Asad Khan interviews Melbourne candidates

Wednesday, 22 October, 2014


What can you do for the students of the University of Melbourne as their MLA?

“The good thing about students is they think about the big picture, about the future. They’re young, they’re thinking about the future, about what the job market’s going to be like, but also big moral issues like climate change. So, thinking about things like climate change, looking after the environment, what kind of education system we’re going to have in the future, how we’re going to create a world class city that is up there with the best cities in Europe, has the best public transport and you can get around really easily. I think young people think really think about the future and the Greens are all about future thinking – what do we need for our city, our state, our country into the long term and not just the next election cycle.

If you hold the balance of power, how will you go about pursuing your goals?

Well people’s voices are really heard (in the seat of Melbourne) because it’s a really marginal seat. Last time the Greens only missed out by a few hundred votes, and because of the way the Victorian parliament is arranged at the moment, the Liberals only hold government by one seat in both houses. If the Greens win a few seats in the inner city then the Greens could hold the balance of power in both houses and we saw how when the Greens held balance of power at the federal level with Adam Bandt in the lower house they were able to achieve lots of amazing things – free dental care for kids as part of Medicare, the clean energy laws, a bunch of money invested in renewable energy, a bunch of other things that are good for Australia. I’d like to be like Adam: a good local member but also able to push through some of the big changes that we need in Victoria. Some of the big changes I’d push for would be stopping the East West Toll road – it’s $18 billion of our money that will be a huge debt around the neck of Victorians and young people in particular should be quite worried because it means less money for public transport in the future and other things that we need for our state, on the most expensive road in Australia’s history. It will just put more congestion onto our roads; the modelling shows it won’t reduce congestion and that money could be much better spent on public transport, and, if we want to be a world class city, world class cities have good public transport so that would be one of the number one things we’d push for if we had balance of power. I come from a climate change background so one of the things I’d push our government to do would be to step up and take action on climate change because most of our climate change laws have been ripped up at a Victorian level but also federally. And also there are a few other issues that are really important in Melbourne in particular: one of them is housing, so students probably care a lot about this. Rent is so expensive in Melbourne and really unstable; whereas, places in Europe have more long-term leases where you can have much more stable accommodation, things like minimum standards  so your housing is energy efficient and is maintained properly…and also public housing – both Labor and Liberal haven’t invested in public housing over the last few decades and so there are a lot of people out there who can’t afford housing and are at risk  of homelessness and it’s really sad that the public housing waiting list is nearly 30 years long and then of course health and education issues which are really important. The old parties have cut health and education and we know that for Australia to prosper into the future you have to invest in both.

Both parties at the last election seemed to use less action on climate change as a means of marketing themselves. It wasn’t really an election issue. What do you think about that?
It’s really sad, Labor back-flipped on a lot of their climate change policies, particularly under Rudd…really disheartening. We thought Labor would be good on climate change and in the end they just back-flipped on it. Obviously Abbott is really close to the coal industry and is really interested in propping up that unsustainable industry. Because the federal governments are ripping up so much it means that states like Victoria have got to step up and do more. When I graduated from university I actually worked in the Department of Premier and Cabinet in the government of John Brumby and at that time Victoria was doing quite a lot on climate change. I actually left there because they backflipped on a lot of their policies, including one that I was working on which was really sad.

A policy to figure out how to put solar panels on every Victorian school and it was something that Brumby seemed to be quite passionate about and did a lot of  work on how much it’d cost and how you’d link it to the curriculum and there was one day where it was one of the first days of school and it was quite a warm day and a bunch of parents called up talkback radio and said isn’t a disaster that our kids have to go to school on such a hot day and that day I got a brief on my desk that said scrap the solar panels idea, how much would it cost to put air conditioners in every Victorian school. So just from a couple of calls on talk back radio the Labor party completely changed its mind and that made me really disheartened that the Labor Party didn’t actually want to take action on climate change they just wanted to do whatever was politically easiest in every moment and so that’s when I left and was the CEO of a national climate change organisation because I realised we didn’t  have leaders who had the guts to do things on these big issues and we needed leaders to push them to do that, but I’ve come  to politics because I realise that with people like Tony Abbott in power, they’re not listening to experts and they’re not listening to the Australian people, they’re just in it for themselves and their big business mates so we need to replace them with people who will actually do something.

