PRM Council Election 2020 (North-East Ward) Batch 4: Farah, Street, Dhedhy, Thiveos and Hogan

Gloria Farah – How to Vote Card

Ms Farah doesn’t have any online presence that I could see, and she hasn’t been involved in any of the community forums or online surveys. Fortunately, she did letterbox me, so I have a nice shiny flyer to look at. Her platform is a little vague – her values are fairness, action, integrity and respect, and she will ‘deliver concrete outcomes’. She wants to support jobs, protect local business and look after the environment.

So what are these concrete outcomes? Well, she has five priorities, which are recovery of Sydney Road and local businesses after the pandemic, reducing rates, and investing in childcare centres, in sporting facilities, in parks, and in health and aged care.

None of this is terrible, but I’m getting a little bit of a ‘look after small businesses’ vibe here. I suspect Farah is as close as we are likely to get to Liberal Party values in Moreland. Of more concern is her How to Vote card, which preferences Naim, Timpano and Failla, two of whom are big red flags for me and the third of whom is a yellow one. At the bottom of her list she has Joseph, for whom I have a decided soft spot, as well as O’Callaghan, Helou, and Bolton.

I don’t think I’ll put her high on my ballot – while she seems basically OK in and of herself, her How To Vote card gives me serious concerns regarding her judgment. And I’m a bit concerned that, given her lack of online presence, she is largely going to serve to funnel votes towards Naim.


Meghan Street (Sue Bolton Community Independents – WebsiteParty Facebook Page How to Vote Card

Street is part of Sue Bolton’s team, and second on her ticket. I’ve already discussed their policies and how to vote card in my commentary on Sue Bolton, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Street’s candidate statement on the Sue Bolton Community Independents website tells me that  she is a science educated clinic manager, and believes the council needs to play a greater role in community health services. She is currently working with the Muslim Women’s Council of Victoria with their program to feed vulnerable people in the community.

Street is an activist, who was involved in the movement to save the Gandolfo Gardens, and believes that it is important to fight for workers’ rights, as well as ‘increased public transport, foot and bike travel improvements, the defence and improvement of green spaces as well as our local natural ecosystems’.  She feels that it is important for the Council to listen to the community.

Meghan Street has a high engagement score, having participated in nearly all the forums and surveys being tracked by Sustainable Fawkner. She has signed the Rainbow Votes pledge, and her replies to the Walk On Moreland survey are detailed and considered. She is concerned about accessibility and poor footpath quality, making it difficult for people with mobility issues, and she wants better public transport, as do we all. Her responses to the Climate Action Survey are again heavy on better public transport and safer cycling and walking networks, and she favours an approach that encourages less car use, rather than punishing those who do need to use cars.

Overall, she’s a good candidate who has clearly put a lot of thought into the things that matter to me, and she will go high on my list.


Hamza Dhedhy (Independent) – Facebook PageHow to Vote Card

Dhedhy’s flyer tells me that he is a proud Fawkner local who has lived, studied and worked in the area since arriving in Australia 21 years ago. He has a Bachelor of Business in Human Resource Management. And:

I have experienced first-hand the challenges of cultural adjustment and immigrant issues at a very young age and have always felt the need to bring people of diverse backgrounds and ages together.

I like him already, but then, you know I have a soft spot for immigrant stories.

Dhedhy has been involved in community work for 12 years, and has set up a number of programs including establishing the Oxygen Youth Centre in North Coburg, the Fawkner Soccer Program (which includes a women’s  team) and a Pool Life Guarding and First Aid Training Program. He was named a Moreland Young Citizen of the Year in 2014. Google tells me he is supported by Run For It, a program that ‘helps community leaders and people from historically marginalised communities enter the democracy and set a new agenda.’ He was also an AFL Multicultural Community Ambassador in 2014.

In other words, he’s pretty ferociously active in community engagement and representation. Good qualifications for a Councillor, I think.

Dhedhy’s flyer names seven priority areas:

  • No unjustifiable increase in rates, fees and charges
  • A COVID-19 response including a food bacnk, job creation and support for local businesses.
  • Supporting youth, again with job creation, and, interestingly, ‘advocating for at least 10% of young people to be involved in council infrastructure projects’ (I presume he means that 10% of people involved should be youth, rather than 10% of all youth being conscripted into infrastructure, which would be a less pleasing idea)
  • Putting a stop to overdevelopment and advocating for environmental sustainability
  • Improving council services, particularly disability access
  • Improving and increasing green spaces, roads, footpaths, bike paths, shopping strips, community houses, leisure centres… basically everything. This would give his 10% of youth lots to do, admittedly.
  • Increasing Council transparency and accountability

This is a fairly centrist plan by Moreland standards, but with a high emphasis on youth, and particularly youth unemployment.

Dhedhy’s Facebook Page contains a campaign video covering most of these points, but emphasising that the impact of COVID will be with us for a while, and we need to think about supporting businesses and families, including mental health support.

He also raises concerns that the current council has been ignoring the North East Ward, something I haven’t noticed, but then again, I live at the wealthier end of the Ward, and tend to be a bit oblivious to a lot of Council stuff. I do think this is interesting, though, because among all the grumblings about a young, excessively ideological council, this is the only one that has focused on geography, and geography, around here, is definitely class…

In terms of other engagement, Dhedhy gets a tick from Fair Parking Moreland, but doesn’t seem to have been involved in any of the other forums or surveys, including the rainbow voting pledge. I’m a little surprised at this lack of engagement, because I would have described him as almost hyperactively engaged from his Facebook page and list of activities. He also shows an unusually low level of interest in things environmental for a younger candidate.

Dhedhy’s How To Vote Card favours Joseph, Pavlidis and Clarke – the centrist alliance again! – but then, excitingly, goes to Bolton, for a more Socialist flavour. The bottom of his ballot paper is Naim, followed by Failla, Farah, and Timpano. So, a centrist, but definitely inclined to lean left rather than right.

Another pretty solid candidate.


Ismene Thiveos (Labor) – WebsiteParty Facebook PageCandidate Facebook PageHow To Vote Card

Thiveos is the second candidate on Labor’s ticket. I’ve already discussed Labor for Moreland’s policies and their how to vote card in my commentary on Annalivia Carli-Hannan, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Thiveos has a background in public health, and is passionate about strengthening community wellbeing.

“I am passionate about strengthening our community’s wellbeing. I want to make sure everyone feels connected through well-funded social and cultural programs, community facilities and accessible parks. Our elderly deserve quality aged care services, and families shouldn’t have any uncertainty about childcare places.”

She wants to ensure that the Council is responsive and innovative in finding ways to support the business, hospitality and arts sector as restrictions ease

Thiveos has a campaign video highlighting her background in family violence and public health, and her desire to create a respectful and connected Moreland community. (Also, I’m pretty sure I recognised one of the people in it, which was exciting for me, especially as it is close to midnight now and I am nearing the end of my rope.)

There was also a cute and funny little video about campaign signage. I have to say, between Thiveos and Hogan, Moreland Labor has a *strong* social media game this year when it comes to campaign videos.

A scan further down Thiveos’s Facebook page shows articles about the importance of social housing and an acknowledgment that single women over 50 are now the fastest growing group experiencing homelessness, and an interview in Greek about aged culturally appropriate care services (hmm… given how badly things went down at St Basil’s, that’s an important and rather difficult conversation to start having now.)

Thiveos has signed the rainbow pledge, and got the tick of approval from Fair Parking Moreland. She also attended the Climate forum, and spoke in favour of better bike paths. She feels that there are a lot of good schemes in place for things like solar and recycling that are being poorly publicised, and that better communication is the answer to this, and she wants more community gardens. This feels in keeping with the general Labor platform on climate, which is a little slow and cautious for my liking, but does at least want to move in the correct direction.

Google found me an interesting article about Thiveos’s work as an advisor to the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Indigenous Affairs, Natalie Hutchins, where she worked to implement the recommendations of the royal commission. She talks about the importance of prevention and programs to achieve that, and about the very masculine political culture we have in Australia and the need to change fundamental gender norms both there and in the wider community.

An article in Neos Kosmos also talks about her desire to have well-funded social and cultural programs, community sports, and accessible parks and spaces

Overall, a strong candidate. We really do have a lot of good people to choose from this, year, it’s a very pleasant change!


Rebekah Hogan (Labor) – WebsiteParty Facebook PageCandidate Facebook PageHow To Vote Card

Hogan is the third candidate on Labor’s ticket, so again, I won’t repeat what I’ve already written, but here, just in case you aren’t interested in clicking the link to my other post, have the Moreland Labor Community Plan again. Some nice light reading to put you to sleep tonight! (God, I hope it will still be tonight when I finish writing this – yes, I’m doing this page out of order. Again.)

