For full interview transcripts, click here.
The seat of Melbourne has become a contest between Labor and the Greens, with the latter gaining increasing support in the traditional blue-ribbon Labor seat since 2002. The concerns of students are particularly relevant to this seat, which encompasses student-heavy suburbs including Carlton, Parkville, Flemington, and North Melbourne. The incumbent member is Jennifer Kanis, and the Greens candidate is Ellen Sandell. Both are University of Melbourne alumnae, and both are familiar with the challenges facing students.
Kanis has been in office since the 2012 by-election and is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Justice and for Mental Health. She is the daughter of migrants and was the first in her family to finish high school and go to university. Kanis has worked as a teacher, lawyer, and council member. It was during her tenure as a high school teacher that she was galvanised into politics.
The Kennett government’s education reforms in the ‘90s, which included the closure of 350 public schools and the elimination of 7,000 teaching jobs, encouraged her to join the Australian Education Union. Here, she partook in enterprise bargaining agreement negotiation, leading to her career as an industrial relations lawyer. Kanis also served as Director of Housing Choices Australia, a not-for-profit housing provider that aims to provide housing for those not able to find it in the private rental market. Through her work as the director, she began to understand the difficulties facing students in finding appropriate, affordable housing in the inner-city region.
Greens candidate Ellen Sandell graduated from her Bachelor of Arts and Science in 2008. During that time she was the UMSU Environment Officer and led the campaign for a carbon neutral campus by 2030. You might have seen posters for her on the back of toilet cubicle doors about this initiative. Since its inception, the campaign has been responsible for a 13.3 per cent decrease in energy usage against a 13 per cent expansion in the same period.
Sandell has worked as a scientist for the CSIRO, a Policy Adviser in the Office of Climate Change for the Brumby Labor Government. She was also CEO of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. In 2009, Sandell won the Melbourne Awards for Individual Contribution to the Environment and has been featured as one of the top 100 influential Melburnians in The Age’s (Melbourne) Magazine.
Sandell has taken advice from fellow Greens member Adam Bandt. She says he “is always out and about, going to local events and meeting people. People know him and like him—I’d like to be that kind of representative,” she says.
Arguably the biggest election issue for 2014 is transport. This includes the East-West Link (EWL) and what it might mean for future spending—especially on public transport.
Sandell says that much of the recent uncertainty around the EWL is due to a fault in the “old parties”: that they accept donations from big business and developers.
“This has led to rampant, uncontrolled, inappropriate development in the city, like the East-West Link—things that don’t take into account the liveability of the city and open space, and infrastructure and affordable housing. The Greens don’t take contributions from developers,” she said.
Kanis says Labor’s new stance is one of “merit-based investment”.
She also points out Labor’s ‘Homesafe’ policy of 24-hour public transport on weekends. She says Labor plans to abolish fare for tram travel in the CBD and Docklands. But this zone doesn’t extend to the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus.
Currently, if you receive a fine (they can be $75 or more) on a tram or train, you can it via EFTPOS—while being unable to top up your Myki on a train or tram. Sandell says the Greens’ transport platform includes better Myki machine access and the return of conductors.
Housing Affordability and Cost of Living
Another election issue of central importance to the Melbourne electorate is that of housing affordability.
“I am acutely aware of the high cost of housing in Melbourne,” Kanis tells me. “Each month my office provides advice and advocacy to people and families experiencing homelessness and housing stress.”
Kanis’ significant work as a councillor at the City of Melbourne included developing a homelessness policy and building libraries in Docklands and Carlton. She has continued to work in this vein by “collaborating with local governments to address the needs of vulnerable groups, including young people, women, LGBTI and migrant communities”.
Despite these efforts, Sandell states that “both Labor and Liberal haven’t really 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. It’s really sad that the public housing waiting list is nearly 30 years long”.
Sandell points to European cities as a model for her vision for Melbourne. She mentions that Melbourne needs significant investments in public transport to bolster our comparative position. She points out that many other cities have longer-term leases for students for more stable accommodation, and minimum standards to ensure energy efficiency and proper maintenance.
Sandell identifies Green policies such as the return of the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (RET) and solar panels as solutions. “The RET brings down wholesale energy prices for everyone by reducing overall demand at the summer peak which is the most expensive, stressful time for the grid,” she says
“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,” she says.
Both Labor and the Greens have campaigned with a renewed focus on health and education.
Kanis is currently Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health. She has spent a lot of time consulting with experts, service providers, those affected and their carers. Since suicide is the leading cause of premature death in people under 40, this is a topical issue for young people, especially students.
Kanis states that she sees the system as “too crisis driven, with many people only receiving help when they are at their most vulnerable”.
Sandell tells me about the importance of health spending along with education, as being integral in ensuring that Australia is prosperous into the future.
On Careers in Politics
As advice for those considering political careers, Kanis says: “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 I would be an MP. It’s important to be open minded and speak as much to those who disagree with you as those who agree, and you can have multiple career paths, so try not to feel locked in.”
I ask Sandell if she had ever considered joining the ALP instead of the Greens.
“Maybe. My parents voted Labor. My dad voted Labor all his life,” she says. “But I just had those experiences that told me that [the ALP] 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.”
Sandell tells me about events that occurred during her time in the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Sandell worked on a programme to put solar panels on the roof of every Victorian school. It was scrapped because on a hot day, parents called talkback radio and complained that schools which didn’t have air conditioners were getting solar panels. The next day she had a brief on her desk telling her to scrap the solar panel programme and cost the placement of air conditioners in every Victorian school.
Both candidates stressed the importance of voting. You can enrol and update your details at the Victorian Electoral Commission’s website (vec.vic.gov.au/Enrolment/Default.html).
The Victorian state election will be held on 29 November 2014.