What can one Greens Councillor achieve?

What can one Greens Councillor achieve?
On reflection, quite a lot!
Last Wednesday night was the last Ordinary Council meeting for this four year term of Council. As Deputy Mayor, with the Mayor away, I chaired our final meeting for the term. Almost twelve months ago, against the odds, I was supported as Deputy Mayor in the final year of the Council term. This was much to my own surprise and the astonishment of others. However, I still consider one of my biggest achievements as being elected as the first Greens Councillor for Ballarat and have been honoured to represent the community for four years.
There have certainly been many ups and downs being on a Council with no natural allies and a very adversarial first couple of years. Early on I was criticised strongly for being politically aligned, despite the fact that the majority of other Ballarat Councillors were (and are) ‘card carrying’ members of political parties. I was also criticised for having an ‘agenda’ when in fact the reason that people voted for me in the first place was that I had made my values and agenda very clear – broadly to work towards a more caring and environmentally sustainable Ballarat.
So what did I achieve?
I put forward many successful Motions on Notice. This includes motions and advocacy for decisions to:

– Actively support the “No to Racism” campaign

– Actively support the “No to Homophobia” campaign

– Become a Welcome Refugee Zone.

– Sign the Walk 21 International Walking Charter for Cities

– Become the first signatory to VLGA Child Friendly Cities Charter

– Oppose changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimation Act

– Support Marriage Equality

– Develop an Exceptional Tree Register

– Explore a trial Plastic Bag Free CBD initiative
I successfully advocated for development of:

– a Sustainable Transport Strategy and an Active Transport Committee

– a Live Music Strategy and action plan

– adoption of an Urban Forestry approach and increased tree canopy coverage. 

– Ballarat’s first Inclusive Playspace at Victoria Park

– an Active Women and Girls in Sport Strategy

– more solar panels, energy efficiency measures and LED lighting replacement 
During my term I was actively involved with the following committees

– Co-chair of Koorie Engagement Action Group (KEAG) co-chair

– Chair of Live Music Advisory Committee 

– Chair of Child Friendly Ballarat Committee

– Chair of Disability Advisory Committee

– Chair of Clean Ballarat Committee

– As chair of the Clean Ballarat Committee, I’ve also assisted in overseeing the introduction of a green waste home collection service.

– Chair of Active Transport Committee

– Chair of the Ballarat Friends of Ainaro Community Committee

– Finance Committee Member

– Audit Committee Member

– Co-chair Ballarat Regional Settlement Advisory Committee

– Board Member of Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance

– Chair of Highlands Regional Waste Management Committee 2013-14

– Regional Sustainability Alliance Committee Member
I put forward these MAV motions that were supported:

– for MAV to request Victorian councils adopt open data policies

– for MAV to endorse the Urban and Regional Food Declaration by Sustain 

– for MAV to write to state government ministers and the Premier to request the ban of Wicked Vans offensive slogans
All in all, four years of very challenging work. At times feeling like slow progress.
But when people say things like “Ballarat is a very different place than it was five years ago and you’ve played a part in this”, it all feels very worthwhile.

Here is a link to my authorised candidate page

Pokies harm our community

Communities and local councils are sick and tired of picking up the pieces as a result of the harm caused by pokies. Successive state and federal governments have failed to take any real interest in addressing the community harm. In Victoria the state government is addicted to and reliant on revenue received from pokies. We know that electronic gaming machines (EGMs), commonly known as “pokies” are designed to be addictive and yet our governments fail to acknowledge this and respond with an evidence based, harm minimisation approach and treat this issue as other addictions are treated – as serious health issues.
People in Ballarat lost almost $55 Million to the pokies last financial year and many suffered financial ruin, relationship breakdown, job loss and depression. We know that the economic and community benefits associated with pokies and recreational gambling are far outweighed by the harm caused. We also know that there would be greater economic benefit and more jobs if that $55 Million was spent across a broader range of Ballarat business and small business and in local food, drink, arts and culture and entertainment.

The VLGR has released the latest community benefit statement from clubs and we can see that the majority of money that is claimed as community benefit is just regular operating expenses. View details here.

Greens on local council would like to see stronger action to address the harm caused to our community by pokies. We want to limit the harm caused by pokies in Ballarat by:

– Advocating to reduce the number of poker machines in Ballarat.

– Supporting gambling-free community activities.

– Improve community understanding of the risks posed to the community by the gambling industry.