Did you ever consider joining the ALP?

I mean maybe, my parents voted Labor, my dad voted Labor all his life. But I just had those experiences that told me that they wouldn’t stick to their convictions and at the end of the day all they cared about was political power, they cared about their political future over actually doing the right thing and when it got hard they always backflipped. I didn’t want to be part of a party that did that, I wanted to be part of a party that looked to the future and would actually stick to their morals and get it done.

It’s an internal choice that lots of university students face. Lots of progressive people think about the choice between Labor and the Greens and it’s actually interesting in Melbourne because the Greens can actually win this seat and if we win it then we could actually get balance of power so actually working Green in this seat versus any other seat is incredibly powerful because you can actually put someone in who can actually achieve something. Someone who will stick to their morals but also gets things done. My view is that it’s better to have a strong independent voice in parliament who’s able to achieve those outcomes rather than a junior Labor backbencher who might be a great person but doesn’t really have a voice and isn’t able to push things through the factions and in the party.

Can you tell me more about your experience working in the Brumby Government?

At the time it was when Howard was Prime Minister so there was a real vacuum of climate policy – he didn’t want to do anything, he wouldn’t even sign the Kyoto Protocol, and so a lot of state governments stepped up and said we’ll fill the void. It was a very new time, very small and we got to come up with climate policy across the whole Victorian government and help to write the green paper and white paper on climate change. It was great but things happened that made me think they didn’t have the conviction to tackle climate change, like scrapping the solar panel programme because of a few callers on talkback radio, there were also a few instances where they caved in to the coal lobby quite a lot and the forestry lobby and they weren’t even willing to consider anything that would go against what the coal lobby said and I thought that was very irresponsible and wasn’t future-thinking.

The Greens have proposed bringing back the Victorian RET since Tony Abbott has said it’s going to rip up the federal RET which is crazy because it creates jobs, makes power prices go down overall, it’s great for industry and manufacturing. There’s billions of dollars of investment, particularly in Western Victoria but also here in Melbourne, that are going to have to go offshore because we don’t have that industry and we need it here.

Can you tell me about the Greens policy platform about bringing back tram conductors?

Public transport is definitely one of the number one issues for this election; there are really three main ones, particularly for Melbourne: 1) keeping Melbourne liveable which is a lot about public transport and stopping the East-West link, 2) creating a fair society, about reversing cuts to health and education and that there’s adequate housing and affordable housing, and 3) is a clean economy, so action on climate change and investment in science and research. So public transport is definitely the number one issue that people talk to me about; the Greens plan is we’ll rip up the contract for the East-West toll road, it’s the most expensive road in history, it’s a disaster environmentally and economically in terms of not having open space, not having money to spend on public transport. And, unfortunately, the Liberals want to build it but it was also Labor’s plan to build it in their last term of government and they’ve said they plan to build it if the contract is signed before the last election. We think that’s quite an irresponsible position since we’ve got legal advice that shows that ripping up the contracts is legally totally fine and it won’t affect our credit rating – in fact, building the most expensive road in Victoria’s history and having that huge debt will affect our credit rating more than ripping up the contract.

I think Labor wants to say they’re opposed to it because they’re afraid of losing seats in the inner city but actually they want to build it (good for outer seats – look at Matthew Lesh messages).

