Moreland Council Elections 2016: A hopefully useful guide

As a service to my fellow political tragics in our municipality, I’ve tried to put together a guide to the dynamics of local government in Moreland and a bit about the candidates. I claim no expertise beyond my own experiences working with councillors and few evenings of cyber-stalking the candidates.

At the 2012 Council Elections, as a new resident I simply had no idea what I was doing or who I was voting for. There was little I could do to get informed. Little did I know a year later I’d be dealing with many of the successful candidates when I started volunteering on the successful fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Also I should note that midway through putting this together my Climate Action Moreland colleague John Englart did a magnificent write up of the policy challenges council faces in his North East Ward guide for sustainable Fawkner. I would recommend anyone and everyone read it. Also he did the hard yards on a climate questionnaire of the candidates for Climate Action Moreland.

Also if you’re a candidate reading this and I’ve gotten anything wrong just let me know at michaelfstanley@gmail.com and I’ll fix it.

Updates 20/10 —I’ve added a bunch of info since first publication. If nothing else please also go and check out John Englart’s invaluable summary of all the candidate responses to public surveys here. I’ve also

  • Added a missing South Ward Candidate
  • Shed a little more light on Helen Davidson
  • Linked to two more candidate guides for south and NE wards
  • Linked to Meghan Hopper’s disagreement with my characterisation of her views on offshore detention.

Most importantly I’ve done a separate, brief analysis of North West Ward candidates here, with research help from John Englart.

A primer on Moreland and it’s recent political history

Formed out of the Kennett Government’s council amalgamations, the ‘People’s Republic of Moreland’ stretches from Park Street in the South to the Western Ring Road at the top, flanked along the sides by the Moonee Ponds and Merri creeks.

There are three wards with proportional representation (similar to the way the Senate elects people) — the two northern wards have four councillors each ,while the south ward (Brunswick) gets three councillors, so a slightly higher vote share of this smaller ward is needed to win a spot. Over the four year term a new mayor and deputy are elected each year.

The role of parties in Council

There’s a lot of ballyhoo about what role the political parties play in council. Of the two major parties (Labor and Green, this is Moreland after all) the Greens openly endorse a slate of candidates who run branded as Greens, while the Labor party does not officially endorse candidates, who advertise their affiliation to different degrees. It’s possible that there’s some competing Labor tickets running in the same wards as well, but I don’t have the deep knowledge to try and unpick what’s going on there.

Once actually on council the Labor councillors don’t form a binding caucus like their colleagues in State and federal politics, and while forming a loose block on council for most votes, they often will take up positions against each other — sometimes on ideological grounds, sometimes based on their wards. This only extends so far though. In the second-most recent term of council the Labor right block had three colleagues handed multi-year suspensions from the party for forming a voting block with the Greens and conservative ex-DLP councillor, taking the mayoralty and plum committee assignments with them.

The dynamic on the outgoing council had been 5 Labor, 2 Green, 2 Conservative Independents, 1 Socialist Alliance and a Labor-leaning independent (Helen Davidson) who in the final year of this terms(for reasons unknown to me) jumped ship to the ideologically ecumenical alliance of non-Labor councillors to install Sam Ratnam as Moreland’s first Greens mayor.

About me, my associations, my biases and who I want to see win (You’re welcome to skip this but I wanna be transparent…)

I’m Michael Stanley, a thirty four year old reporting analyst from Brunswick West who works in the city, commuting by bike. I’m married and have a one year old daughter so have had a lot of contact with a lot of council services. I’ve never been a member of a political party. I am generally a Green voter, but the kind of Green voter who has a hard choice when there’s a very good Labor or Independent candidate.

My big political passion is action on Climate Change, and that’s what drove me to work to get Moreland to become Australia’s second council to commit to fossil fuel divestment in 2014. In this I worked with Climate Action Moreland and 350.org Melbourne — neither group has anything to do with this article (for better or worse), it’s all on me.

