Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rucker results in for Darebin Council elections

The Rucker results for the Darebin Council elections went up on the web not long ago and they show strong performances by the ALP's Diana Asmar and Trent McCarthy, a new and welcome Green on Council.

Both candidates exceeded a 30 per cent primary vote, with Trent McCarthy well supported by Helen Brown, number two on the Greens ticket. Steven Tsitas was also returned, though needing the surplus votes and preferences of other candidates to achieve the necessary quota. My congratulations to our three new Rucker Ward Councillors.

As for myself, I am pleased to have come so high up in the primaries (1212 first-preference votes), but disappointed that the 'independent' vote was shared with two candidates whose preferences stood to favour the ALP. I congratulate John Karantzis as a fellow independent for his strong showing in such difficult circumstances.

That's it for the moment. Hopefully we'll have some other new faces on Council when the results are finalised, and I'll comment further when the smoke has cleared.

Again, thank you to everyone who voted for me and supported my campaign!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Follow the count for Council elections

Voting for Darebin's postal ballot elections concluded at 6.00pm last night, and voters interested in early results can soon follow the count at the the VLGA's tally room. To get there, follow the link on the right-hand-side of their home page.

At the moment there's just one spreadsheet showing elected Councillors in municipalities with uncontested wards, but things will get more lively from 5.30pm tonight according to the VLGA media release.

I'm not sure whether the results will continue be provided in downloadable spreadsheets, nor how they arrived at their order of candidates within particular wards, but early news of the results is welcome - especially from my point of view!

Update: The results page at the Victorian Electoral Commission seems to be just as up-to-date, so you could try there as well. As of about 8.30am this Sunday morning, there were no results for Darebin at either site.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why vote independent in Rucker?

Well, first of all you need to be sure that you're actually voting independent, but independents - particularly those with a track record on local issues - can play a real role in delivering you a better Council. Some people ask what one independent Councillor can possibly achieve, when he or she can be easily out-voted by the rest of Council. Unfortunately, that argument applies equally well to any minority group on Council - be it Labor Left, Greens or other independents.

An independent can in fact work with other progressive Councillors to bring cumulative pressure, and perhaps a decisive vote on particular issues. That is, Councillors can work with other Councillors on the merits of an issue, rather than on blind political alignment.

What's also true is that an independent can open up Council to the community. It's much harder for other Councillors to close down community perspectives on issues when residents have support from within Council itself. An independent Councillor can focus community concern in a highly visible way, and even draw increased media attention to issues that aren't receiving a proper airing.

Taking public question time as an example, it will be harder for awkward questions to be avoided, or to be quickly wound up, if there is a supportive Councillor sitting in the Chamber. The same goes for Council debates, which might actually become open and public discussions with an independent present. Quick meetings aren't always good meetings if important issues get swept under the carpet.

At present, all our Darebin Councillors are right-wing Labor. There aren't any Labor Left candidates, no Greens, and no independents such as myself. What kind of advocacy do you think you're going to get when your only representative on Council belongs to the same faction as all the other Councillors, and, indeed, to the same faction as your local MPs and the Premier? Advocacy on bad developments, on climate, a stance on roads, or on child-care is simply beyond them.

The trouble is, you won't read that much in the local papers about genuine independents. You'll read discussion about dummies running only to support their political masters (by all means shine a light on them), the internal squabbles of the Labor Party (who cares?), but not nearly enough about genuine alternatives available to voters in these elections, and in particular the alternative I'm offering in Rucker ward.

From the outset of this campaign, I have put my policies up-front, offered even my broader views so residents could know exactly what they'll be getting should I be elected. I have also been completely transparent about my preferences, putting these online before they were even made public by the Victorian Electoral Commission.

I invite you to consider just how much you know about any of the other candidates - Labor, Green or claimed independents. Do they answer your calls and emails? Do they respond to surveys on important issues? You'll find all my responses to surveys online here at this blog. In that way, I have tried to be as responsive to residents' questions and concerns as I would be if elected to Council to represent Rucker ward.

While there is a tendency to dismiss independents as minor candidates not in the main game, that is simply a matter of voting. Voters decide who is in the main game. Voters decide how they fill in their preferences. Voters decide, when they have wanted support on local issues, just who was there to offer it and advocate on their behalf.

Where were your Labor Councillors and even the Greens candidates on local planning issues? Where were they when the state government wanted to knock down an asbestos-contaminated public housing estate next to a playground without having the decency to properly inform residents? Ask yourselves these questions, and then decide. The new Darebin Council is in your hands - make sure it's a more democratic one that listens to the community.

If you'd like to watch or listen to more about my campaign, there's a brief YouTube video, and my recent interview on Radio 3CR. You are also welcome to contact me via my campaign website, or by calling me on 0404 526 555.