Her Facebook page tells me that she was the president of the OXYGEN Youth Advisory Committee, which advises the Council on issues affecting young people in Moreland, and that her mum is a carer for her father, who has a disability – so I’d imagine she has a pretty good understanding of how disability support services work (and, often, do not work), as well as how the council works (and, sometimes, does not work…?_)

She takes her advocacy for the youth of Moreland very seriously, and is concerned about unemployment among young workers. She was part of the Youth Advisory Committee for Wills, and helped create a kit for young workers on their rights at work.

Oh, and she has a TikTok campaign video, which could not be more different to the campaign videos I’ve seen from other candidates – rap music (er… I am bad at popular music, maybe also dubstep?), with a little bit of dancing and pop up notes saying:

I care about the same issues as you.

  • Gender equality
  • Environment
  • Mental health

Women and Young People deserve a voice in Government

Vote for someone who will represent real people and real issues

Honestly, it is the cutest thing I have seen in a political campaign this year, and you need to watch it.

I had noticed, incidentally, that our Labor team for North East Ward was very young and very female, and I do like that they are leaning into that.

Anyway, those are excellent priorities, and I am here for them. And I am trying not to sound too much like a middle-aged auntie cooing over how clever the younger generation is, but honestly, if this election is a sample, we really do have some fantastic young people coming up.

Hogan has passed the Fair Parking Test, and responded to the Walk On Moreland survey (responses rather bland, I suspect there is a bit of a party line here, sadly), but not the Climate Action Survey or the Bicycle Users Group. And she hasn’t signed the rainbow pledge, which is a bit disappointing – given that gender equality is one of her key platforms, that is a very unfortunate omission.

Edited to add: She’s signed it now!

My random Googling of Hogan turned up this rather poignant article she wrote for the student magazine, Rabelais, a couple of years ago, about growing up between two cultures, and feeling neither Australian enough or Chinese enough. And now I just want to vote for her because she writes so well about something that is, I think, a common experience for many Australians with a parent born overseas (though… especially not fun for people who look at all Asian right now, I would guess).

Overall? Hogan is probably my favourite Labor candidate so far, but that still puts her around the middle of my ticket, I think.


BEST OF THE BATCH

Ooh, this is a hard one, because I really do like most of this lot. I have a particular soft spot for Hogan, and Dhedhy seems like someone with a lot of energy that has been well applied, but the fact that they haven’t signed onto the Rainbow Votes pledge does give me pause. Thiveos gets points for community wellbeing and for that ridiculous Benny Hill video, which I played three times, to the dismay of my husband. But I think Street is the candidate who best represents my views this time round.

Edited to add: Hogan has now signed the Rainbow Votes pledge, putting her in equal first place for Best of the Batch!

PRM Council Election 2020 (North-East Ward) Batch 3: Elachkar, Glover, Pavlidis-Mihalakos and Clarke

Rasheed Elachkar (Independent) – Facebook PageHow to Vote Card

Elachkar tells us that he grew up in Moreland and thus understands the community and our needs better than anyone. He then opens the field to any and all purveyors of lawyer jokes by explaining that ‘As a lawyer, I know exactly how to advocate for, defend and represent our interests.’ I am resisting temptation womanfully here, mostly because he has a point with his next line about knowing how to interpret legislation and develop policy. While I feel that lawyers are drastically over-represented at the federal level, they are pretty under-represented on our council, so I could see him being a valuable addition to the Council.

Elachkar then tells us that ‘those familiar with my career know that I have spent my entire life engaging with and furthering our community’, which is (a) adorable because he can’t be a day over 25, and from my middle-aged perspective, that is ridiculously young, and (b) less useful than he thinks it is, because I am sadly unfamiliar with his career. Scrolling down his page, he tells us that he is a ‘fresh, progressive, passionate voice’ and he also has a nice video explaining that it is vital to vote for someone who will represent your needs and your interests, and not just to make this a popularity contest. He comes across as sincere, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and very personable. Ooh, and an endorsement from – I think – a local footy player!

Elachkar also has a campaign video (in which he demonstrates that he doesn’t know how to wear a mask, argh!), talking about how his parents came to Australia from their home countries ‘just like yours’, and made the country a better place. He talks about his work with the Australian Multicultural Foundation, and Victorian Arabic Social Services and there are photos of him at anti-racism protests (including one against Israel, which, ouch), as well as of him talking about how he will fight for us, accompanied by footage of him doing martial arts and punching a punching bag, which I found fairly hilarious.

Overall he also comes across as someone who is speaking to his own community – the line about how his parents came to Australia from their home countries ‘just like yours’ is telling. Moreland’s immigrant community is large and diverse and deserves candidates who understand it. But I think Elachkar might run into difficulties capturing the votes of people who don’t already know him. He’s a bit low on concrete policy, for starters.

Elachkar gets a tick of approval from Rainbow Votes, but doesn’t seem to have participated in any of the other surveys or forums, which again suggests that he may not fare well outside his immediate community.

Googling Elachkar gets me a bit further. He has been active in the Muslim Professionals Association, and got a nice write-up from the Islamic Council of Victoria in 2017 in a piece on Muslim youth. I liked this bit:

But what really drives Rasheed, who identifies himself as an Australian-Muslim with Lebanese heritage, is unity.   
“My passion stems from seeking world peace, working out that we can live together creatively rather than violently. All that I produce is driven by this,” he said.  Listing identity, belonging and values as the three major challenges facing youth today – Rasheed said we all needed to act as a community to “listen, help and act.”  
“Overseas we are known as Australians, in Australia we are known as foreigners – thus, for many youth members this begs the question, who are we?”  

He really does sound like a lovely person.

On his How to Vote Card, Elachkar is preferencing the three ALP candidates, followed by Farah and Naim. After that, it looks like he just did a reverse donkey vote up the rest of the ballot, so his preferences are largely meaningless. Anyway, given the way our Municipality works, odds are if you follow his card, you will be funnelling your vote to the ALP.

He’s probably going to go in the upper third of my ticket, but I’m just not clear enough about what he stands for to put him higher. (Also, please, mate, put your nose INSIDE your mask!)


Francesco Timpano (Independent) – Facebook PageFacebook PageFacebook PageFacebook Page –  How to Vote Card

This candidate has requested that I do not write about him, and I am respecting that.

I will note simply that I do not see eye to eye with this candidate, and his presence high on someone’s how to vote card is not a recommendation for me.

(Also, yes, as far as I have been able to ascertain, he does have four separate Facebook Pages. However, on one of them, he mentions that he has been a victim of identity theft, so proceed with caution.)


Margee Glover (Reason Victoria) WebsiteParty Facebook PageCandidate Facebook PageWebsiteFacebook

Reason Victoria (the artists formerly known as the Sex Party and Fiona Patten’s Reason Party) has been on the scene for a few years now, and I’ve written about them before. As their website doesn’t have a specific policy platform for Council Elections, and their policies look pretty similar to what they were when I last wrote about them, I’m just going to direct you to my analyses from 2019 and 2018, respectively.

Reason Victoria’s candidate for North-East Ward is Margee Glover. She has a background in arts, education and publishing, and is big on community, inclusiveness, diversity, compassion, and evidence-based approaches. She is big on cycling, but doesn’t like the current approach to parking, which she views as punitive; similarly, she wants the council to be proactive about tackling environmental and climate issues – but she objects to their new fortnightly bin collection plans, which she again feels are punitive and ideologically-driven. This is someone who definitely prefers the carrot to the stick. Glover also has very strong feelings about the Hosken Reserve, which she does not want to see covered in artificial turf.

Glover clearly has an interest in aged care and better in-home care services. Other areas of interest include gender equity and safety, transparent government, revitalising small business, supporting the arts and entertainment communities, and a Northern Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary.

I have not been able to find any How To Vote card, but Glover is reasonably popular with Sue Bolton’s group, with Labor and with the Greens, as one might expect.  She seems to be one of the more responsive candidates when it comes to attending forums and participating in surveys or online interviews, which is a good sign. She has signed the Rainbow Pledge and the Hosken Reserve Pledge, and responded to the surveys by the Bicycle Users Group, Walk On Moreland and Climate Action. I especially loved her replies to the Walk On Moreland survey, and I’m feeling like she has rather won me over at this point. Glover will be near the top of my ballot, for sure.


Helen Pavlidis-Mihalakos (Independent) – Facebook PageHow To Vote Card

Pavlidis hasn’t given me a lot to work with here, but I will do my best. Her Facebook page reminds people of how to vote and the penalty for not voting, and she has a couple of posts objecting to the new parking restrictions, pledging to roll them back, and calling out all of those who voted for them. (Interestingly, none of those who did vote for them seem to be running in this election, at least not in North East Ward. Maybe they saw the writing on the wall?)