As for who I want to win, let me say a bit more broadly that I believe in proportional representation and all else being equal, majority blocs controlling any level of government generally leads to worse government. The ongoing fustercluck of Michael Teti for the last two terms in Moreland, and the amount of energy that was spent attacking and defending him by non-Labor and Labor councillors respectively was depressing. Ultimately with low levels of public awareness of council workings, the most reliable check we can have on councillors is to have them needing to negotiate with each other to get things done.

I sincerely hope we get a deliberative council, that Labor and Greens councillors both form substantial blocks short of a majority with some quality progressive independents between them who will be needed to pass motions/budgets and elect mayors/committee members.

Now, onto the Wards…

South Ward

Essentially Brunswick with parts shaved off the top and tiny bits of Parkville and North Fitzroy at the bottom, South Ward elects three councillors. All three incumbents are seeking reelection.

Before I get into the candidate list let me call a spade a bloody shovel and highlight the appalling behaviour of two Labor candidates (Ray Pastoors and Chris Hansen) who are taking advantage of most people’s ignorance and dressing up their campaign materials to confuse Green-leaning voters.

While their behaviour is appallingly obvious to anyone paying attention, their motives and strategy are equally obvious. The two Labor-right incumbents need a combined total of over 50% of the vote in an area where every single polling booth went Green at the last federal election. To do this they need to harvest preferences from Greens voters who will unknowingly follow the fake Green’s how to vote cards.

Update 20/10 — There’s another South Ward Guide here

The Incumbents

Samantha Ratnam

Affiliation — Greens / Fb Campaign page / Campaign Website

Samantha Ratnam is the fourth and final mayor of the just-expired term and Moreland’s first Green mayor. Sam was the candidate for Wills at the recent federal election, for which she took time off from the mayor’s role.

A social worker in her day job, Sam frequently took on the role of head-kicker for the Greens in many council meetings, but this is combined with solid community engagement and a progressive voting record (including being a backer of fossil fuel divestment from the start). And as an aside she’s an outstanding public speaker. She’ll be very near the top of my ballot.

Lambros Tapinos

Affiliation — Labor / Fb Campaign Page

Lambros has been part of the dominant Labor bloc in the last two terms of council, serving stints as mayor both times. A dedicated soldier of the Labor right (few there will ever forget his enthusiastic defence of the TPP at one council meeting) who swung and missed at preselections in Pascoe Vale and Wills, he nonetheless is enthusiastic, engaged and knowledgeable on issues. His campaign pitches at the more traditional Labor voters in Brunswick, including the ageing but not inconsiderable bloc of Greek-Australian voters.

Meghan Hopper

Affiliation — Labor / Fb Campaign Page

Meghan is the third incumbent, she’s done solid work on family violence issues and around proposals to take Moreland’s pound away from the lost dogs home. Like Lambros she’s Labor right, but pitches herself as a progressive. She also unsuccessfully ran for preselection in Wills, works for Volunteering Victoria and is on the board at CERES.

I’ve found her alternately officious and evasive to deal with, her progressive bona fides are thin in substance when it comes to her record. Some highlights have included

  • Creating a national media profile for herself picking a public fight with then immigration minister Scott Morrison over speeches at citizenship ceremonies - but backing Labor’s policies on offshore detention.
  • Touting her environmental credentials but supporting Michael Teti’s cuts to Climate change programs (later reversed after an uproar), voting against fossil fuel divestment, opposing a motion calling for the closure of Hazelwood et al
  • Supporting the addition of pokies at Glenroy RSL

Also Meghan’s multi-part facebook tantrum at the non-Labor councillors who denied her a modest sum for official travel provided one of the highlights of the last term.

Update 20/10 — Meghan is arguing I’ve mischaracterised her actions concerning Labor’s offshore detention policy. I stand by my statement. Our exchange on twitter is here if you want to parse the arguments.