Back to my campaign website

A commitment to Indigenous reconciliation

Today I received a Strategic Plan for Reconciliation and a Reconciliation Commitment Statement for Council election candidates from ANTar Victoria. By seeking a commitment from candidates who may be elected to Council, the Statement is a way of ensuring that the rights and well-being of Indigenous Australians are built into the Council strategic plans that will be developed in the first six months of new Council terms. As such, I am pleased to commit to the statement as an expression of my commitment to Indigenous people living in Darebin.

Despite the historic occasion of Sorry Day in February, a nation still committed to a deeply problematic Northern Territory 'intervention' still has a long way to go in bringing justice to Indigenous people, and in fostering equality on a range of socio-economic levels. I hope the new Darebin Council will recognise that it is primarily via the representation and participation of Indigenous people in decisions that affect them that genuine progress will be made.

Back to my campaign website

Climate recognition for survey response

It was pleasing to open my email this morning and find that I'd received some welcome recognition for my stance on climate change, and in particular my response to a candidate survey by Darebin Climate Action Now (DCAN). The email stated in part:

"Congratulations! Recently you completed a survey about Climate Change and the upcoming Darebin Local Council elections. Your responses have achieved a Gold Award from the Darebin Climate Action Now (DCAN) group."

DCAN has been very busy fostering local action on climate change, and was a recent participant in the Walk Against Warming. I thank them for their acknowledgment, which should go some way to show that there is no political monopoly on concern for climate and advocacy for urgent action.

Back to my campaign website

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm keen to get back to you, so please leave a message!

I strongly encourage callers to my campaign mobile number (0404 526 555) to please leave a message if they don't get me straight away, as I reply to pretty much everyone who contacts me (fundamentalist religious surveys excepted).

Email is also a reliable way of getting a response, as I then don't get return numbers cut off by poor mobile reception, which frustratingly happened only this afternoon (Hi, Oliver).

In this campaign, I have tried to respond as I would if I were elected a Councillor. I'll respond even if I don't agree with your position and the honest statement of my views might lose me a vote. I won't sit on the fence, giving non-committal answers to hedge my bets like some other candidates. You can also read all my policies at my campaign website.

That's it - challenge me, ask me where I stand, invite me to a debate. I'll be there!

Back to my campaign website

An historic day for Councils, but what about ABC Learning?

Last night's Darebin Council meeting - the last before a new Council is elected - started with Darebin CEO, Michael Ulbrick, rightly noting the historic occasion of today's inaugural Australian Council of Local Governments meeting in Canberra.

With 80% of Australia's Mayors today meeting with Prime Minister Rudd and Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Councils are asking for $1 billion additional infrastructure funding. According to ABC Radio National this morning, they are likely to get a much more modest $300 million to share.

Darebin Mayor, Peter Stephenson, will be there today and last night I asked during public question time what specific proposals he would be making to our nation's leaders regarding the transfer of Darebin's at-risk ABC Learning centres to community or Council control.

Despite an informative account of the complexities of the situation by Council staff, not only could our Councillors not give a specific picture of the representations Mayor Stephenson would be making, they could give no picture of the in principle position our Mayor would be taking to advocate for Darebin's children, more than 1000 of whom are currently on waiting lists for child-care. Those lists is set to grow if an effective solution to the ABC Learning issue is not quickly found.

Yes, today certainly is an historic occasion for our Councils, but it's a pity the Council could last night give no convincing picture of how it would benefit the residents of Darebin. Let us hope Mayor Stephenson does not waste this opportunity, and we will hear more sooner rather than later - hopefully before the election of the new Council is decided.

Council ends on a confidential note

Last night's Darebin Council meeting was the last before the election of a new four-year Council on 29 November. It finished with the confidential consideration of a planning matter from which the public gallery was excluded.

The item was introduced as 'urgent business' by Darebin CEO, Michael Ulbrick, but no mention was made in the papers released for the meeting. This final, confidential note to Council proceedings this term follows a jump in confidential items considered by Council over 2007-2008 (9%).

While some items ought to be considered on a confidential basis, they should be more clearly identified than a brief verbal mention at the end of a public meeting. While an item might well arise too late to be listed in the Council meeting papers, such cases should be covered by the distribution of a simple addendum on a single sheet of paper that could be left on the chairs of the gallery, as are other related meeting papers. The addendum should clearly identify the matter being considered, and the reasons for its confidentiality.

That Council closed its doors for the confidential consideration of a planning matter just before the election may, in the absence of simple steps to promote transparency, lead to the conclusion that the secrecy is politically motivated.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Walk sends a wake-up call on climate

A big crowd had gathered at Federation Square for the Walk Against Warming, when all eyes turned to the big screen. In a pre-recorded interview from a chilly laneway outside his US offices, climate luminary, NASA's Professor James Hansen, warned that the world must have a moratorium on new coal-fired power stations as a key action against dangerous climate change.

The warning struck a chord with its Victorian audience, with the state government having recently announced plans for a new brown coal-fired power station in the La Trobe Valley. The power station already has more than $150 million of federal and state funds committed.