There are a similar set of ‘j’accuse!’ posts about increases to rates.

Ooh, here we go – a campaign video and a flyer! Excellent! Pavlidis has lived in Moreland all her life, and indeed has three generations of family living in Moreland. She has a background in accounting and local government, and has volunteered at Fronditha Care, Very Special Kids, and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. She stands for:

  • Freezing the rates (during the pandemic, I think?)
  • Better community services and facilities appropriate to all the ages and stages of life
  • Opposing inappropriate development
  • Clean and safe streets
  • Better public transport
  • Opposing minimum parking waivers for developments
  • Expanding parks and open space
  • Fixing roads and paths
  • And rates again – she ‘will never vote for unfair increases in rates and fees and charges’.

Pavlidis believes we need ‘mature, professional, knowledgeable, committed and passionate councillors’. This is gently phrased, but is making me wonder, once again, about the generational aspect of this election. I feel like there is a lot of both text and subtext coming from a bunch of the candidates suggesting that young people took over the council, and made bad and ideological decisions, and so we need to get the grownups back. (I honestly couldn’t say whether I agree with this assessment or not, but it’s definitely a feeling I’m getting. He Who Shall Not Be Named even has a reference on one of his many Facebook pages to councillors with ‘acne, no qualifications and no relevant experience’.)

Pavlidis seems to be pretty responsive on Facebook, but less so in other forums. She has, not surprisingly, gotten a high score from Fair Parking Moreland, and she has signed the Rainbow pledge, but environmental concerns don’t seem to be on her radar, particularly.

Her preferences go to Clarke, Helou, Dhedhy, Joseph, and then, interestingly, the third and second candidates on the Labor ticket, before donkey voting the rest. This is a bit hard to read, especially since I haven’t gotten to Clarke or Dhedhy yet, but it looks like she is going for the more centrist independents on her ticket, suggesting a fairly centrist position herself. This would match the impression I’ve been getting from other candidates’ How To Vote Cards – nobody seems to hate her, and people from both ends of the political spectrum seem to quite like her. If she can make it past the first eliminations, she might do surprisingly well on preferences.

And, in fact, that mirrors how I feel about Pavlidis, too. She comes across as intelligent and involved in her community, and she brings some useful skills to the table. Her priorities are not mine, but I think she will be solidly in the middle of my ticket.


Jason Clarke (Independent) – Facebook PageHow to Vote Card

I came prepared to like Clarke, because Facebook evidence suggests that he is buddies with my favourite Elvis Impersonator, Lyndon Joseph. Clarke’s flyer tells me he has lived in the area for 20 years, and that he volunteers with community sports clubs. He is concerned that

In recent years, motivated by political ideology, Council has divisively strayed too far away from what should be its core focus and responsibilities.

Damn, I really should have been paying more attention to what the Council has been up to, I’ve missed some shenanigans for sure. (And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s my beloved Greens – they certainly seem to have been on the wrong side of a few decisions recently, and I know they can have a tendency to fundamentalism at times. Certainly, everyone else thinks it is the Greens, but in a demographic like Moreland, where the Greens are basically one of the two major parties, that isn’t necessarily indicative… I’m going to have to do a bit more research on this. Later.)

Clarke comes with endorsements from the president of the school council at Coburg Primary and from the president of Coburg Little Athletics.

Clarke’s priorities are creating local employment; upgrading green spaces, bike paths, sporting facilities, etc; increasing the tree canopy; and yes, here we are again:

Council to focus on delivering the core services of parks, footpaths, bike paths, roads and rubbish as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Clarke’s Facebook page is pretty strongly focused on the 2% rate increase, and on naming and shaming the councillors who voted for it. In fact, that post looks rather familiar… and yes, now I compare it, it’s identical to the post on Pavlidis’s page.

So perhaps it will come as no surprise that Pavlidis gets second place on Clarke’s How to Vote Card. His card also favour Joseph and Dhedhy – I am starting to think of this particular cluster as the centrist independents – followed, to my surprise, by Failla, Timpano and Farah – the slightly scary right wing independents – and then we have a little bit of Socialism and lefty goodness with Bolton, Ul Murtaza and Carli-Hannan, before donkeying our way down the rest of the ticket. Well, mostly. There is one notable exception: Naim is dead last. I’m thinking Clarke did the same Google search I did. Overall, though, I’d describe this ticket as centrist with a dash of WTF.

Clarke has signed up to the Rainbow Votes pledge, is Fair Parking approved, and has a pretty good engagement score, having attended the candidate forum and responded to the Walk On Moreland survey. His responses were pretty interesting, and showed a tendency to want data before making decisions. Quite a good, pragmatic approach there.

Like Pavlidis, Clarke seems like he would be a perfectly good councillor, but there are other people I will vote for first.


BEST OF THE BATCH

Pavlidis, Elachkar and Clarke all seem like good people, but Glover really won me over. She wins best of the batch for this group!

PRM Council Election 2020 (North-East Ward) Batch 2: Bolton, Ul Murtaza, Pulford, Naim and Carli Hannan

Sue Bolton (Sue Bolton Community Independents – WebsiteParty Facebook PageCandidate Facebook PageHow to Vote Card

I like Sue Bolton, and she’s likely to wind up at the top of my how to vote card unless she gets pipped at the post by an Elvis impersonator, but I’ll be honest, her party name gave me a laugh. You see, I know Bolton as our perennial Socialist Alliance candidate, who joined the Victorian Socialists at the most recent Victorian State Election. I was a bit surprised to see her not running as an Official Socialist this time, but assumed that this was because the Victorian Socialists weren’t running candidates. Nope. They might not be running candidates in North East, but they certainly are running in North West and in South. As are Sue Bolton’s team. Looks like the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front are at it again. Ah, Socialists. I love you, but you truly embrace the stereotypes.

I’ve written about Bolton before, in 2012 and 2016, and of course she has also been mentioned in my posts about the Socialist Alliance in 2010, 2014, 2019 and Victorian Socialists in 2018. But enough of the past! Bolton is also a current Councillor since her election in 2012, and her flyer leans heavily on her council record, which includes campaigning for Upfield line duplication and missing links in the Upfield bike path, success in getting more pedestrian lights installed, campaigning to save heritage buildings, open space, and trees, opposing rate increases, outsourcing, and zero parking developments, challenging racism and Islamophobia, and more. Not all of her campaigns have been successful, but she is pretty consistent in championing the things I care about – the environment, better public transport, bike and walking paths, economic fairness and social justice. So yeah, she’s definitely going to be in my top four.

Bolton may not be running as part of the Socialist Alliance this time, but she is still decidedly socialist. Her election platform has seven strands:

  • COVID-19 cost of living pressures
  • Community need not developer greed (definitely Bolton’s favourite slogan!)
  • Safe streets and healthy neighbourhoods
  • Make Moreland a Climate Emergency Council
  • Improved amenity for residents
  • Helping residents fight for their rights
  • Social justice

The most interesting of these to me is the first. Almost all the candidates who have read about so far (and I stupidly started reading about them out of order, so that’s nearly half at this point) have expressed concern about COVID-19 and how it affects the community, but they have all done so in terms of small business and revitalising Sydney Road. Bolton is the only one so far to be focusing on the economic impacts on individual and families, talking about increasing rebates for pensioners, a council run food bank, better youth services and activities, quality home care, rate relief, and affordable studio spaces for artists and musicians.

Bolton wants more rooftop solar, an end to council use of fossil fuels, and a move to zero local carbon emissions. She also wants more trees and better public transport. And she supports Black Lives Matter, the LGBTIQA community, refugees and asylum seekers, while opposing discrimination, racism and Islamophobia.

Incidentally, her flyer is only in English, but she directs readers to her website for information in ten community languages. (Unfortunately, she directs them to her website in English, which might be something to think about next time)

Bolton is big on transparency and being responsive to the community – she scored the highest marks in Fawkner’s Candidate Engagement Matrix, and is big on transparency in council and giving people a chance to know about how decisions are made. She has committed to the rainbow pledge and answered everyone’s surveys – her response to the Walk On Moreland question about removing parking on Sydney Road was by far the most nuanced I’ve seen on this topic, noting the fundamental issue, which is that Sydney Road simply isn’t wide enough to meet everyone’s needs, and taking into consideration the requirements of pedestrians, cyclists, shop owners who need deliveries, and people with mobility issues who need closer parking than may be available. Actually, all her responses to the Walk On Moreland question took disability access into account, in more detail than I’ve seen elsewhere.

Bolton’s How To Vote card favours her team-mate, Street, and then independents Dhedhy and Ul Murtaza, before moving onto Pulford (Greens) and Glover (Reason). At the bottom of her ticket, she has Naim, Failla and Timpano, demonstrating excellent taste in my view. Clarke is fourth from the bottom, which is a bit of a surprise since several candidates I’m quite fond of seem to favour him. I’m guessing he’s a bit further to the right economically, since that seems to be Bolton’s usual ballot organisation principle.