The Challengers

Mark Riley

Affiliation — Greens / Fb Campaign Page / Campaign Website

Let me be honest and say that I know Mark better than anyone on the list here. A fellow member of Climate Action Moreland, he has been active in movements helping refugees and in the nineties worked for the rights of gay men and women. His day job is as a primary school teacher (which would give him some valuable skills in some council meetings).

He’s a dedicated activist with a focus on results and achieving outcomes. If you haven’t figured already he comes highly recommended from me.

Jess Dorney

Affiliation — Greens / Fb Campaign Page / Campaign Website

The third Green running in Moreland, unlike Mark and Sam I haven’t dealt directly with Jess. Her background is in Public health and environmental activism.

Dean O’Callaghan

Affiliation — Save the Planet / Fb Campaign Page / Campaign Website

Dean O’Callaghan is a serial candidate for the ‘Save the Planet’ party, a group of Climate hardliners* arguing for emergency action on Climate Change. While I have some disagreements with Save the Planet in terms of their political philosophy and practice, I have no hesitation in commending ‘Deano’ as a candidate for council. He’s a tireless community activist on Climate matters and as a small business owner** would also bring valuable experience and perspective to council .

*this is a compliment

**Founder and owner of the Goodbrew company in Brunswick

Ray Pastoors

Affiliation — Labor / Fb Campaign Page / Campaign Website

While his website and facebook banner no longer touts his status as an ‘Independent candidate’, it’s still covered in a resplendent Green with a slogan of ‘Diversity, Equality, Fairness’. Ray is a Labor party member who volunteered for Meghan Hopper at the last council election and a string of other Labor campaigns in the past. Day job as a “Digital marketing professional”.

Chris Hansen

Affiliation — Labor / Fb Campaign Page / Campaign Website

Though his name causes a chuckle to those of us versed in mid-aughts meme culture, Chris’ visual sense fails him in this campaign. Despite being a Labor member, his campaign material clearly borrows heavily from the Green’s style guide(see below). Works as a “Senior policy officer” at the department of Justice.

Joe Caputo

Affiliation — Labor

Previous Mayor and South Ward Councillor, Joe has been Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities amongst many other roles in a long public career.

Kelly Maree Smith

Affiliation — Labor / Fb Campaign Page

Another Labor candidate, Kelly is a disability support worker. Don’t know much more about her.

Dave O’Brien

I haven’t been able to source any info on Dave. A ghost, methinks it’s always safe to assume the worst in these cases.

Melissa Yuan

Affiliation — Independent / Fb Campaign Page / Campaign Website

Mel Yuan is running as an Independent and unlike other ‘independent’ candidates doesn’t seem to have any party affiliation. She asserts in her campaign materials she’s not a member of any political party.

She’s a co-convenor of Brunswick communities for nature, and her campaign materials show a strong concern and understanding around issues relating to open space and playgrounds. One fine example:

Greater transparency over how developer Open Space levies are spent and a fairer share for Brunswick

I love the specificity, knowledge of council policy and realistic chance of success here. As a lame local council obsessive I love it. Compared to so much of the pablum we are subjected to in electioneering materials , this suggests that Mel knows her shit and will be going in with some very firm ideas about what she wants to do as a councillor.

Update 20/10 — The candidate I forgot — He accidentally didn’t get copied when I was building my list so he missed out on the fun.

Vijay Bhusal

Affiliation — ’Independent’

Vijay’s HTV tells me he’s ‘An independent Candidate not affiliated with any political party’ seems to be running on a platform of ‘Getting Moreland Back to Basics’ with a ‘Council that will get the basics right and not waste our money on Politics.’ This is conservative by the standards of South Ward brochures. Vijay has run a somewhat lackluster campaign, not providing any contact details to the AEC or maintaining any web presence for his campaign.

His HTV preferences flow through Dave O’Brien and all six Labor candidates before reaching the other Independent, STP and Greens candidates.

