CBD safety and injecting room on the agenda as candidates make their pitch ahead of Victorian Election
Candidates vying for the seat of Melbourne in the upcoming Victorian State Election spoke with CBD residents in October about a number of key local and wider issues.
Safety concerns inside the CBD and the state government’s soon-to-be safe injecting facility within the Hoddle Grid were high on the agenda as candidates for the upcoming Victorian Election met with locals on October 13.
Victorians head to the polls for a second time in five months on November 26 and the seat of Melbourne, which covers the CBD and a host of surrounding inner-city suburbs north of the Yarra River, is set to be hotly contested.
Melbourne has been held by Greens MP Ellen Sandell since 2014, when her party prevailed in the electorate for the first time, and in 2018 Ms Sandell narrowly held onto the seat to secure a second term.
While the incumbent MP starts as a warm favourite to claim victory for a third straight time, she faces a stern test in the form of Labor candidate Rebecca Thistleton who has spent the past few months knocking on doors and raising her profile around the electorate.
Both lower house candidates, plus Nicola Foxworthy (Reason Party candidate for Melbourne) and Colleen Bolger (Victorian Socialists) met with locals at the Kelvin Club on October 13, in an event organised by Residents 3000 and discussion chaired by EastEnders president Stan Capp.
Also in attendance were two upper house candidates for the Northern Metropolitan region in the Liberal Party’s Evan Mulholland and the Liberal Democratic Party’s Paul Silverberg.
The Liberal’s lower house candidate, George Palackalody, was not in attendance.
State and nationwide issues were prominent throughout the evening — namely the cost of living, housing affordability and climate change — as candidates pitched their party’s policies and what they would do to contribute to solutions.
Locally, the decline in CBD safety and the expected safe injecting room near Flinders Street Station emerged as hot-button issues.
When questions were opened up to the floor, a long-term Exhibition St resident detailed two individual cases of violence that she and her partner had suffered in the past six years, and asked what was being done to fix it.
Ms Sandell acknowledged the issue was prominent in recent times and said the Greens had been advocating to Victoria Police for more patrols accompanied by the City of Melbourne and social workers.
She also revealed one policy the party would focus on in the coming years.
“Lots of people have been bringing up with me that they don’t feel as safe in the CBD as they used to, particularly during COVID,” she said.
“One of the biggest things that helps prevent crime is passive surveillance, and we haven’t had as much of that in the CBD. We do have a lot of closed shopfronts, so our policy is for a vacancy tax on empty ground level shopfronts like what is being looked at in the ACT and San Francisco, to try and bring life back to the city, and life that isn’t just big beer barns.”
Ms Thistleton said that if she were the member for Melbourne and someone had relayed that experience to her, she would “take the time to get down to Exhibition St and have a walk around with them”.
“[I’d] look at things like the lighting in the street and whether or not there needs to be mirrors at the end of particular laneways, so that people can see what’s going on around there,” she said.
“Have a talk with the local police and residents down there to get a sense of what sort of foot patrols there are, how that’s being determined.”
Mr Mulholland was staunch in the Liberal Party’s approach.
“We certainly support community safety and more police on the beat, and giving police the resources they need. And you’ll be hearing a lot more from us soon,” he said.
The second notable local topic on the night looked at the state government’s proposed medically supervised injecting facility, widely tipped to be located at the former Yooralla building at 244 Flinders St — a site the government purchased last year.
An investigation into the most suitable location for the facility, headed by former police commissioner Ken Lay, won’t be released until 2023 despite the government initially stating it would be tabled by the end of 2020.
Ms Sandell made her thoughts clear on the most recent delay.
“I think they [the government] have gotten cold feet because of the election,” she said.
Discussion on the night was prompted by a 23-year local resident who lives in the Majorca Building (located near the former Yooralla building), who said that she and her neighbours were concerned about the potential facility.
The residents said that while they were not against safe injecting rooms per se, they had not at this stage had any opportunity for consultation with the government.
Unlike the issue of CBD safety, this issue revealed a clear divide in policies from the parties.
Mr Mulholland said the Liberals “certainly wouldn’t be opening up an injecting room in the CBD” while the Greens, who are supportive of medically supervised injecting rooms, were critical of Labor’s moves to date.
“They have purchased a building, so it is creating a lot of uncertainty for residents,” Ms Sandell said.
“And I think that’s exactly not the right way to do it because we do need community buy-in if these things are going to be successful.”
Ms Thistleton (a candidate rather than sitting MP) conceded it was difficult to comment without having all the facts at hand but committed to working with locals.
“It’s a strange position when you’re running for the party of government that’s going to be making the decisions but haven’t been privy to those conversations,” she said.
“But if I was your local member, I would be working really hard to get some really active consultation happening for the people that would be living around this area, as well as businesses.”
If the electorate votes in a similar manner to the 2018 election, the lower house is likely to be a showdown between the Greens and Labor.
A clear divide emerged between the two candidates on who will make the bigger impact on Melbourne.
Ms Sandell boasted the Greens’ track record on how they’ve pushed Labor in recent years: “During the pandemic the Greens were able to sit at the negotiating table with the government. We secured things like financial support for renters who lost work during COVID, grants for international students who were struggling to survive, and a lot more.”
However, Ms Thistleton said this was simply not enough for constituents.
“The Greens will talk about what they will push for and what they will advocate for and talk about a style of politics that isn’t entirely without merit and isn’t entirely different in values to what Labor is presenting. But it doesn’t get things done, and it especially doesn’t get things done locally. It is not good enough to be standing on the sidelines and offering criticisms of decisions well after the ink has dried.”
What they said
Ellen Sandell, MP for Melbourne (Greens):
“I think it’s more important than ever to have Greens and independent voices in parliament, pushing the next government to go further and faster on issues that matter to Victorians and holding the government to account.”
Rebecca Thistleton, Labor candidate for Melbourne:
“Sometimes people say that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, that the outcome is just the same. But that cannot be said in Victoria — not after what has been achieved [by Labor] in the last eight years.”
Nicola Foxworthy, Reason Party candidate:
“The Reason Party represents the change that I want to see in politics. The approach — evidence-based, compassionate and pragmatic — has shown that listening to people, working together, can successfully deliver real results, real solutions to real problems.”
Colleen Bolger, Victorian Socialists candidate:
“In regards to the cost of living pressures, socialists talk about it as a crisis of inequality. We need to be talking about it in terms of wage justice and social justice, because it’s not the case that everyone is experiencing these issues equally.”
Evan Mulholland, Liberal Party candidate (upper house):
“Cost of living is far and away one of the biggest issues in this election. It’s all many people talk about. Looking around at the CBD in comparison to what it used to be is pretty heart-breaking. Every ‘for lease’ and ‘for sale’ sign to me is a family, is a small business owner that’s really struggled throughout the pandemic.”
Paul Silverberg, Liberal Democratic Party candidate (upper house):
“[Born in the former USSR] I know, quite well, what it’s like to have government interfering in each part of your life, and it always ends in failure … a lot of the policies that I have seen not just over the last two years but particularly coming from the current Labor government, is almost like looking in a time machine.” •