Hansen suggested, however, that unless we curbed our use of coal or captured the resulting carbon emissions (a 'solution' that to me seems a long way off), we were facing large-scale harmful changes to our climate.

Outspoken head of Victoria's climate change reference group and world climate authority, Professor David Karoly, followed up by saying we were likely already committed to two-degree warming and, if Professor Garnaut's most likely scenario were adopted, we were heading for 'run-away climate change', with many current climate indicators, including melting Arctic ice, already tracking at the worst-case end of current projections.

However, it was Environment Victoria's Mark Wakeham who, for me, suggested the strongest connection with local government when he noted a recent report released by the organisation suggesting that Victoria could cut its emissions by 60% by 2020, saving money in the process. As part of this he suggested that jobs could be created by retro-fitting homes to achieve greater energy efficiency.

This work has significant implications for Darebin Council, which has developed some good initiatives but appears to be suffering climate complacency in its dismissal of new ideas.

Like the Walk Against Warming, the new Darebin Council will need to draw on a greater diversity of views, assessing proposals on their merits, not rejecting them because of political origins at odds with the current Council's narrow right-wing Labor agenda. Afterall, every member of the current Council belongs to the same faction as our Premier, John Brumby, who approved the La Trobe Valley's new coal-fired power station. It's time for some new thinking.

Today's event ended on the steps of Parliament with a ten-second countdown and collective wake-up call on climate action for our state and federal governments - a call equally relevant at Council level.

That's why I have proposed as part of my climate change policy a Darebin Climate Framework to highlight the climate impacts of all Council initiatives and point to more climate-friendly solutions. The Framework would be most relevant to the environmental performance of new buildings, but would have benefits across the board, including possible cost-savings as the Environment Victoria research suggests.

If you're concerned about climate change, why not ask the other candidates and current Councillors their views, and if they were there today, or have attended a past Walk Against Warming.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Safer, better cycling in Darebin

As a supporter of cycling, I was pleased to respond to a request for my position on cycling from Bicycle Victoria and from Darebin Bicycle User Group. Several of my policies are relavant to cycling, but here I respond to DBUG's question:

Bicycle Victoria recommends that each council spend at least $5 per resident on cycling. Their latest review of expenditure showed that Darebin has failed to meet this target, spending only $3 per resident, less than neighbouring Banyule and Yarra councils.

If elected, what will you do to ensure that Darebin raises its level of expenditure to meet the $5 target and maintains expenditure at that level?
For an edited version of my response (and those of other candidates), see the DBUG website. Here's the unedited version of my statement:
To increase Darebin expenditure to the five dollars per resident recommended by Bicycle Victoria, I would advocate among my fellow Councillors for increased funding, serve as a focal point on Council for community concerns about cycling safety and convenience, lobby to include cyclists in decision-making about cycling, and work collaboratively with community cycling organisations such as Darebin Bicycle Users Group and Bicycle Victoria to campaign for action.

Having completed Bicycle Victoria's 2001 Around the Bay in a Day Ride, I would also get on my bike more often and aim to ride to Council meetings, as well as promoting cycling within Council itself. In my stated policy, I have committed to safer roads, more dedicated bike lanes and paths, and more bike parking in local shopping areas. I am a pro-cycling candidate. For more information, please see:
Happy cycling!

Last flyers go out in the rain

With the last postal ballot papers set to arrive today from the Victorian Electoral Commission, this morning before work I finished off my letter-boxing juggling an umbrella and with an eye on the lightning as our gardens (and hopefully catchments) got a much-needed soaking of rain.

Despite the welcome help of volunteers from the Darebin Appropriate Development Association, and my own slogging around the streets, I haven't been able to cover nearly the whole ward with my flyers. However, I'm hoping my web address on the postal ballot paper will help people connect with me and get a good idea of my policies and broader views.

I have based my independent, community campaign on openness and being up-front about where I stand not only on local issues, but also on broader ones that I think are equally relevant in giving a full picture of myself as a candidate seeking to represent you on Council.

Before you vote for your Councillors in Rucker ward, I would ask you to consider if you know nearly so much about the views, positions and community involvements of other candidates - especially those we hear little from and who are largely aligned with the leading right-wing Labor Unity candidates.

Voters need to decide if they want more of the same - a Council dominated by a single right-wing faction of a single political party - or if they want a more diverse Council with a range of progressive views better representing those of the community itself.

Unfortunately in Rucker Ward, there are not even any Labor Left candidates, while in other wards the Labor Right has preferenced away from them. Council needs more progressives - independent community candidates such as myself, Labor Left candidates, and Greens. Let's hope there are some new voices on Council after 28 November, and I invite you to consider my preferences in completing your vote.

Please be sure to complete and return your postal ballot paper according to the VEC instructions so that it reaches the VEC Returning Officer by no later than 6.00pm on Friday 28 November 2008.