– Advocating for gambling industry reform.

– Enable community participation in planning decisions concerning gambling activities.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform –  Pokies Play You    -have surveyed all council candidates and have asked whether they support:

– Removal of design ‘features’ that deliberately mislead and deceive people.

– Local governments and councillors given the proper authority over more poker machines coming into their community. 

Ballarat Greens council candidates strongly support both of these proposals.
Please consider signing this petition from the Victorian Greens MP Colleen Hartland calling on the Premier to “STOP THE POKIES PAIN” by:

– Bringing in $1 poker machine maximum bet limits to limit the losses from problem gambling.

– Give local councils and communities more say over pokies venue permits.

– Fix the machines which are engineered to trap people into addiction.

Find out about my council election campaign here.

Ballarat needs a green future

The best future for Ballarat is a greener future. The best cities around the world are greener cities in every regard. Wholistic measures of liveability, prosperity, health, wellbeing and happiness of citizens demonstrate that the greenest cities always come out on top. More forward-thinking around sustainability is needed if Ballarat is to become a leading city.
Our city has a great deal of untapped potential to improve the health and wellbeing of residents and to create more jobs and meaningful participation in community. By improving our green credentials we can inspire innovation and prosperity. Key sectors to focus on with significant potential for economic growth, social and environmental benefits include:

– Local food

– Clean technology, alternative energy and green building products

– Waste to energy, materials management and recycling

– Green building, design and construction

– Sustainability services and education

– Green infrastructure, transportation and planning

I’m focussed on building our cities’ green credentials to create jobs for the future. We have enormous opportunities to increase green and local food jobs. Ballarat is extremely well placed to gain a competitive edge and become a leader in creating economic, social and environmental value for our residents. We already have Ballarat West Employment Zone in place and Innovation Centre and Waste to Energy facility planned. These will act as a magnet for green industry and jobs. The Ballarat region produces some of our local food needs but still has plenty of capacity. The digital revolution, technological change and environmental pressures mean that we live in a rapidly changing world.

I’m passionate about leading Ballarat toward a greener future. That’s why I’m re-standing as a central ward candidate in the upcoming Council elections. Together we can create a more liveable city that our future generations will thank us for.

Follow this link to my authorised candidate webpage

I’m standing for re-election to Ballarat Council

Councillors of the future need long term vision. The role of a Councillor carries an enormous amount of responsibility. It’s challenging, thankless and extremely rewarding all at the same time. Patience, diplomacy, energy, capacity for high level strategic thinking as well as maintaining broad community connections and networks are all needed.
The ability to be aware of the day to day concerns of community members, as well as hold a long term vision in mind takes perseverance and commitment. Ballarat is a growing city with the population expected to increase by a third in the next fifteen years. Ballarat is also embracing diversity and becoming more vibrant and cosmopolitan. By all accounts we’re becoming a more exciting city. We know that our community values open spaces, trees, green spaces, heritage, arts, and culture and that people are our key strength.
We’ve come some way in becoming a greener city but we’ve still got a long way to go towards achieving environmental sustainability. We also have a long way to go in meeting the health and wellbeing challenges in our community where there is a growing divide. High rates of preventable disease such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes hurt our community in the long run. There’s also work to be done in meeting the challenges of rapidly changing workforce and planning for jobs for the future as technology changes the way we live, work and play. We need to recognise that our long term financial, environmental and social challenges are interrelated and build our collective capacity to respond.
Prior to being on Council I worked for our community for over twenty years as a social worker and I take a long term view about how to effect change. During my four years on council I’ve put into practice a range of strategies to influence policy and action. Many people have been heartened that I’ve brought issues around equity, inclusion and environment to the agenda. If I’m re-elected I plan to build on this work.
Issues that are also high on my agenda if re-elected include:

-Jobs for the future; sustainable jobs, renewable energy, innovation, and digital technology

– climate change action, renewable energy targets, financial savings through energy efficiencies and waste reduction

– transport connections, prioritise active transport – walking, cycling and public transport

– a healthy community; reducing rates of preventable disease, support for services and initiatives with long term benefit, building on community and service partnerships
I’m endorsed by the Greens because I share the values of commitment to caring and sustainable communities.

Follow this link to my authorised candidate webpage

 

Local action on climate change

Local action on climate change has never been a more important issue. Pressure for global and national action continues to build. A recent survey shows that 2 out of 3 Australian voters believe that the Abbott government should be doing more to address climate change. We know that scientists advise that avoiding dangerous climate change requires significant emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2050. We also know that climate action has a number of positive benefits for communities, aside from preventing dangerous climate change, such as economic benefits and cost saving, energy security and more liveable communities.