Yes, I’m probably going to vote for Bolton.


Muhammad Ul Murtaza (Independent) – Facebook PageYouTube Channel

Ul-Murtaza is a new candidate to me, but he comes recommended by quite a few of the candidates I like, so I am hopeful.

He has a very endearing campaign video, telling us that ‘throughout history, Nature has been testing our strength, our resilience, respect and love for humanity’, through various challenges and disasters which we need to overcome with ‘courage and dignity’. He talks a bit about COVID, and comments on how its severity is linked to human behaviour, to public policy, and to inequitably distributed resources and systemic disadvantages (and now we know why the socialists like him so much!).

He ends with the following statement:

We need to look after each other, spread words of happiness, and stay connected, with the dream that as Spring sets in we will be welcoming a new era of human development, social connection and an inclusive and cohesive society.

All excellent so far, but what does this mean in practical terms?

Ul Murtaza’s Facebook page tells us that he emigrated to Australia seven years ago, and has qualifications in education, science, community service and community leadership. He has experience in training management, community engagement, employment and disability support, and has experience on a number of of committees of management. He has organised community events and forums for local, state and federal candidates and is a member of Moreland City Council’s Human Rights committee. This is a pretty impressive list of achievements, doubly so when you consider that he has only been in Moreland for seven years.

He wants to support and advocate in the following areas:

  • Social Cohesion, religious harmony and promoting culture of respect
  • Rate cuts and Housing affordability
  • Training and employment
  • Promotion of healthy sporting activities in youth
  • Response to climate change
  • Women’s rights and family violence
  • Accessible spaces and accessible public transport &
  • Better Childcare options for families

Ul Murtaza has participated in most of the forums and surveys, and is keen to promote cycling and walking, and disincentivise driving, including removing parking on Sydney Road. The Fair Parking people still like him, though. He partially supports the Rainbow pledge. He answered the Climate Action survey fairly extensively, and has a lot of thoughts about waste disposal and community gardens. It’s extremely clear why he is getting high billing on the Green ticket.

Overall? I like him. Definitely top third of the ticket for me. I think. We do seem to have a lot of very good independents this year, which might make this harder than I anticipated.


Adam Pulford (Australian Greens) – WebsiteFacebook PageHow to Vote Card

Adam was definitely a familiar face, and yes indeed, it looks like I’ve written about him before, when he ran as the third candidate on the Greens ticket in 2016 (Interestingly, the Greens are only fielding one candidate in my region this year – I wonder what happened?), and of course he ran as the Greens candidate for Wills in 2019.

His How to Vote Card gives preferences to Ul Murtaza, Bolton and Glover, with his bottom four being Naim, Failla, Timpano and Farah. So, progressives at the top, and the dodgier independents at the bottom, check.

His flyer (a single, 1/3 page affair, printed on recycled paper) tells me that Pulford is a renter living in Coburg, who works for a non-profit tackling the climate crisis. His priorities are:

  • protect what we love about Moreland
  • champion more public and active transport
  • deliver more parks and open spaces
  • act on climate and protect the local environment and
  • improve our community services

Very classic Green, that – community is important, but the environment comes first (and, to be fair, one can make an excellent argument that without a liveable environment, you don’t have a community anyway. I just find it easier to connect to people things than environment things).

I’m having an unexpected amount of difficulty tracking down specific policies from Pulford, though presumably they would align with the Greens’ State and Federal policies, which I commented on most recently in 2019 and 2018 respectively, and appear to be relatively unchanged. The major one I can find is about Re-Wilding Moreland ‘by planting 1 million indigenous trees, plants and grassses by on public and private land in Moreland by 2030.’

I did find his campaign video from when he ran for Wills last year, which talks about things like being a renter and housing injustice, how older women are the fastest growing group of people facing poverty, about the environment, the importance of diversity and fairness, and holding major parties to account. All of these are good things, and it’s nice to have a candidate with an awareness of these wider issues, but it’s less useful at a local government level.

We do better once it comes to the various candidate forums – he has answered everyone’s surveys, committed to the Rainbow Pledge, and is very keen on making things safer for walkers and cyclists – more bike paths, lower speed limits, fixing footpaths, etc. He is big on the climate emergency, as one might expect, and on renewables. But I’ll be honest – I’m finding myself subtly disappointed. More than anyone else so far, he sounds like a politician. Admittedly, he sounds like a politician with stances that I agree with, but there is an air of communicating a party line. And in places it feels like a slightly more old-school, dogmatic version of the Greens party line. This wouldn’t bother me if he were running at the State or Federal level, but I have a – possibly unreasonable – feeling that at a local government level I want someone who is responding to the issues at hand with a local focus, rather than being wedded to the best interests of the wider party.

I do, generally, agree with the Greens, so I expect Pulford to wind up in the top third of my ticket. But he’s not in the running for first place at this point.


Haissam Naim – Facebook pageHow to Vote Card

Dr Haissam Naim is a GP who practices at the Cedar Clinic in Coburg.

His How to Vote Card is not promising – he preferences Farah, Failla and  Timpano, Ul Murtaza, Helou and Thiveos, before going on a reverse donkey spree up the ticket. I’m fascinated by Ul Murtaza’s presence in this mix – everyone else seems to be the older-generation conservative faction in this election (I mean, conservative by People’s Republic of Moreland standards, of course – we don’t really have a traditional conservative wing here), but Ul Murtaza is definitely in the progressive sphere.

Naim’s flyer tells me that he believes that ‘Councillors need to be doers and not just the Councillor from last election with no significant changes being seen’. He is keen to point out that independents have no hidden agenda and don’t have to answer to the political hierarchy. After my comments on Pulford, I really can’t argue with that. His flyer also contains the odd statement:

Speaking every day with ordinary Moreland residents, I can feel the uncertainty they crave in their voices.

I am honestly not quite sure what he was trying to say there.

His flyer leans heavily on his experience as a doctor working in the Moreland community, which he feels gives him unique insight into the community. His policies include a ‘safe, tailored local COVID recovery plan’, that includes awareness, provision of hygiene materials, clinical insight, and a campaign to support local businesses. He will also fight to freeze rates, to improve the local economy with a ‘Made in Moreland’ awareness campaign, engage with local police to improve community safety and, of course, make sure town planning is done properly.

This is, essentially, the conservative Moreland package with a medical twist. Not my cup of tea, but fine as far as it goes.

The trouble is, I also Googled Naim, just as I do with all the other candidates, and the results were rather troubling. I encourage you to do the same, but in brief, the the first thing that came up was an article about a Dr Haissam Naim who was found guilty of misconduct and deregistered for 12 months after allegedly performing an ‘unnecessary and invasive internal examination’ on a woman who presented with facial spasms.

According to the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency, there is only one Dr Haissam Naim practicing in Australia. The tribunal decision can be found on his record.

So I guess I won’t be voting for him, then.

Edited to add: I’d like to direct your attention to the conversation in the comments on this post, from which I understand that Dr Naim was found not guilty in the criminal case relating to these allegations, and is fighting to have the tribunal decision overturned. If that happens, I’ll amend this article accordingly.

I’m not going to comment further, apart from providing an update if the tribunal decision is overturned, because this is not something I am able to be objective about. The trouble with giving one person the benefit of the doubt in a case such as this is that it immediately paints the other person as a liar, and I don’t want to re-victimise anyone.


Annalivia Carli Hannan WebsiteParty Facebook PageCandidate Facebook PageHow To Vote Card

Moreland Labor is the local branch chapter of the ALP, and is fielding three candidates, of whom Carli Hannan, a current Councillor is the first on the ticket. They have a 26-page Poplicy Platform for Moreland, which I will not attempt to summarise here, because their own summary is a full 4 pages long! But highlights include

  • Development that respects neighbourhood character, provides parking, and links in with public transport
  • Open and accountable government
  • Support local businesses that have suffered from the pandemic
  • Keep rates low
  • Support fair parking, lower speed limits, and more bicycle lanes
  • Develop more parkland
  • Maintain and upgrade sporting facilities
  • Support expanded childrens’ services and childcare, lobby for more funding for home care, expand youth services, support affordable housing, and ‘promote an inclusive Moreland community that provides access and equity to people with disability, their families and careers’
  • Build an arts precinct in Brunswick and arts infrastructure in the northern areas of the municipality
  • Support libraries!
  • Advocate for climate action, and encourage recycling.

Lots of good stuff here, though I’d note that they are pretty light on for environmental / climate policy.