If you do not receive your ballot paper today, you can call the VEC on 13 18 32 (text telephone 9299 0570) to check that it's on its way.

Back to my campaign website

Review of building permits needed

On two recent occasions I have had cause to follow up with Council regarding whether building demolition works had gone through the appropriate processes. Most recently when I was out letter-boxing, I spotted a local house where demolition had been done and broken fibre cement sheets could be clearly seen from the street.

While a bit of less-than-gentle pressure is seeing some Council action on this - asbestos testing of samples is to be arranged today - there is too little education and enforcement of building permit processes in Darebin.

The question for residents is whether they and their children want to feel safe knowing that demolition works in their neighbourhood have been through the appropriate checks for hazardous materials - of course they do. And, while most people do the right thing, Council needs to pay more attention to the small proportion of people who are less community-minded.

A final point is that the obligations to comply with safety checks and other building processes are all the more critical when larger-scale demolition works are undertaken. With lots of new development in Darebin (and a fair bit of over-development), Council needs to make sure that the demolition of large buildings to make way for apartments is accompanied by strict adherence to environmental hazard checks.

As I saw when campaigning for better disclosure about asbestos management during the demolition of the Roberts Street public housing estate, even the State Government needs to lift its game in this regard. There's certainly room for improvement for Darebin Council on this issue.

Back to my campaign website

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In the wild on Darebin Parklands tour

Last Monday I had the pleasure of taking part in a candidate tour of Darebin Parklands with Ingrid Svendsen and Sue Course of the Darebin Parklands Association. The tour followed a request by the DPA for candidates' statements about their related policies. Here's mine:
If elected as a Rucker Ward Councillor, I will work to sustain our parks as places of recreation, and of connection with native flora and fauna – including birds (I'm a keen bird-watcher). Opposing the sale of open space, and supporting its expansion, I will fight the exploitation of parks by commercial and other activities detrimental to their habitat values. To protect the community and park ecologies, I will also work to establish a review of the use of herbicides by Council in parks and other green areas. My 'protecting open space' policy is available at
Well, the tour now allows me to put this statement in a more specific context regarding the Darebin Parklands themselves.

The first thing to note is that they offer a stunning example of what can be achieved when concerted community action transforms a compromised landscape. The parklands include a former quarry and tip, though many visitors would simply believe they were in flourishing remnant habitat - native birds, kangaroos and other wildlife live among native trees and preserved introduced trees of historical significance. A central feature of the parklands is, of course, the Darebin Creek and its associated wetlands and interesting rock landscapes amongst the greenery.

Care of the park is achieved through a collaboration of Councils, park rangers and community members involved in the management committee and through the association. Readers may also be aware that a park masterplan was also recently adopted by Darebin Council, among other things defining new on- and off-leash areas for visiting dogs.

Having seen first-hand what the parklands have to offer, my observations of the plan are that the location of the off-leash area is not ideal in terms of its impact on the parklands' habitat values, and that it would be better positioned in a well-defined area close to the entrance and environment centre. This would have many benefits, including easier access for dog owners, the less invasive fencing needed to define the area, a comparable off-leash area to other parks, and minimal damage to the parklands' habitat values.

The plan provides for regular reviews, and if elected as a Rucker Ward Councillor, I would be keen to see a range of necessary data collected to inform the review, including the impact of the new arrangements on the incidence of dog attacks - on other dogs, native animals, and people - as well as environmental impact data sourced from expert sources. I would also be keen to see direct public participation and openness in the review process.

The larger principle informing this is nurturing the habitat of the park, and increasing the confidence with which it can be experienced by all park users - including families and children, the elderly, and people with smaller pets who may sometimes fear the presence of large and aggressive off-leash dogs. While responsible dog-owners and their dogs add a welcome dimension to our community life, a broader perpective is necessary in thinking about our parks.

A final note to add is that with increasing public investment in places such as the Darebin Parklands, the new Darebin Council must be increasingly mindful of surrounding land uses that may have adverse impacts. We have seen with the rehabilitation of our fantastic All Nations Park that redeemed spaces can become magnets for development. Our parks must be treasured places, not mere commercial opportunities.

Back to my campaign website

New Darebin Council must act on climate

I was pleased to respond to the recent candidate survey on climate change sent by Darebin Climate Action Now (DCAN). That's because the survey highlights a key area for Council action over the next four years and beyond. While Council appears to think it has climate well under control with its current initiatives, there is much to be done that can benefit our local communities, and encourage further collaboration with neighbouring Councils to find viable solutions.

One idea I'm proposing as part of my climate policy for the next Council is a Darebin Climate Framework to be used in assessing all Council proposals for their impact on climate. There are obvious areas where this might apply such as the environmental performance of Council buildings and new developments (see below), but also less obvious ones, such as an example I encountered in my own workplace.

There a smart decision was made to prefer a certain type of computer chip over another because, over thousands of desktop machines, the cumulative savings of energy made a big difference. There are lots of decisions like that which together can start making a big difference to our impact on climate.