Local councils are uniquely placed to implement measures at the community level that impact everyone’s ability to reduce their emissions in cost effective ways. Local councils can also play a role in educating the community on how to live sustainably and about resources available to assist. Taking action to address climate change can compliment local economic, health and social objectives and goals. Lowering emissions means using energy more efficiently and reducing energy bills. Investing in active transport infrastructure to make communities more walkable and cycling friendly, and advocating for improved public transport, can improve local quality of life and assist people to save money on fuel and transport costs. Supporting and developing clean renewable energy sources, encouraging local food production, and retrofitting and insulating buildings can all help reduce emissions. Climate action can create green jobs that make communities more resilient in economic downturns.

Addressing climate change is important to the people of Ballarat and is therefore a fundamental part of the new Ballarat Strategy recently adopted by Ballarat Council. City of Ballarat’s response to the challenge of climate change is embedded throughout this strategy. The aims are around reducing emissions and adapting to climate change through approaches to transport, housing, urban design and energy efficiency. The ’10 minute city’ and ‘Urban Forestry’ approaches will have significant long term health, social and economic benefits whilst also having broad environmental benefits and reducing emissions. 

All levels of government have a responsibility to act on climate change. City of Ballarat council is ramping up efforts to step up to the challenge and there are great opportunities to improve liveability and economic prosperity at the same time. We can support and encourage individual and community action but we also need to work together across levels of government to have the greatest impact.

Interest in urban food growing should be encouraged and supported

Increasing interest in urban food growing is positive as it has enormous benefits for local communities. Over the last ten years in Ballarat we’ve seen much more participation and interest in backyard food growing, permaculture and community gardens. Successive Ballarat Begonia festivals, Ballarat Shows and Rural Living Expos have included stalls and workshops to encourage food growing and there has been a resurgence of interest in the traditional backyard veggie patch and fruit trees. There are some terrific Ballarat based urban food growing blogs. Social media platforms like Instagram are also being used by locals to proudly show off their home grown produce. More recently the global Food is Free project has gained momentum locally with Food is Free Laneway, Food is Free Veggie Verge and many more similar sites popping up all over town. Many other towns and cities near and far are also catching on. Growing vegetables and fruit trees in front yards is a practical and visible way to promote urban food growing and this has also become more popular.

City of Ballarat Council recently planted a small number of fruit trees in a neighbourhood park in conjunction with local residents as part of a community development project. This is a first here in Ballarat and is a sign of change. Ballarat Council has also recently adopted an Urban Forestry approach with the aim to increase tree canopy coverage to at least 40%. There is no reason why this could not include fruit trees in suitable locations in the future.

Many local councils in Victoria and across Australia are also allowing and encouraging nature strip plantings and have developed common sense guidelines to assist residents. This is partly in response to high profile champions like Costa Georgiadas promoting the benefits broadly via the On the Verge project. Other examples of encouraging community food growing in urban areas include the 3000 acres project in Melbourne which is an online platform to connect people to land, resources and each other so that more people can grow more food in more places. Their vision is to build holistic and sustainable cities for generations to come by changing how we use vacant land, establishing strong relationships between community, business, and government.

When we think about our local situation here in Ballarat, it’s important to also consider the global picture of increasing momentum around urban food growing. Large and smaller cities alike are embracing and encouraging urban food growing. The appetite of the Ballarat community for community food projects is not unexpected. Council areas across Australia and worldwide are recognising the enormous social, community health and environmental benefits that come from organic and locally grown food. Terms such as food equity, food justice , food security, organic food growing and urban food growing are becoming very mainstream in many countries. Urban farming is also rapidly growing in popularity as part of the local food movement and provides opportunities for social entrepreneurs. Ballarat should be getting ready to embrace a wide variety of community and entrepreneurial food growing activities.

Last year the City of Ballarat Draft Nature Strip Policy went on public exhibition and there was limited community response. This may have been due to lack of awareness of the importance of building some flexibility into these guidelines and making a stronger case for urban food growing opportunities. Council conversations at the time were dominated by concerns about potential risks and I had difficulty convincing my Councillor colleagues of the merit in having more flexible guidelines to support well considered nature strip/verge plantings such as vegetables, herbs or appropriate indigenous species. I argued at the time that we should be linking Nature Strip Policy more closely with City of Ballarat Community Garden Guidelines and considering the possibilities for urban food growing more broadly.