Moreland Labor’s How To Vote Card favours Elachkar and Glover (Reason Party) followed by Timpano, and then is essentially a donkey vote down the rest of the ballot. Elachkar seems like a sweet guy who isn’t going to get far, and the Reason Party is usually a sound choice, but their choice to actively preference Timpano ahead of the donkey vote strikes me as questionable.

Carli Hannan leans on her experience as a councillor, a mother, and a social worker – she wants to advocate for families, because the understands the pressures they face. She sent residents a letter last week with a list of her top priorities. These are:

  • reversing the decision to cut bin collection from weekly to fortnightly (which… yes, I know we create too much waste, but ESPECIALLY now that I’m at home full time and so many things are delivered, fortnightly would be very hard);
  • opposing the new changes to parking (2 hour restrictions in residential streets, limited permit access);
  • reviving local business;
  • investing in parks, open spaces and sporting facilities, particularly for women;
  • supporting childcare and aged services;
  • keeping rates low. (Incidentally, on the latter, they say that Labor is the only party on council that supports limiting raises to CPI, which may be technically true but only if you don’t count Sue Bolton’s merry band of socialists as a party.)

Carli Hannan has signed the Rainbow pledge, and gets a moderate score on the Community Engagement index. She gets a thumbs up from Fair Parking, and responded to the Bicycle User Group survey in a fairly positive, but rather uninspiring fashion, but didn’t engage with Walk On Moreland. Her responses to the climate action survey are very pro-tree, which is good, but when asked for her top four priorities as a counsellor, none of these were environment or climate related.

Overall, I think Carli Hannan is very likely to get voted back on to Council, and I think she will do a good job there. Her priorities are all worthwhile things, but they are not mine. She is going to wind up somewhere in the middle of my ballot paper, below the candidates who excite me, but probably at the top of the ones who I am neutral about. And it won’t matter one bit, because I really don’t think she will need my vote to get in!

BEST OF THE BATCH

Ul Murtaza seems absolutely lovely, and Pulford and Carli Hannan are both sollid candidates, but this time around, it’s Sue Bolton, all the way. To the barricades, comrades!

PRM Council Election 2020 (North-East Ward) Batch 1: Failla, Joseph, O’Callaghan and Helou

Paul Failla (Independent) – Facebook PageHow To Vote Card

According to his website, Paul Failla is a FAIR DINKUM INDEPENDENT, a phrase that fills me with equal parts delight and trepidation. I’ve written about him before, as he is one of our hardy perennials who can be reliably found on the ticket at every council election. We also had an illuminating exchange on my Comments Policy page a few years back.

His How to Vote Card preferences Timpano, Naim and Farah, and puts  Pulford last, with O’Callaghan, Bolton, and Pavlidis-Mihalakos making up the rest of his bottom four. So, that’s the Green and the Socialist in the bottom four, and (spoiler alert) my two least favourite independents in his top three. I fear that we shall not be friends, Failla and I.

Failla’s Facebook page is very concerned about people not knowing how to vote, which is entirely reasonable, as many of us have not done a postal vote before. So he’s done some nice community service making sure we know how that all works, thank you Mr Failla.

Alas, at this point we begin to part company, as Failla is OUTRAGED at the ‘draconian & disgraceful decision of calling an election whilst under Covid 19 lockdown’ which disenfranchises voters. Magnificent turn of phrase, less convinced that he is correct to blame the government for this one, as I *think* Council Election dates are pre-set? He is particularly angry that ‘little or no information has been directed to voters over the age of 70+’, who do need to vote.

I’m going to go on a brief tangent, here, because there are some interesting assumptions baked into all of this about how electoral information is accessed, which I think may be generational. Failla doesn’t feel that candidates can campaign properly in the current environment; but I wonder how much face-to-face campaigning normally happens for most candidates and most voters? Perhaps because I don’t take the train to work, it’s rare for me to have a face to face interaction with a candidate. I get doorknocked maybe once per election by one person. I may spot a few candidates as I ride past a station on the bike path, but that’s it. So it would never have occurred to me that being unable to campaign in person is a big issue.

Flyers, signs, posters, and of course online campaigns and forums are still happening, and these are, at least in theory, a cheaper and more efficient way to reach people, but I would be curious to know if this does make information less accessible to people, particularly older people? And in this COVID era, when we are all having our family gatherings over Zoom, I wonder if it is still reasonable to assume that older people can’t and won’t use the internet to find out about candidates and how to vote? How many people have been forced to become more technologically adept by the current situation? (And how many people have become more disenfranchised than previously by a lack of access to technology that is now essential for just about everything).

OK, back to Failla and his flyer, which reads – perhaps deliberately, as he has a way with words – a bit like a hostage note:

I am reaching out for your support via letter box drop and social media.

I do not have other means to contact you.

Due to strict Covid 19 restrictions.

The postal election declared by the Local Government Minister for 24 October 2020 should have been deferred.

It has been declared with insult & abuse of power while we are in Covid 19 restrictions.

(As it happens, all but four of the 2016 Council Elections happened by post and Moreland was one of the four, so I think we were going to go postal in any case, but I guess voting and campaigning are two different things.)

Failla’s platform  is heavy on cleanliness and resources for elderly and disabled citizens. He is worried about hygiene on public facilities and clean waterways, and wants to review rubbish cullection, and he is angry about ‘potholes, broken footpaths and rubbish all over’. Oh, I remember him being angry about this last time, too! It’s true that we do have some very bad footpaths around Moreland. But they probably are not the thing that make me the most angry.

He wants to upgrade Elderly Citizen Centres and create a rehab Centre in Moreland, and he wants to lobby Federal and State Governments to fund creation of state of the art public nursing homes. Very on topic, and I can’t argue with that. He’s unhappy about parking restrictions, and there is a definite aura of ‘the council is corrupt and we need to review everything’ about the whole thing. I do like his plan for a permanent shelter for the homeless, and his policy of ‘support local business, buy local, local employment’.

Overall verdict? Look, Failla seems a little bit nutty around the edges, and he has questionable taste in friends, but there are some decent ideas in there, too. He doesn’t seem to have signed the rainbow pledge, or participated in any of the surveys about cycling, walking or the environment, which is a pity. I don’t think he will go high on my ticket, but there are definitely worse options.

Edited to add: And an acquaintance just drew this post to my attention. Make Moreland Great Again? Oh dear…



Lynton Joseph (Independent) – Facebook PageHow to Vote Card

Lynton Joseph is brand new to me, and I am rather charmed. His flyer tells me that his platform is:

  • Provide additional support services for the elderly
  • Supporting every initiative to rescue the Moreland Community to recover from Covid-19
  • Establish an animal shelter in Moreland
  • Maintain and further develop open space
  • Provide mentoring and support services for adolescents
  • Keep Moreland Safe

Which is lovely in general, but EVEN BETTER when you learn that in addition to being a tennis coach and a marriage celebrant, he is also a part-time Elvis Impersonator.

Stop right there, Mr Joseph. I have an important question for you: Do you perform Elvis weddings? THE PEOPLE OF MORELAND NEED TO KNOW.

(I do like the fact that his flyer includes his stellar Elvis work and says ‘About time an Elvis Tribute Artist became a Councillor’. Can’t argue with that.)

More seriously, his CV is quite impressive, and includes running sporting and other programs for young people with disabilities, volunteering for a support line for bereaved parents, and raising funds and awareness for Sands, after losing his son to stillbirth. Oh, and he did Relay for Life. Good man! In fact, doing sporty things to support community causes or help provide opportunities for disadvantaged people seems to be his signature thing.

Joseph has signed the Rainbow Pledge (and indeed, his flyer says that he enjoys ‘making new beginnings beautiful for ALL couples in love’), and he has some creative ideas in response to the Walk On Moreland questionnaire (also some very strong feelings about mobile phone use while walking).

His How To Vote card favours fellow independents Dhedhy, Clarke and Pavlidis-Mihalakos, then passes the vote to Carli-Hannan of the Labor Party before donkey voting the rest of the ticket. That’s a little disappointing, honestly, but it does seem to be a common theme this election – evidently the candidates got as tired of researching 18 other people as I did…

Overall, though, I like this guy. While it’s early days, I reckon he’s going to be pretty high up my ticket. The People’s Republic of Moreland definitely needs more Elvis Impersonators with a penchant for community charities.


Dean O’Callaghan (Independent for Climate Emergency Action) – WebsiteFacebook PageHow To Vote Card

O’Callaghan seems to be exactly what he says on the tin – an Independent who believes that we are in a climate emergency and is running for council. Here is the start of his manifesto (which can be found in full on his Facebook page):

Did you know that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct on our planet every 24 hours? Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. This is not acceptable for me as a resident of the richest, most educated city, of the richest, “luckiest” country on the planet. I am running to get Moreland Council to undertake an emergency response to global warming and biodiversity loss…

And off we go. I’ll start by saying that if I sound very frivolous about all of this, it’s because I find it very hard to think about the climate emergency seriously, because it absolutely terrifies me. I admire people who are able to look it in the face, but I’m not one of those people. (I tend to try to do my bit without thinking too much about it, honestly) O’Callaghan clearly is.