Another idea I have for Council is to allow developers who go the extra mile in building sustainable apartments to market those as 'Darebin Climate Friendly' provided they satisfy very strict criteria on environmental performance beyond the current 'environment lite' approach we're now getting. That sort of thing can help to set benchmarks and allow people to make better choices about where they choose to live. Naturally, I would expect such developments to adhere to the standards of community consultation and participation I have outlined in my planning policy.

In short, what I'm offering to Rucker Ward voters is the potential for an independent Councillor switched on to climate. Not only do I have a climate policy, but at the end of it are links to my submission to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper consultation, and my other writing urging strong action to address climate change. Climate change is real, the need for action is urgent, and I invite you to send questions my way to put me through my paces on this important issue.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Read before voting 'independent' in Rucker

In Rucker Ward in the 2008 Darebin Council elections, there are four candidates who are not declared members of political parties and are claiming the status of independent - including me. Two candidates are of particular interest, and I invite voters to consider the following in assessing their claims.

First, let's consider Miranda Honey. According to her candidate statement, Miranda wants to take the politics out of local government, and claims she is 100% independent. She alone among Rucker candidates provided no contact details to the Victorian Electoral Commission for voters to get in touch with her. After naturally giving herself first preference, she preferences Daniel Govan (another claimed independent), and then current Darebin Councillor and Labor Unity candidate for Rucker, Diana Asmar.

Second, let's consider Daniel Govan. After giving himself first preference, he returns her favour by preferencing Miranda Honey, and then Diana Asmar. To his credit, he has provided contact details, so you could try getting in touch with him and asking a few questions.

Now consider how this pattern of preferences could well play a vital role in the election result, for the following reasons.

First, if these candidates are not independent - something you must consider and decide for yourself - they may pull votes away from genuine independents.

Second - and this is perhaps the most interesting point - if Diana Asmar is close but fails to get a quota on first preferences and is vying for the third spot in Rucker Ward, candidates with the lowest number of votes will begin to be eliminated in the count and their preferences will be delivered up the line. It's at this point voters should note that, whichever of Govan or Honey is eliminated first, both their preferences will eventually flow to Diana Asmar.

Of course, it is unlikely there'll be an upset from Govan and Honey second-preferencing each other before Asmar, as the current Councillor and former mayor of Darebin is a clear ALP heavy-hitter and will easily out-poll them. She'll benefit from their preferences knowing they stand no chance of even getting close.

To all this it could well be said that everyone has to preference in some sort of order, and there are indeed legitimate reasons for mutual support based on similarity of policies and views among candidates. I am clearly open to the observation that my own preferences favour the Greens.

While I have explained my preference decisions elsewhere - basically, I'm a progressive and the Greens are progressive - the crucial difference is this. I am contactable, have clear policies that are available online, have a track record of campaigning on local issues, and have even made my views known beyond specifically Council issues. I am not and never have been a member of a political party (ask the others about that).

Google me and you'll find that I have openly commented on the Greens, Labor, and even the poor Democrats, though I have naturally reserved my fiercest attacks for the Coalition (see, for example, my letter on Mark Vaile before the 2007 federal election).

I am also engaging in the debate in these elections, and have devoted much energy to campaigning, including delivering leaflets around the electorate. I am running to win a spot on Council to represent you as an independent, and if I can't do that then I prefer the Greens as the next best option, followed by Asmar, then Tsitas etc.

Having considered that, think now about what you know of the other independents. Do you in fact know anything beyond the brief claims in their candidate statements, and the fact that their preferences (in Honey's and Govan's cases) clearly favour an existing Labor Unity Councillor?

Have you been able to contact them, or have you seen any electoral material from them in your letterbox? If not, you may be justified in asking whether they are only in this election as running mates for another candidate, Diana Asmar, and not in the hope of representing you as an independent on Council.

As for John Karantzis, his preferences favour the Greens and not the ALP, but, once again, what do you know of his policies and broader views, or his track record on community issues? He may well be a genuine independent, but that's something you will need to decide based on what I've said here and, of course, on your own considerations. He has provided contact details, and so you could ask him a few questions as well.

Finally, let us not forget Steven Tsitas, the current Councillor for Rucker Ward and, like Asmar, also a member of the right-wing Labor Unity faction (alas, there are no Labor Lefties running in this ward). When you get your ballot paper this week, note that, although Tsitas enjoys second preference from only two candidates, one of them is Asmar. He has, of course, returned the favour - if either gets a surplus, it will go to elect the other. Both the Labor heavy-hitters are therefore preferencing for the status quo on Council - they want to serve you up with more of the same.

In the end, preferences can only flow the way you fill them in. They're not predetermined by what the candidates can in the end only suggest. You can easily decide on your own order independently, so to speak. All I can say is vote and preference carefully, and if you're inclined to vote independent, think about what that means to you.