So a few of the policies we’ve already released are connecting some of the missing tram links across Melbourne, there are a number of places around Melbourne where you just have to build a few more kilometres of tram line and you could create whole new routes – so for example there’s two kilometres in North Melbourne and East Melbourne along Victoria Street where if you just built a few extra kilometres of tram line you could create a new East-West tram route that goes all the way from North Melbourne to Richmond which there currently isn’t a tram on that route and the buses only go part of the way – and that would be the kind of East-West link that we really do need, and there are many other tram links we need across Melbourne. Also, buying more trams; students probably realise that so many of the trams here are so overcrowded at peak time – so on Elgin street and Lygon here the trams are at 150% capacity every morning at peak hour. So, buying 50 new trams, the government could do that within their current contract but they’re refusing to do that so buying those, and obviously things like the Melbourne Metro – so building a world-class expanded city loop, with stations in Parkville and North Melbourne, and Doncaster rail to ease congestion on the Eastern freeway but in regard to tram, it’s crazy that you can’t top up your Myki but you can pay a fine, it’s ridiculous. So lots of people are probably fare evading just because you’ve run out and if you top it up online it takes 3 days to come through and so we should have ways – whether it’s through conductors or machines – that you can top up Myki on a tram.

How can the Greens better sell themselves?

Difficult for Greens to get message across because a lot of media is owned by Murdoch who has a vested interest in the Liberal Party and a lot of journalists are wise to the rise of the Greens perhaps. We’re kind of going around that by doing one-on-one face-to-face meetings through door knockings every weekend, and that way we don’t have to go via the media.

What do you think about the cost of electricity being tackled at the state level?

The RET brings down wholesale electricity prices, part of the reason is that when a lot of people put solar panels on their roof – they’re most used during the day when they’re really hot and that’s the summer peak when electricity’s most expensive and so what that does is it produces most of its output at that time so it shaves off the peak of those energy costs and demands and so lowers demand on the grid during that really stressful, difficult, expensive period. So it brings down energy prices for everyone – so if you have more renewable energy then in fact prices go down overall and that’s something the Liberals aren’t being honest about. They just want to put more money in the coffers of their coal mates.

Make sure you’re enrolled because your vote here is so important – and so if you want a representative who’s progressive and thinks about the future then you need to be enrolled to vote.




If re-elected, what will you do for students in terms of transport and the cost of living (including housing and electricity prices)? 

If Labor wins the November election and forms government we will improve Melbourne’s transport system by investing in merit based public transport projects.

An Andrews Labor Government will build the Melbourne Metro, a nine kilometre rail network linking the Sunbury and Pakenham/ Cranbourne lines with five new underground stations at Arden, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and connects the west of Melbourne to the south.  Having a station at the University will go a long way towards servicing the thousands of people who visit the area each day.  Melbourne Metro Rail is Victoria’s number one transport priority.

Other important public transport policies that Labor will take the election include: ‘Homesafe’, Labor’s plan for 24 hour public transport in Melbourne on weekends, opening Flagstaff on weekends and the abolition of fares for tram travel in the CBD and Docklands.

I am acutely aware of the high cost of housing in Melbourne – each month my office provides advice and advocacy to people and families experiencing homelessness and housing stress.  Victorian Labor has a long history of building affordable housing.  Under the previous Labor state government, Housing Minister Richard Wynne (Member for Richmond) advocated tirelessly for 1800 new affordable rental homes to be built as part of the National Rental Affordability Scheme (Tanya Plibersek, is on the record about how he relentlessly called her every day when she was federal Housing Minister!).  Unfortunately under this Liberal state government, funding for public housing has stalled for the first time – this is an issue where you cannot take your foot of the accelerator.  Public housing is an important part of addressing housing prices.  Victorian Labor will work collaboratively with local governments to build more affordable housing, and to address the housing needs of vulnerable groups such as young people, women, LGBTI, and migrant communities.

One of the practical difficulties when trying to reduce energy prices is that electricity prices are set by power companies, not the government. Labor is committed to keeping prices affordable, and increasing the uptake of renewable energy.   The previous Labor government put Victoria on path to take a leading role in promoting clean energy and tackling climate change.  An Andrews Labor government will continue this important work.

What would you like the students at the University of Melbourne to know you have done to benefit them as MLA of the Melbourne district? 

One of the things I enjoy most in my role as the state member for Melbourne is the opportunities I have to talk to local people about the issues that matter to them and to build and maintain strong relationships with the local community.

An example of this is my opposition to the government’s draconian “move on” laws, which Labor will repeal if we win government.  Apart from their anti-democratic nature, these laws concern me because so many protests take place within my electorate.  In a vibrant democracy, peaceful protest and demonstration and participation in political process should be welcomed and encouraged.