O’Callaghan’s Facebook page tells me that he has been running in local, State and Federal elections and supporting Save the Planet since 2011, and his flyer tells me he has been living and running a business in Moreland for more than 12 years, yet strangely he has not crossed my political radar in that time. (Not sure how I’ve managed to miss him, but perhaps he’s been running in other wards, or in years when I only looked at parties and not individual candidates.) He is righteously infuriated by the Federal Government’s inaction on climate change, and unimpressed by the ALP’s unwillingness to let go of coal.

All of which I agree with, but how do you change the world on a local level? For this, I went to O’Callaghan’s website, which is a copy of his flyer, ready for printing – and because of the way flyers are folded, this means that the first statement to grace my eyes was

We can build composting toilets!

Well then.

I mean, I’m sure we can, but it isn’t the slogan that I, personally, would take to an election.

Fortunately, the flyer, when read in order, is much more useful. O’Callaghan’s actual slogan is ‘Strength in community to build climate change immunity’. OK then. O’Callaghan then outlines the scope of the ecological and humanitarian catastrophe, and asks what changes can be made at a Council level to deal with this. His solutions?

  • Set up sustainable food production incubators where people learn to grow and ferment/preserve vegetables
  • Have recycling systems where resources are ACTUALLY recycled
  • Encourage businesses to be closed loop carbon neutral models with annnual award programs and grants to incentivise climate aware systems
  • We can build composting toilets!

Each of these is described in some detail, and O’Callaghan posits that this will actually save the council money. He also wants to do things like energy efficiency upgrades and changing the council fleet to electric/bike based vehicles.

There is a cartoon mocking a certain Hawaiian holiday, and an endorsement by the Good Brew Company, which appears to be O’Callaghan’s solar brewed kombucha business (there has to be some sort of hipster bingo card for that, surely).

O’Callaghan has committed to the rainbow pledge and participated in the various forums and interviews by Climate Action Moreland, the Bicycle Users Group, and Walk On Moreland. The latter has some very good ideas and also this idea, which is certainly an idea alright, but holy hell:

9. What strategies are needed by Council, in collaboration with the State Government, to introduce a driver education campaign in regard to stopping for, giving way and slowing down for pedestrians at intersections, zebra crossings, school crossings and other hot spots?

Institute a popup inflatable child that instantly inflates in front of cars doing 60km+ in school zones that pop with violent explosion of red paint.

(As this is potentially triggery for anyone who has witnessed a pedestrian accident, I’ve made the text a similar colour to the background – highlight it with your mouse to read)

… because that certainly couldn’t cause any accidents. Dear God.

His How to Vote card preferences Pulton of the Greens and Bolton of the Socialists, and we are then exhorted to number the remaining boxes in order of preference, but ‘Put gas & coal sponsored parties LAST’.

Right-oh, then. I’m honestly not sure I can do much more analysis of this, I’m still recovering from his inflatable child idea. Oy.

Overall? O’Callaghan’s priorities are excellent and important, and he has some good ideas. He also has some less good ideas, and he strikes me as a little INTENSE, to say the least. That or he has an extremely dubious sense of humour. My strong suspicion is both.

He won’t be at the bottom of my ticket, but he won’t be at the top, either.


Anthony Helou (Independent) – WebsiteFacebook PageHow to Vote Card

Anthony Helou is a former Mayor of Moreland who has run in every election since I have been living in Moreland, and plenty more before that. I’ve written about him before, in 2012 and 2016. He’s formerly ALP, and seems to have been involved in a fair bit of factional politiciking. Last election, Helou was warning us all not to trust Independents… but times have evidently changed, because here he is, running as an Independent himself. Indeed, not only is he running as an Independent, his how to vote card favours fellow independents Naim, Pavlidis-Mihalakos, Failla, Timpano and Clarke, before doing a reverse donkey up the rest of the ticket. Moreland Labor is not getting Helou’s vote this time.

Helou’s Facebook page sees him running very much on his record as a Councillor of many years’ standing. He is a ‘strong, experienced and active’ member of council, and he encourages people to contact him by phone or email.

He has a professionally produced promo video, full of stock footage and dramatic music, which warns us all that four years is a long time and this election is critical, and plays on our fears of the unknown.

Do you want strong representation that receives results, or someone that makes false promises? Can you afford to vote for unknown candidates? Sign a blank checque for someone you don’t know? Do you want to walk into a dark room and start guessing? Just turn the light on! And find out about each candidate and see who they really are? Do you want to vote for candidates that you don’t know?

Helou wants us to think of him as a known quantity – as opposed to all those unknowns with hidden agendas. His slogan ‘Let’s get Moreland Moving Again’ suggests that it ground to a halt when he got voted off Council eight years ago. He also wants us to know that he will focus on the real job and not be distracted by party politics.

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it only looks backwards, and not forwards. His Facebook page is all about his achievements between 1996 and 2011. There is no policy platform other than getting Moreland moving again – presumably back on the track from which it diverged eight years ago. Back to the good old days.

His website does a bit better on policy, which is to say, it has some. He’s keen on things like parking, transport, and infrastructure (Fair Parking Moreland approves of him), keeping rates low, and fostering local business. He wants to foster multiculturalism, improve childcare, and support community festivals. Actually, his priorities are very similar to those of Paul Failla.

It feels very old-fashioned, almost retro in a way that is hard to define. These feel like the same policies we were all voting for back in 2000, and there is nothing wrong with any of them, but they haven’t really changed to meet the current challenges we are facing. Climate action is mentioned only in passing; rubbish collection and street cleaning are commented on, but not recycling; we are against racism, but other forms of marginalisation don’t seem to exist. It’s notable that Helou hasn’t committed to the Rainbow pledge, or been involved in any of the surveys about walking, cycling, or climate action in Moreland. I don’t get the sense that he is necessarily averse to any of these things (though he could be) – it feels more like these are young people issues and he is not a young person or looking for the votes of young people.

And by young, I guess I mean ‘under-45’, because I’m 44 and those are issues that are important to me.

He’s not awful, but I don’t want to step into a time machine and go back 20 years, unless I get to change the future once I get there. I think I’d rather vote for O’Callaghan.


BEST OF THE BATCH

Lynton Joseph, for sure. Comes across as a kind, caring person, with some useful community organising experience and a sense of humour. Also, and I cannot emphasise this enough, Elvis impersonator.

Stage 4

I’ve spent the last five days attending CoNZealand, the annual World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

Of course, by ‘attending’, what I actually mean is that I’ve been sitting in front of my computer or my phone, sometimes in my pyjamas, watching and listening to panels and presentations, and participating in workshops and Kaffeeklatsches. This was going to be my first trip to New Zealand, but the closest I’ve got is shifting my timezone forward by two hours…

But such is life in the Time of COVID-19, and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to spend most of a week being totally consumed by an event that has absolutely nothing to do with COVID-19 or lockdown restrictions or idiotic Australian politics (note: I do not say that WorldCon was free of idiotic politics in general. Just idiotic Australian ones.).

One of the best conversations I had at WorldCon this week was about time travel and World War 2. We were talking about Connie Willis’s time travel books, particularly Blackout, and how the time travellers in that book were historians from the future, and thus had the advantage of knowing when and how the war would end, while the people around them did not. And we, the reader, knew the same. We knew, no matter how dark things were getting, that if it was November 1944 in Britain, they were on the home stretch, they just had to hold on for a few more months and it would all be over.

Well, here we all are, living through history the long way round. If there are time travellers among us, they may well know when how this ends — actually, if there are time travellers among us, that would be awesome, because it might be proof that civilisation survives all the scary things that are happening right now. (Or, of course, they may be from the very far future, after the apocalypse and the rebuilding of everything that some of us have been able to take for granted all our lives.)

… Sorry, I’m tired, and this post is perhaps excessively whimsical.

What I’m trying to say is this: I’m the sort of reader who will turn to the end of the book when things get bad, just to make sure everything is OK. I can’t do that now, and I’m finding that stressful. While Stage 4 restrictions will change absolutely nothing about how I currently live my life, seeing the date when restrictions may lift (and it is may, not will – nothing is guaranteed) recede further into the future is still difficult. I’m good at doing what needs to be done, so long as I have an endpoint. It’s much harder without one.

But I don’t know how this ends. I can’t. I am not a time traveller from the future (and of course, I couldn’t tell you if I was – you just don’t want to know what sort of paradox that would create). I am just … someone who has to keep on going.