Back to my campaign website

Let's have an action plan for women's health

Election candidates receive a lot of surveys and requests for commitments on particular issues. In these elections, I've received a few, and will be saying more here shortly. To begin though, I'll say a few words about why I've committed to an action plan - Safe, Well and Connected - circulated to Darebin Council election candidates by Women's Health in the North (WHIN).

First of all, it is a big eye-opener being married to a social worker who works with single women who have been subject to domestic violence and who are at risk of homelessness. Women are disproportionately at risk of violence, isolation and social disadvantage on a variety of levels, as well as often bearing the brunt of single parenthood.

These factors, which WHIN identifies as the 'social determinants' of well-being, go beyond reproductive health and contribute to women's overall safety, well-being and social connectedness. Given that these issues, and particular medical conditions, are experienced differently by women than by men, with some in fact unique to women, there is a lot of sense in an approach such as WHIN's gender-based framework.

Further, because Council has such a direct connection with many of the women in particularly disadvantaged groups, such a Framework could have a big impact on the effectiveness of Council's services. This is especially the case when reading Council's annual report and its annual report card for 'A Caring City' gives so little indication of a gender-based approach. WHIN has also suggested that a similar approach might in fact benefit the needs of men as well.

There is another big aspect of WHIN's proposal that appeals to my particular platform in this election. That is the broadly inclusive approach WHIN has taken in framing particular actions to address women's needs - more than 100 women and service providers had a say in putting together the action plan.

WHIN also proposes that, in contributing to meeting women's needs via a Council strategy, the same broadly inclusive approach - with representation of and participation by women from disadvantaged groups - should be taken in making decisions about specific solutions and actions by Council. I couldn't agree more, and fully support implementation of this plan by Council.

Back to my campaign website

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who's delivering flyers to your letterbox?

Earlier in this campaign, Rucker residents experienced saturation bombing of ALP propaganda. I was even told that one candidate had a minibus to cart around the workers who would then descend on a target area with hefty envelopes full of overblown claims.

Even the Greens were throwing a lot of paper around, albeit of the recycled variety (still, it is reduce, recycle and re-use, guys). For the moment, though, it's become a little quieter at least down the southern end of the ward, but with ballots posted out this week it may well be the calm before the paper storm.

As I've mentioned before, I just don't have the resources of the big parties, so if I reach you with one of my small, 100% recycled paper leaflets, it'll probably be just the once. And while I do have some community volunteers helping me, it's quite likely you'll see me coming to grips with the amazing variety of sometimes inaccessible or hidden letterboxes in our ward. If you do, I'm happy to stop and chat, as I've already done with lots of residents. It'll be a break from the slog, and the 15,000+ steps it takes just for one decent letterboxing session.

(How do I know it's that many? I'm using one of the free pedometers given out as part of the WalkSmart initiative - don't drop them, however, as they sometimes reset and you'll lose the steps you've already built up for the day. And yes, that is a hole in my running shoe.)

Getting back to the campaign, the next time a flyer lands in your letterbox, think about who's delivering it, and whether the candidate it's spruiking is actually getting out there themselves. Of course, candidate-delivered flyers mean nothing if you haven't got decent policies, but I have those as well.

Back to my campaign website

Friday, November 7, 2008

Radio 3CR interview now available

Back on Friday 31 October, I had the good fortune to be invited onto Radio 3CR's Keep Left program to talk about why I am running as an independent for Rucker Ward in the 2008 Darebin Council elections.

In short, it's all about democracy, and improving the representation and participation of residents in the running of their local Council. A big part of that is electing independent, community and other progressive Councillors to break the current control of Council by a single faction of a single political party.

Just a note on the (until recently) proposed Councillor conflict-of-interest laws. At the time of the interview, the government had backed down on laws that would have targeted community engagement rather than inappropriate financial interest as an influence on Councillor voting, but successful amendments were yet to be passed - they now have, and it just shows what a community protest on the steps of Parliament can achieve!

So, here it is, courtesy of Radio 3CR and the fantastic podomatic free online podcasting service.

Stay tuned for further podcasts on this channel as the campaign progresses. Feel free to leave comments, send questions, or contact me offline via email. Alternatively, give me a call on 0404 526 555 to get hold of me directly.

Back to my campaign website

Why we need more transparent planning

I was out letterboxing last night, when I passed the old Warner's factory at 18-20 High Street Northcote, opposite the church. There were two signs alerting me to a proposal to develop the site (though not what would be there). Unfortunately, as you can see in the picture, they're very much obscured, and you would need to live in the immediate neighbourhood to know what was going on.

I knocked on the door of a local resident and found out that 12 dwellings and offices to a height of five storeys were approved for the site, and while the resident was happy that a development would replace the derelict factory, he wasn't happy with quite a few aspects of the design - including over-development, overlooking, and impact on parking and traffic.