Traditionally most residents prefer to plant their veggies and fruit trees within their property boundaries. I love seeing fruit trees and veggie beds in front gardens. However, many people locally have expressed interest in food growing (for example fruit trees) on shared public land (with relevant permission) rather than in their yards or on nature strips. There also is plenty of scope for Ballarat residents to join one of the many terrific community gardens or to start up new ones with a group of passionate and energetic residents.

However, I’m strongly in favour of flexibility in the Nature Strip Policy to encourage, support and promote neighbourhood and community cohesion. There are social, health and environmental benefits in urban food growing and the humble nature strip may have a role to play.

Due to recent media and social media attention the opportunity has arisen again to broaden the conversation, gain community input and reconsider flexibility around neighbourhood nature strip planting. Whilst due consideration still needs to be given to issues like pedestrian safety, access to underground services and minimising risk, the benefits of local food growing and developing a culture of sharing healthy home grown food are enormous.

I strongly encourage residents to have input and have your say on the City of Ballarat Draft Nature Strip Policy.

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Past the half way mark

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Over half way through the four year Council term and feeling re-energised, optimistic and focused. Also in the process of reorganising, updating and streamlining various social media platforms and recommitting to this rather neglected blog. Stay tuned for more regular updates. :)

Transport – getting from A to B and walking the talk

Recently I put forward a Motion on Notice to our Council meeting in response to a letter to all Victorian Councils from the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA). The motion was to support PTUA’s letter to the Premier to seek priority upgrades to public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure and proper maintenance of arterial roads ahead of the East West tollway. This means priority upgrades across the state, including Ballarat. This issue is highly relevant to Ballarat residents who use local roads as well as public transport such as local buses or the rail service. It’s relevant to local cyclists who ride their bikes for recreation or for transport. It is also relevant to those who walk for recreation, or from ‘A to B’ around the city of Ballarat. Therefore, it’s relevant either directly or indirectly to most local residents.

It’s misguided to suggest that advocating for improved local transport services and infrastructure is somehow not for the benefit of Ballarat or should not be raised by local Councillors because it’s too politically charged.

Transport is a local, state and federal issue. All levels of government have some responsibility for delivery of transport services and infrastructure. Local government operates within the context of what happens regionally, statewide and nationally. Councils have primary responsibility for walking and cycling infrastructure and many local roads. State government has primary responsibility for public transport (Public Transport Victoria) and arterial roads (Vic Roads). Federal government also contributes funding to some transport projects and roads. It is the business of local government to advocate to state and federal government regarding the areas of transport that are outside of Council control.

It is disappointing that other Councillors did not feel free to debate increasing the pressure on the government regarding transport services and infrastructure for Ballarat. We should add our voices to statewide concerns about the proposal for an estimated $18billion of the state infrastructure budget to be poured into an East West link ahead of other transport priorities across the state. It is particularly relevant to regional areas like Ballarat where improvements are critically needed.

To add some further context, it should be noted that Ballarat Council committed in the current Council Plan to develop and implement a Sustainable Transport Strategy. This aims to prioritise active transport (walking and cycling) and public transport.

State government contributions to cycling and walking infrastructure are certainly worth advocating for. In urban areas across the globe there is a shift towards creating public places that are pedestrian and cycling friendly and more accessible for all. The United Nations International Walking Charter is well supported by many local councils. International charters are of interest and relevant to local government as well as federal and state policy and funding issues.

Public transport for Ballarat requires significant investment. Whilst the state government spruiks additional funding on the Regional Rail Link there are still numerous unfunded projects. Rail commuters will wait years for significant service improvements at the current rate. Local bus services need additional funding to improve frequency, connections and increase patronage.

Disappointingly, these issues weren’t debated when my motion was discussed in the Council chamber. I would have been open to other Councillors amending the motion to note the PTUA request and to continue to advocate for local transport projects. Instead, in an attempt to stifle debate, the criticisms of the motion were that dealing with state or federal issues is not the business of this Council and that the motion was a political/partisan issue.

These arguments don’t stack up. Transport issues should concern all politicians and political parties at all levels of government. Local councils should, and frequently do, advocate and lobby on state and federal issues concerning their communities such as gambling (pokies), rail services and human rights issues, to name just a few.