North East Ward

North East Ward will have very different representation in the upcoming council term as three incumbent councillors will not be continuing (see below on the one who is continuing — Sue Bolton). While (almost) all will be wishing Michael Teti good riddance, the other three councillors still easily left North East Ward the best represented ward with Lenka Thompson(Green), Rob Thompson(Liberalish Independent*) and Sue Bolton (Socialist Alliance) all really outstanding councillors in their own way.

I haven’t gone through the candidates in this guide because the ever reliable and diligent John Englart has already done it here. I am only going to say that both Nat Abboud (Greens) and Imogen Jubb (Independent) are excellent candidates, and I hope to see them on council with Sue Bolton in the next term.

*and as far as I know, no relation to Lenka

Update 20/10 — Perennial local political blogger Cate also has a summary of NE Ward candidates.

The Incumbent

Sue Bolton

Affiliation — Socialist Alliance/ Fb Campaign Page

Sue is one of only three explicitly socialist councillors in Australia, and I can attest she is well known in activist circles all around the state*. 
While ideologically I don’t agree with her across the board, I did work very closely with Sue on the fossil fuel divestment campaign, for which she was an invaluable help.

Solely responsible for extending many council meetings into the wee hours with a barrage of motions and amendments to other people’s motions, Sue’s approach sometimes makes me wonder if there’s a fight she’s ever passed up. Many a council meeting Sue would follow up a motion on rubbish collection in street x with a motion condemning Israeli aggression in Gaza, then moving for a senior citizen’s group to get free access to some council facility.

While this clearly infuriated some of her colleagues I see it as a fairly logical extension of her politics— that empowering people and organisations to take action is a worthwhile end in itself. I think Sue approach assumes that harnessing community energy on just about any topic not only shows people they can change things, but makes it more likely they will. While there’s issues I’ve disagreed with her on, her approach is a godsend for many people (like the long suffering residents of McBryde St Fawkner) who are stuck with the sorts of long-running, multi-agency problems that give rise to so much cynicism about local government.

*Upon learning I worked on fossil fuel divestment in Moreland, I’ve had many many people ask me if I’ve worked with Sue

North West Ward

I have to confess that doing a full review of the ward and candidates like I did for South Ward would push the completion of this guide out past the election. I will briefly comment on the three incumbents seeking reelection, and if a decent guide comes up for the ward somewhere else I’ll attach it here.

Update 20/10  I’ve done a separate, brief analysis of North West Ward candidates here.

John Kavanagh

Affiliation — Independent (ex DLP)

A school principal from a political family (his brother Peter was a DLP member of the Vic upper house) John is difficult to categorise or summarise politically. His politics veer conservative on some issues (seeing a restrained role for council), but more social democratic on issues like council services and supporting public housing. A lot of his opponents make quite a bit of his social conservatism but it doesn’t seem publicly at the forefront of his agenda. His reponse to the affray at the Moreland Says no to Racism (calling for all protests to require a permit) suggests he is not a civil libertarian. Has often worked with Greens and Labor left councillors.

Oscar Yildiz

Affiliation — Labor / Twitter

Oscar prides himself on his tireless engagement with his constituents, which is as good as anyone else on council. Split on some important issues with other Labor councillors (opposed legal action against east west link) his vision of council veers more towards the ‘roads, rates and rubbish’ end of the spectrum (though I happily note he supported fossil fuel divestment). He lets his hard work down with some truly dumb stunts at times, but if your politics align with his he represents them well. His day job is running an anti-bullying charity.

Helen Davidson

Affiliation — Independent

Helen was an independent councillor who supported the Labor mayoral candidates for the first three years of the last term before switching support to install Sam Ratnam as Moreland’s first Green mayor (after serving as Meghan’s deputy). A legal aid lawyer, she has amassed a progressive voting record in her time on council. She’s a quiet presence in council meetings and doesn’t maintain much of a public online profile, so it’s hard to get much sense of her underlying politics.

Update 20/10 — Helen’s HTV runs through John Kavanagh, conservative independent Shaun Minehan and Dale Martin from the Greens before hitting the Labor candidates. Whatever her politics she is definitely not in Labor’s preference block.