This is exactly the kind of issue Darebin's online planning service might address, if it provided adequate information and hadn't been delayed for more than a year. The resident told me the proposal was going to VCAT, which it turns out it did yesterday (the sign said a decision by the responsible authority would not be made before today). We won't know for quite some time - at least from official sources - what the outcome was.

Ringing the Council, I was initially told the file was 'with the consultant', but when I persisted, challenging the admittedly amiable planning officer, the basic details of the proposal were forthcoming - including that there had been a concession granted regarding car-parking. I also did some digging on Darebin's website, and found the initial application was approved back on 14 April this year. Unfortunately, an online link to the plans yields plans for a totally different site.

The problem is clear: the scope for objection and community action on developments is being systematically restricted by a lack of disclosure and buried information. Residents beyond those in the very immediate vacinity of any given development have little idea what's going on in their neighbourhoods.

Of course, that suits our pro-development Council and State Government just fine. The fewer the numbers organising for moderate community-sanctioned development, the easier the path for developers to come in and cut a swathe through our neighbourhood amenity. As in the case of the resident I spoke to, people aren't inherently opposed to development as such - they just want a say. You can vote for your say at November's elections.

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Council elections and democratic renewal

With our eyes turned to the US and the hope of democratic renewal that may come with Barak Obama's historic victory, the seemingly minor matter of 79 Victorian Council elections later this month is easy to overlook. Yet, when it comes to democratic renewal – better representation and more participation by citizens – the scale of constituencies at the local level might well offer our best chance for high standards to be set.

In recent years, the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has made significant progress in local representation reviews that for many Councils (including Darebin) will see proportional representation used in the coming elections. In these Councils, the voting system and larger, multi-Councillor wards will mean a better chance of election for candidates who appeal to what the VEC calls 'communities of interest'. Effectively, candidates with strong backing on local issues, but not necessarily majority support, now stand a good chance of election.

Applied retrospectively to Rucker ward where I live and am running as an independent, the new electoral system would likely have meant the 2004 election of a Green, and of two ALP Councillors – one from the Left and one from the Right. On first preferences, these were the three most popular candidates and would likely have achieved the quota of slightly more than 25% of the vote necessary to each gain one of three positions. Three significant pockets of support, together comprising more than 75% of the formal vote, would have achieved representation.

What we got instead under majority preferential voting – the old system – was a single Councillor from Labor Unity (the ALP Right), Steven Tsitas, who actually came third on first-preference votes and was bumped over the necessary 50% by a slew of preferences from a field of 13 candidates.

Worse still, Labor Unity got up in all the eight other wards, mainly because the system advantaged the large number of factionally aligned candidates – whether or not they were all publicly recognised as such. ALP heavyweights benefited from running mates who were too often contesting the election only to direct preferences up the line.

The result was a Council entirely dominated by a single faction of a single party – Labor Unity – the faction not only of our local MPs, but of the Premier, John Brumby.

This circumstance raises at least two important questions. Firstly, what kind of representation is achieved by a politically monopolised Council? Secondly, what level of advocacy can residents then expect from their Council when community views conflict with the policies of a Labor State Government?

Despite the VEC's recommendation for Darebin Council, and its 2007 endorsement by Local Government Minister, Richard Wynne, two Councillors – Mendo Kundevski and Steven Tsitas – used the 20 October Darebin Council meeting as a platform to decry the changes. Campaign material from Tsitas vows to 'remedy the situation' – referring to the claimed lack of accountability where more than one Councillor represents residents in each new, larger ward. That the VEC considered and dismissed this concern doesn't seem to matter.

The need for new, more diverse voices is only underlined by Premier Brumby's recent attempt to muzzle community candidates should they be elected. As reported in The Age, proposed changes to Councillor conflict-of-interest laws threatened to target not the clearly inappropriate financial motives that might influence the votes of some Councillors, but their past community engagement.

Under the proposed laws, certain previous expressions of a view on a particular issue – be it development, public transport, roads or the protection of open space – would have rendered Councillors ineligible to vote on these matters. The hobbling intent was clear, and the recent Brumby backdown in the face of a community protest on the steps of Parliament shows that politically diverse voices of opposition can be effective in promoting the community interest.

This story of monopolised representation, Council resistance to reform, and hobbling of alternative points of view is only one side of the democratic coin. In his recent, excellent book, Democracy: Crisis and Renewal, Paul Ginsborg argues that successful democracies must combine strong representation with participation – the capacity for citizens to influence decisions by taking part in deliberations in a sustained way.

By way of a possible model, Ginsborg cites the 'participatory budget' of Porto Alegre in Brazil. Though not without its challenges, there the sustained, year-long participation of an increasing number of citizens in setting the budget has had a demonstrable impact on local government decisions and their alignment with community priorities. Ginsborg sees a key role for local government in democratic renewal through such participation combined with better representation.

Voters in Victoria's local government elections should ask how often shallow 'consultation' and 'focus groups' are passed off as participation in decisions about important local issues, and what other more democratic models might be considered.

