of the timely release of the Auditor-General's report on the misuse of regional grants for political purposes (The Age, 17/11). The report, by an independent officer of the Crown, goes to the heart of the Government's accountability on significant public expenditure.

Yet Vaile's response belittles the Auditor-General as an "unelected individual" and calls for a reassessment of the rules controlling when such reports can be made available. In essence, damaging, if factual, information that can now be released before an election might then be released after an election. Ring any bells?

Vaile's arrogant attitude underpins not only the politically motivated dispensing of regional largesse, but the concealment of the true circumstances of the Tampa incident, the decision to go to war in Iraq, the AWB scandal and, more recently, the disgraceful treatment of Mohamed Haneef. That he can so openly call for a change in the rules to better conceal inconvenient truths speaks volumes. This election is an opportunity to lift the Vaile of secrecy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Priya Carey interview at YouDecide2007

Last weekend I interviewed Priya Carey, Greens candidate for Batman in the 2007 Federal election. I began with the challenge of running against Martin Ferguson in the safest ALP seat in Australia...

Priya Carey has the toughest gig of any Greens candidate running against an ALP incumbent this election. Martin Ferguson, the Labor MHR for Batman, holds the seat with a 21.3 per cent margin (two-party-preferred) from the 2004 election, making Batman the safest ALP federal seat in Australia. The Greens' hopes for the seat were challenged on this very basis by a local journalist when Bob Brown spoke on the Tasmanian pulp mill at the Northcote Town Hall back in July. I therefore began my interview by asking Carey what claim to relevance the Greens could have in such a safe seat.
Read the full interview at YouDecide2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Walk Against Warming unites climate concerns, hopes for change

It was good to see the Smith Street tram packed today as I made my way to the Walk Against Warming with the kids in tow. When we parked ourselves under a shady tree outside the State Library, the banners hovering above the swelling crowd showed the diverse political platforms now unifying behind the cause of halting dangerous climate change. There were the Greens, of course, but also the Democrats, GetUp, the Socialists and anti-nuclear groups, The Big Switch guys, the Australian Conservation Foundation, and representatives from the dwindling numbers of the orange bellied parrot – in their faux-feather costumes on a very sunny day they certainly were warming to their task, and good on them for their commitment.

I even saw a comprehensively sun-tanned former deputy premier in the ranks, though no ALP or Coalition banners anywhere. Perhaps the major parties were simultaneously ashamed and hedging their bets with conservative voters. While their media statements suggest a (varying) willingness to tackle the problem, in true me-too spirit, they were perhaps unwilling to go so far as to be caught sweating on the asphalt with those openly committed to facing the problem head-on.

The really great thing about today was seeing people from the bus I catch, from my kids' school – people I don't know that well who I would never guess care about global warming, but obviously do. Today was a day not only to demonstrate numbers, but for people to openly acknowledge to each other what they care about. True, their concerns are too often split between state and federal seats, but with the rising temperatures sentiment is rising across electoral boundaries that is capable of significant impact. That is cause for hope in the fight against climate change. As one rap went today, 'Show me what democracy looks like: This is what democracy looks like!'.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

'Sticky John' a double-standard distraction for Batman

Here I take a look at local media coverage of the federal contest for Batman. This is the original version of a piece that was published on the YouDecide2007 site yesterday.

It can be an interesting exercise to look at the local media's election coverage. With a circulation of more than 24,000 in the Victorian seat of Batman, last week's edition of The Northcote Leader offered a telling glimpse of the substantial reach but narrow focus of some local election reporting.

With only three editions to go before polling day, the election didn't make the front page this time around, though the previous week saw some glancing coverage identifying climate change as a big issue with Batman voters in the safest ALP-held federal seat in Australia.

Make it to page five and we get a Q and A of the candidates' 'favourite local hangouts, from restaurants to parklands'. But it's on page seven that cynical amusement could begin to creep in. 'Sticky John riles Rudd' reads the headline above a large colour pic of a Northcote resident (one Cathy Rudd) holding her Martin Ferguson placard besmirched with a glued-on, photo-copied portrait of a smiling PM with a 'Howard 07' caption – Ferguson the victim of a hideous head transplant.

Martin Ferguson, MHR for Batman and the ALP's safest bet, declares the vandalism of the frontyard promotion 'beyond a joke', describing the admittedly silly act as 'clearly thought-out and orchestrated'. Curiously, he then expresses doubt that the Liberals are behind the prank.

Obvious but unanswered questions are who he thinks might have hatched the devious masterplan and what political mileage is in it for them. This Batman mystery is not Murder on the Orient Express – with only six candidates, the political suspects are limited; one – the Liberals – apparently already ruled out.

If I were more optimistic, I'd be pleased to see Ferguson take this stand, because voters could read it as a rejection of the kind of tactics the ALP itself used in a misleading propaganda campaign against the Greens in the contest for Northcote at the November 2006 Victorian State election. Of course one could argue that it's an entirely different ballgame, except for the fact that back in November 2006 Ferguson was spruiking on the steps of Northcote Town Hall for then ALP candidate and later Northcote MP, Fiona Richardson. It was Richardson's husband, ALP State Secretary Stephen Newnham, who authorised the so-called 'Gotcha' campaign against the Greens.

So this time, if he is sincere, Ferguson seems to be signalling that we'll see no unbranded but ALP-authorised flyers appropriating the Greens logo and featuring the heads of prominent Liberals at its centre. Transplanted heads? Is Ferguson insinuating some kind of ham-fisted Greens payback in the current stunt? That, of course, is the less optimistic view: Ferguson's cryptic comments in the 'Sticky John' report could signal just the kind of stupidity that besieged our letterboxes last November.

Of course, this is all somewhat complicated by the preference deal that now seems to have been sealed between the Greens and Labor. How do you falsely insinuate a deal between the Greens and other parties when you've done a deal with them yourself? Maybe you insinuate questionable campaign tactics instead.

While we'll have to wait and see if a misleading ALP campaign becomes a feature of the federal contest for Batman, the trouble with this kind of beat-up masquerading as election coverage is that it displaces real issues and fails to engage in actual debate.

The previous week's edition of the paper devoted a tiny paragraph to the key issues for Batman as identified by Roy Morgan research – improving health services and hospitals (39 per cent of responses); improving education (25 per cent); and fair workplace and employment regulations (23 per cent). Fast-forward to last week's 'Sticky John' edition and two of these issues are implicated in a worthy commentary piece ('Stomach it?', p.6) by Heather Gallagher, who was admitted to the emergency department of a local hospital during the recent Victorian nurses' dispute.

Unfortunately, the issues covered in the article were not followed through in the paper's election coverage, so we were given little indication of where the candidates stand on issues that clearly concern many Batman voters. Given recent events, however, a closer analysis would have challenged the major parties, with the Victorian Labor Government having invoked WorkChoices in its attempt to break the nurses' dispute, and the Federal Government badly embarrassed by the seeming failure of its pork-barrelling takeover of Tasmania's Mersey hospital.

While it would be easy to frame serious questions around these events to bring out the positions of all the candidates, it seems the best we can hope for in the coverage is trivial shenanigans that distract us from the issues. In Ferguson's case, it's a distraction based on a double-standard regarding appropriate campaign tactics. Let's see if some substantial issues emerge in this week's edition of the paper.

All comments welcome, but, in the case of the ALP, that might risk addressing the real issues – don't you think, Martin?