I have to hope that the end is in sight, that the work my wonderful scientists and scientists around the world are doing will lead to the treatments, the diagnostics, and above all the vaccines we need. And I do have faith in that. I don’t know how long it will take, but I know that given enough time and resources (and someone to watch the kids – parents out there, you are in my prayers), they will figure this thing out, because they are very, very clever people and they want this as desperately as any of us.

I have to hope, too, that the work we all do together in staying home as much as possible, wearing masks, keeping our distance, and washing our hands will be able to hold the virus at bay until they can get this done. And it is work, and important work, even if it feels like doing nothing. I saw someone a few weeks ago make the analogy of firefighting: our healthcare workers are at the front line, fighting the fires – putting them out directly, with all the associated risks that this brings. For rest of us, who don’t have the skills and equipment to fight the fire directly,  the job is to be the firebreak. To be the place where if the virus reaches you, it burns itself out, with nowhere to spread. I really like that way of looking at it.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is this: I have many friends and family members who I love and miss terribly. I miss seeing them face to face. I miss hugging them. I miss having them around to my house for excessive meals and sending them home with leftovers. I miss that so much.

Love is supposed to be a selfless thing, but I’m not very good at that. Maybe none of us are. It’s hard to be utterly selfless, and I think most acts of love involve a degree of reciprocation – I may bake cakes and biscuits for my friends and my family and my scientists because I love them, but I also get pleasure from watching people eat what I’ve made. I might read a picture book to my four-year-old niece because she likes being read to, but if I get a cuddle out of it (or even just a giggle and ‘you’re silly, Auntie Catherine’), I have my reward.

But right now the most loving thing I can do for the people I care about is stay away from them, and that feels counterintuitive. It feels unloving. And it definitely doesn’t come with the endorphins that come from our normal ways of expressing love and affection.

Of course grandparents and aunties and uncles are trying to find ways to bend the rules to play with the small children in their lives. Of course they are. It feels so unnatural, so unloving, to be out of contact for so long. I’ve been sending my niece postcards, because she hates Zoom and Facetime, but she loves getting mail. I know that this makes her happy, but I wish, I really wish, there was a way to make this conversation go in two directions.

I don’t quite know where I’m going with this, except perhaps to say that I think the hardest part of all of this is that it feels like we have to fight not just our natural human instincts for social contact, but our even deeper instincts to give and receive love and affection.

But that’s not entirely true. We can still love and care for each other, we just have to do it differently. And sometimes we have to do it the hard way – sending out our love like postcards into the distance, not knowing when or if we will receive a reply.

I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe. I hope you have at least some of the people you love in your bubble, even if some are still far away. We may not know how and when this will end, but it *will* have an ending. This isn’t forever, even if it feels like that.

Thinking of you all with love. But from a very safe distance.

***

This is the bit where I usually have links or a call to action. My only call to action today is this: please do something nice for yourself. Check out my Self Care page if you are low on ideas. Astonishingly, all but two of the items on that list can be done within the limits of Stage 4 restrictions! There are also links to a number of helplines if you are having difficulties.

Also, if you are looking for a book recommendation, I read an absolutely fantastic, glorious book last month, by Jo Walton, called Or What You Will. If you like fantasy novels with glorious food, and Florence, and characters from Shakespeare living out their queer and magical lives in an alternate version of Renaissance Florence, you will enjoy this. It’s like a holiday you can take without leaving your house… and let’s face it, those are the holidays we are getting right now. (Link is to the ferociously expensive hardback, I’m afraid. The ebook is cheaper, but maybe a library copy is the way to go until the paperback comes out. Though, honestly, for me it was worth every cent.)

Another recommendation – This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Gorgeous time travel novella, poetic and funny and romantic, and nicely on theme with much writing of letters and waiting for replies…

And here we are again

… but did we ever leave?

So Melbourne is back in Stage 3 Restrictions for six weeks, and honestly, I don’t much like the looks of where Sydney is right now. Hopefully the rest of Australia can stay out of the current wave, but who knows? All you really need is one infectious person in the wrong place at the wrong time, and off we all go again. We really are all in this together, clichéd as it sounds, and we all depend on the people around us to behave sensibly. I do try to have faith in my fellow Australians, but the evidence has been rather mixed on that front, and I have to confess, I’m concerned.

I have many feelings about the way this situation has been reported on and politicised, and maybe sometime I will write about them. I will say, I’ve been fairly impressed with Daniel Andrews. He has got some things wrong (I was very unhappy with the way the people in the towers were treated – not so much the lockdown itself, which seems to have been necessary, but the lack of logistical support for it and the way it was handled generally), but he clearly has the health and welfare of Victorians at heart, and that he has been working like mad to try to keep us safe. And his communications have been stellar, honestly. His press releases are clear and empathetic, and explain the reasoning for the decisions being made. I’m glad we have him here, and I do wish the media would lay off him a bit and that we could have a bit more bipartisan support for what needs to be done, rather than alternating between screaming about dictatorships until things are relaxed and then chiding Andrews for being lax. Pick a lane, people. Or better still, just get on with encouraging people to stay safe.

So much for not writing about the way this situation has been politicised! Oops. But back to the actual theme of this post, which is about being back in lockdown, and how that feels.

Honestly? It feels a bit crappy. And I say that as someone who thought we came out of Stage 3 a bit too soon and wanted us to go back in much sooner. I was genuinely relieved when word came last week that we were headed back into lockdown. It really is the only sensible thing to do given the numbers we’ve got. I know this. I believe this.

I still feel rather upset about it, though.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My job is about as secure as any job can be right now, and I can do it from home. It’s rough for my husband, whose contract ended in early March, and who hasn’t been able to find anything else yet (you may have noticed that the unemployment situation is pretty sucky right now), but in terms of what we need to survive, we are fine and more than fine, with secure housing, and all the toilet paper and pasta our hearts could desire (toilet paper and pasta being, of course, the definition of contentment in this new era). We don’t have kids, so we aren’t living the nightmare of juggling work and home learning, nor do we get to play Childcare Bug of the Week, with the associated testing and isolation (I have a friend who has played this game three times so far, and can tell you which COVID-19 testing locations are the best and why). I have set up regular gatherings online with friends to watch things together or read Shakespeare plays or just hang out, so our social life is covered. About the riskiest thing we have to do is the weekly grocery shop for the handful of things we can’t get delivered.

This should be easy for us. Comparatively speaking, it is easy for us.

It’s still hard.

This is not a bid for pity. Like I said, we are very, very, lucky. But I think it needs to be put out there that even for people who are very, very, lucky, who are doing lockdown on the easiest possible setting… it’s still not always easy.

And if it’s not easy for us, what is it like for everyone else? I can only begin to imagine what it is like for people who don’t have financial security, whose housing is precarious, whose careers are dependent on them being productive at work while they manage childcare all day, every day. I only have the vaguest inkling of what it is like for people who are at higher risk than us and really have hardly left their house in months – my ‘range’ has been about five kilometres from where I live and I’m going stir crazy. If I couldn’t get out on my bike, I don’t know what I’d do.

I am missing my choirs and my singing work desperately; I can’t know what it feels like to be a full time performance artist, with no idea when they will be able to work again. I was sad when I cancelled my trip to New Zealand; but I feel, very deeply, for the travel agents who have had to cancel everything and whose industry is in a hole they may not be able to dig themselves out of for years.

I am missing my niece, who is nearly five, has no interest in Zoom hangouts, and really doesn’t understand why she can’t spend time with her grandparents or her ‘silly aunt and uncle’. But that pales in comparison to the feelings of people whose families are split across several states or countries, and who can’t just take a quick trip home when someone is seriously ill.

I don’t want to play the Depression Olympics here. I think we have a rather toxic idea in our society that if someone is worse off than us, we don’t have the right to be upset about our own situation at all. But our feelings are what they are, and feeling guilty about them doesn’t help. It’s OK to be not OK, even if there are people who are worse off than you (though, obviously, you should avoid dumping your feelings onto people who are already worse off than you are if you can possibly help it– here’s a nice little graphic / article about how that works).

I think the other thing that makes this hard is that for a lot of us, we can see, rationally, that this lockdown is necessary, and so it feels irrational and silly to be upset about it.

But it’s important to separate what we understand with our minds and what we feel in our hearts. In fact, I think we have to – if we act on what our hearts want without reference to what our minds know, especially right now, we are going to make stupid decisions that may harm ourselves and the people around us. Because of COURSE we want to be with the people we love. Of COURSE we do. We’ve been trying so hard for so long to do the right thing, and we are tired and we are bored and we are lonely and we deserve a break and a reward, and this new lockdown feels like a punishment for a crime we didn’t commit.

And yet, it’s still necessary.