And so we come back to the 20 October Darebin Council meeting. In the Council Chamber the claimed achievements are on display, a festival of self-congratulation calculated to benefit Councillors seeking re-election. Unfortunately, a quick glance at Council's vaunted 'report card' launched that night reveals big cracks in the glass.

Of five measures of its performance, Darebin Council scores worst in the area of 'A Democratic City'. A big jump in the number of confidential documents considered by Council comes with further news that a badly needed review of Council's 2002 consultation policy has been pushed back beyond the election. Some 27% of responses to a community survey have also shown Council's community engagement to be inadequate or worse. In fact, for 2007–2008, Council has achieved only 50% of its own indicators of democracy.

I invite you to think about these important matters of local democracy, and the chance for democratic renewal at the November 2008 Darebin Council elections.

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For Ginsborg's consideration of Porto Alegre, see pp. 69–75 of Democracy: Crisis and Renewal, Profile Books, London, 2008. Ginsborg sees a particular role for local government – hence his chapter title, on which I have drawn, 'Local government and the renewal of democracy'.

For Council's performance as 'A Democratic City', see pp. 36–41 of the City of Darebin Annual Report 2007/2008 and its Annual Report Summary 2007/2008.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A community say on local development

Community concerns about development are often dismissed as NIMBYism, an expression of the Not-In-My-Backyard culture. The reality is that valid planning objections are too often given short shrift by a Council falling in line with the Brumby State Government's rampant development agenda.

We all know that sprawl must be contained for the benefit of the environment, but we are not faced with a stark choice between no development and over-development. There's a balance between those extremes that comes from including the community in planning decisions and listening to their voice. That isn't happening with the current Council and, having served on Council's Planning Committee, current Rucker Ward Councillor, Steven Tsitas, must take some responsibility for that sad state of affairs.

In 2004, Councillor Tsitas was elected in part on the basis of his support for community planning group, Save Westgarth Village, for which I acted as spokesperson and also ran as a Council candidate. Well, in terms of Councillor Tsitas' performance since then as a community planning advocate, I'd say there just aren't any significant runs on the board.

As well as the general failure of democracy when it comes to the openness and responsiveness of Council on planning matters, the community is faced with a technocratic approach to planning, where the onus is on ordinary residents to understand obscure structure plans and planning schemes. Council must do more to explain clearly the reasons for planning decisions - especially the claimed basis on which community objections are too often rejected. There must also be genuine scope for communities to influence the outcomes of planning decisions.

Council must also be more transparent about what's in the pipeline. Unfortunately, an online planning information service is being designed without significant community consultation on what the public would like to know. It is also our misfortune that the system has already been delayed for more than a year. That's a pity when it might help us keep track of the number and type of developments planned for our ward, and perhaps to actively campaign on them when necessary.

You might hear the defence that Council is subject to State Government policies and legislation, to the vagaries of VCAT, and to statutory timelines, but where in all this is Council advocacy for a saner planning process that is understandable and accountable to the people? The trouble is, when every current Councillor is a member of the same political faction as the Premier, you're just not going to get any decent advocacy for residents.

It falls to groups such as the Darebin Appropriate Development Association (DADA) to remain eternally vigilant on planning matters, and to serve as a focal point for valid community concerns about inappropriate and excessive development projects. Yet why the need for such vigilance, when reason and moderation should be built into the system in the first place? With new representation on Council, this is possible.

A key focus of DADA's efforts has been the ten-storey Northcote Plaza development of 90+ units. Rammed through by the State Government, there was too little advocacy from Council to protect the community's investment in the wonderful All Nations Park. The Plaza was never a development opportunity when the park was a tip, so why should it become a site of commercial exploitation just because there has been strong public investment to create such a fantastic open space?

The number of such projects will only increase. Former industrial land on Separation Street/Arthurton Road has been slated by Council for eight storeys, but there is already talk of potential twelve-storey development. Where's the community interest? At present, it's overshadowed by the commercial interests of developers.

Council also plans to redevelop the Preston Market, and to spend around $140 million on the redevelopment of the Preston Civic Precinct on the corner of High and Gower Streets. What kind of community input would you like to see on such projects, and others that will fall closer to home, in Rucker communities and neighbourhoods? What kind of community scrutiny would you like to see within Council itself? Again, this is possible if alternative voices are elected.

When you're reading Councillor Tsitas' prolific campaign material, delivered in bulky envelopes to your letterbox time and time again, consider ringing him to ask if he accepts a share of Council's poor performance on planning - especially when he is so quick to claim his share of Council's collective achievements in other areas.

If I am elected as a Rucker Ward Councillor, there'll be a pretty big light shone right on Council's planning activities. You'll find my full planning policies at my campaign website, and I hope you will consider them if local planning and development is of concern to you.

One thing I will strive to achieve is to bring the community in on planning decisions - not through shallow consultation in which your views are collected and ignored - but togive the community a role in making planning decisions. Why is that so hard for Council and the State Government?

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