The criticism about bringing politics into the chamber is hypocritical. We have seen the partisan election of two Liberal mayors by a Liberal party voting bloc within this Council. We have had a motion to work with the current Liberal government on an election promise to relocate a Vic Roads office to the Civic Hall site (only amended later to include working with the opposition). Also, some Liberal Councillors are on the public record stating that the East West link will mean great things for Ballarat.

Councils debate and lobby in regard to state and federal issues and funding at times. Some Victorian Liberal Mayors and Councillors have publicly expressed concerns that the East West link project is absorbing transport funds and will delay projects across the state for years to come. Some Labor Mayors and Councillors have spoken out about proposed Labor policy for local government rate capping to consumer price index (CPI).

Ballarat would be better served by Councillors willing to raise, discuss and openly debate issues relevant to local constituents. I will continue to raise issues relevant to the community for discussion and open debate.

Roads,rates and rubbish are part of the core business of local government. Exciting stuff, hey? Believe it or not, I do find the rubbish part of Council business pretty fascinating. Many R words-reduce, reuse and recycle -are practical but not generally considered very sexy. Unless you find the idea of being resourceful kind of seductive. However, using resources wisely could become the new black though in time. You never know.

Just take a look at this funky national annual Garage Sale Trail for starters. It’s being promoted here in the Ballarat and surrounding area for the first time this year and it would be great to see it take off. We have plenty of vintage and retro buffs around town and this is a social and profitable way of parting with unwanted goods. Of course there’s also always the option of donating to your favourite charity or Op shop. But sadly and too often unwanted goods end up in landfill.

Very few of us stop to think about what happens to our waste. While most of us know when to put out our bins and what goes in the recycle bin and what doesn’t, we don’t tend to think much further than that. Find out  here what happens to your waste in the Ballarat area. Did you know that our landfill is out at Smythesdale? It’s not open to the public but one of the perks of being a Councillor is the occasional field trip to the tip. I know that it might seem too glamorous for words but one of my esteemed roles is Deputy Chair of the Highlands Regional Waste Committee and one of my first duties in this role was a visit to the Gillies Street Transfer Station and the Smythesdale landfill. I also visited the Eaglehawke Transfer Station in Bendigo and will now be plagued by Shelbyville style envy until our transfer station is upgraded.

Local democracy

There is always so much happening that it’s easy to focus on doing rather than writing and reflecting. It’s been like a roller coaster ride so far with plenty of extreme ups and downs. It’s fantastic to be involved in so many diverse community activities but it can also be incredibly challenging.

Civic Hall discussions have consumed an enormous amount of time and energy during the past ten months. This issue represents a snapshot of the challenges faced by Councillors. It is also an issue that has the potential to take our city forward in a positive way. The way that we include our people and community in local decision making is at the core. There is disagreement and conflict but also lots of potential to tap into the positive intentions and aspirations of community members. Councillors have a responsibility to represent the diversity of constituents and make decisions in the best interest of their community. This concept is broad, subjective and open to various interpretations.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the Civic Hall issue, the process has already engaged many community members and sparked their interest in what happens inside their Town Hall and in Council debate, perhaps more so than any other single issue in many years. This is a good thing. Often the processes of governments at all levels can seem far removed and separate from the daily lives of most people.

On Wednesday night Councillors heard from fifty community members from all walks of life, most of whom may never have taken an interest in a local government issue before. Emotions were high but the way that this issue brought people together gives me a great deal of hope. Fifty people presented well informed and passionate arguments in front of a packed room. Hundreds have written emails and letters and phoned Councillors. Thousands have signed petitions and no doubt many people have had a discussion or two about the topic. According to Roy Morgan research, commissioned by the former Council at significant cost, a clear majority of Ballarat people would prefer their Civic Hall be retained and reused. Despite attempts to dismiss those in favour of retention of the hall as a “vocal minority” it is clear that this is not the case. Support for retaining Civic Hall as an asset for community reuse is very broad and sentiment runs very deep. There was understandably deep disappointment on Wednesday night about the vote to apply for a planning permit to demolish Civic Hall but I felt very proud of our community and felt both the privilege and intense responsibility of having a seat at the table.

In the mean time, pending the outcome of what may be a lengthy process, Ballarat Civic Hall stands defiantly in the centre of town awaiting. Despite being unused and boarded up for years, considered unloved and derided as useless and ugly by some, it is still a focal point of discussion and is still bringing people together for civic activities as it was intended.