Before becoming the Member for Melbourne, I was a councillor at the City of Melbourne.  Much of my work there now informs my work as state member. I am particularly proud of my work on the development of a homelessness policy for the City of Melbourne, the building of libraries in Docklands and Carlton, and working on the creation of Melbourne Music Week.

One of your shadow parliamentary portfolios is in mental health, can you tell me about your work in this area? 

As Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health, I have the opportunity to regularly speak with mental health experts, service providers, and, most importantly, with consumers and their carers. Around one in three people experience mental illness at some stage in their lives.  Young people are particularly vulnerable, and suicide is the leading cause of premature death in people under 40.  Despite significant gains in primary mental health care more broadly, too many Victorians with mental illness are still not seeking or receiving treatment. The system is still too crisis driven, with many people only receiving help when they are at their most vulnerable, instead of help to stay well. Service connection, research and workforce are three areas in the Victorian mental health sector which I hope will receive significant attention during the upcoming election campaign.  I am very focused on being part of an Andrews Labor Government that takes a lead role in mental health reform and delivers policy outcomes that make a real, practical difference.

Since public transport is a key concern of students, can you explain Labor’s decision to seemingly disown its own policy in the East-West Link yet agree to honour a contract if it is signed before the election?  

Since taking office, I have worked tirelessly in opposition to the East West Link project, and to provide support to affected individuals and groups.  The East West Link is a dud project and a waste of money.  Labor has opposed the East West Link and put forward alternative transport plans such as building the Melbourne Metro.

Victorian Labor has released legal advice and the message is clear: any contract signed before an election, for a project that’s facing Supreme Court challenge, cannot be entered into safely.

We will continue to challenge the misinformation and misrepresentations put forward by Denis Napthine and his government.  Labor will not build the East West Link, and will instead invest money in Public Transport, Health and Education where it is needed. 

The Greens have steadily gained support in the seat of Melbourne over the last few elections. Some seem to think that this is because Labor is no longer the progressive voice it once was. What do you think of this?  

My election two years ago in Melbourne – one of the most progressive areas in Australia – seems to counter the idea that Labor is not seen as a progressive movement.  The Labor party is broad and inclusive; debate is encouraged and takes place in public rather than behind closed doors as in smaller parties. As a party of government, Labor does not have the luxury of making immoderate and excessive election promises.  It is disappointing and divisive when minor parties mislead voters by promising outcomes that they are not able to implement.

The Labor party’s record is one of delivering many progressive policies that have shaped Australia: Medicare, Anti-Discrimination legislation, Native Title legislation, Worker’s Compensation, repealing Work Choices, and most recently introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  At a state level, the previous Labor government established the Human Rights Charter – the first of its kind in Australia, championed abortion law reform, and took action to protect the environment.  The Victorian Labor party has a progressive policy platform that seeks to address the needs of vulnerable groups and focuses on building an inclusive and productive society for all Victorians.  This is available online at

Lasting change takes time and hard work.  Rather than just talking, the Victorian Labor party implements progressive policies in a way that are durable – this is how real change is achieved.

You have had a remarkable career and are a role model for many aspiring politicians at the University of Melbourne. What advice would you give students wishing to follow in your footsteps? 

After school I studied Arts at the University of Melbourne before training to be a teacher.  I worked as a teacher for a number of years and then trained as a lawyer and I also became a councillor at the City of Melbourne.  All the while I was actively involved in groups within my community.  I encourage young people to explore their intellectual interests before worrying too much about where it might take them.  10 years ago I would not have thought that I would be an MP.  When I worked as a teacher during the Kennett era, my frustration with his government galvanized me into joining a political party. It is rewarding and fulfilling to pursue causes you are passionate about whether through work or in volunteer capacity.  I also think it is important to be open minded and remember to speak just as much to those who disagree with you as those who agree.  You can have multiple career paths, so try not to feel locked in.   Life is full of choices and decisions, so try not to get overwhelmed by them.  Focus on where you want to go, rather than the barriers that only appear in your way.