The reverse applies, too. If we try to pretend that what our minds know is the only kind of knowledge, that we need to sit on all that emotion and repress it and pretend it isn’t there because it’s silly and wrong and anyway, other people have it worse than us, we are also going to make bad decisions. We aren’t robots and we aren’t superhuman and if we try to power through, the odds are, we will eventually reach a breaking point, and that’s not good for anyone.

Putting on an upbeat persona for others, well, that’s professionalism. But trying to put one on for yourself? I don’t think we can lie to ourselves like that and not have consequences.

So where does that leave us? Buggered if I know. Seriously, I am not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV.

But I think, perhaps, we do need to make space for ourselves to feel what we are feeling, without judging ourselves for these feelings. I think we need to be a little more honest with ourselves and others about how we are, because if we are always putting on a front and acting as if everything is fine, that puts pressure on the people around us to do the same. (So if, like me, you have difficulty being kind to yourself for your own sake, perhaps it will help to think of being emotionally honest as creating a space where others can be emotionally honest, too.)

I mean, I’m not advocating a full and frank disclosure of your mental state to every stranger on the street who asks ‘How are you?’. (I mean, that could be hilarious, and also something I would do on my less socially aware days, but it’s probably not a good idea.) But maybe we can stop putting pressure on ourselves to always and publicly be OK, even when we are not?

I’ll go first. I’m having good days and bad days. Mostly, I’m fine, but sometimes I realise that I’ll be working from home until at least the end of the year and then I want to cry, because the best part of my job is hanging out with my amazing scientists. And I know it’s necessary, and I know it’s doing my part to make sure the science can happen (the more of us non-lab people who work at home, the more lab people can do their work in the lab while remaining socially distanced). But I still feel isolated and lonely and sad. So sometimes, it’s hard to feel motivated. I see all the people on the internet with their Iso projects and feel inadequate and guilty and a little bit resentful because I feel like I’m just plodding from one day to the next in survival mode. And I’m scared for my friends in countries where the pandemic is being poorly managed, and then sometimes I forget to be scared, and then I feel guilty instead.

There is good stuff, too. I’ve read some excellent books recently (Jo Walton’s Or What You Will is an absolute wonder of a novel). I got to watch Hamilton! on Disney Plus, which was great fun. Working from home means I can make bread in the morning and eat it for lunch.  I have ordered pretty masks from eShakti, and one day they may even arrive. Every few weeks, I get together with my friendly organist, and we stand well apart and record music for our church, so I have at least been getting to do some singing. My bicycle gives me the freedom to do some socially-distanced exploring and exercise. My weekly CSA box provides fresh veggies and inspiration and supports a small farm to keep their operations going. My Shakespeare readings are giving me the opportunity to spend time with my friends in Melbourne, Darwin, Taiwan, and Europe, all together, so that they can get to know each other in ways we would not have done before the pandemic.

These things all bring me joy and energy.

I am very lucky.

I am also sad and anxious and scared and angry and lonely, all at different times or all at once.

And that’s OK, because these are scary and saddening and maddening and anxious and isolating times. It would, I suspect, be more concerning if we were all just fine.

(Fun fact: for the first four weeks of the epidemic I was very much Just Fine and also completely manic setting up everything to look after everyone and doing All the Things – and also completely incapable of reading for pleasure, or watching films, or doing anything else relaxing. I was not Just Fine. But my, was I productive!)

I know that we keep on hearing about how this is the New Normal, but there is nothing normal about this. Let’s not make ourselves crazy trying to convince ourselves otherwise.

It’s OK not to be OK.

Stay safe and be well.

And if it’s all too much, please seek help. Even if it doesn’t feel like it should be too much. It’s not a competition, I promise.

*****

A few links that might be useful

Mental health resources

I’ve provided some emergency / crisis lines and websites below, but you should also know that if you are in Australia, Medicare will cover you for up to 10 counselling sessions per year with a psychologist. To access this, you’ll need to chat with your GP about setting up a mental health care plan. (Many GPs and counsellors have telehealth appointments if you are concerned about going out just now).

  • Lifeline – 13 11 14 . Anonymous, round the clock crisis support of all kinds.
  • Headspace – 1800 650 890. Mental health support particularly for young people
  • SafeSteps – 1800 015 188. If you are experiencing family violence, it’s not your fault, I promise. Please contact SafeSteps, if it’s safe for you to do so.
  • QLife – 1 – 1300 789 978. Mental health support for men.
  • Kidsline – 1800 55 1800. Phone-based mental health support for kids.
  • The Black Dog Institute does mental health research and has some good resources and links to a variety of helplines.
  • Head to Health is a government website with some good resources

A couple of useful COVID articles

 

Some good places to spend your money

  • I had all these plans in January of taking a holiday in country Victoria in Autumn, and spending up big in the regions that had been affected by the bushfires. But right now, those regions still need my money, but they definitely do not  need my Melbourne germs. I’ve been looking for ways to support them online. Victorian Country Market looks like a pretty good one.
  • SisterWorks sells food, homewares, clothes, etc made by immigrant women. They also do reusable face masks if you don’t have one yet!
  • Another way to support refugee women is by ordering a meal from ASRC Catering.  I can vouch for the deliciousness of their food (though they can’t manage all allergies, so just make sure you check before you order)!

Some things to make you smile

But first, a useful PSA on Stage 3 Lockdown from Tom Gauld.

Whose lives matter?

Content note for any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers: this blog post contains the names of people who have died.

Content note for everyone else: This post is mostly me, as a white person, trying to grapple with racism, privilege, complicity, and what my responsibility is at this time (though there is a list of resources and content by Black, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors at the end that I can recommend with a clear conscience). I didn’t want my blog to be silent on racism, especially now, but I’ve almost certainly mucked it up, probably more than once, and for that, I apologise.

This is the sort of post which starts with me staring blankly at a screen, because saying nothing feels like complicity, but anything I do say feels inadequate. Because, dear God, America. I don’t even have words.

And… dear God, Australia. Because OK, true, we do at least have a health system and gun control, and our police force isn’t out shooting protesters in the street, so yay, points to us, but have you looked at how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders die in police custody every year? Or how we treat asylum seekers? Or the charming way we have been treating Asian Australians, particularly since the start of this pandemic?

Which is to say, we might want to think twice before we shake our heads over the state of the USA, because it turns out there is enough racism to go around, and we definitely have our share.

(Also… if you don’t like the way police are treating protesters in the US, you might want to keep an eye on some of the legislation the government is trying to push through while we are distracted by the pandemic, because they would like to expand police and ASIO powers in a number of ways that are pretty concerning.)

This post isn’t going to be about the situation in the USA, because while I am absolutely in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter there, I feel as though these stories can best be told by those who are present.

I also feel, strongly, that our primary duty is to clean up our own backyard. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have come out strongly in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, and have drawn parallels between the situation there and the treatment of Indigenous people here.

The parallels are not hard to draw.

We have plenty of work to do within our own borders.

I’m white. I’ve never been on the receiving end of racism, either institutionalised or individual, and it’s unlikely I ever will. So the story of racism is not mine to tell. As much as possible, here, I’m going to link to what Black people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are saying about the current situation. But I do want to talk a little bit about the work people like me need to be doing.

That last sentence makes me want to weep. Because this shouldn’t need to be stated in five hundred different ways all over Twitter.  Saying ‘All lives matter’ denies the difference in the way white and black lives are treated in the US, in Australia, and in so many countries around the world. It takes a statement that should not be revolutionary (but which, horribly, still is), and turns it into a meaningless platitude.

That rather gets to the heart of it, don’t you think?

And look, I understand the appeal of ‘All Lives Matter’. It is uncomfortable, very uncomfortable, to sit here as a well-meaning white person, feeling complicit and guilty and also vaguely resentful of this (because after all, *we* aren’t out there being great big racists, and how dare you suggest at we might be?), listening to these stories of abuse and harm caused by people who look like us. And  ‘All Lives Matter’ sounds so lovely and inclusive, and leaves all the uncomfortable race stuff out of the equation, and anyway, are white people even allowed to say Black Lives Matter, and isn’t it maybe a little bit racist if we do?

But I have a nasty feeling that the job of white people right now is precisely to be uncomfortable.

I don’t mean that in a nasty way.  I mean… it’s really, really uncomfortable and shocking and unpleasant to witness – even to read about – the way people of colour, and especially Black people, are treated by our society and our police force. It’s really, really tempting to look away, to not read books like Dark Emu or Talking to my Country, to avoid any close encounters with what it feels like to be Black or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in our world.

And the reason it is tempting is because the things that Black people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are suffering are absolutely horrible and cruel and one hundred percent unnecessary.  There is no good reason why Aboriginal people are dying in custody at the rate of one per month.  There is no legitimate reason why Black people and Aboriginal people are over-policed. There is no justifiable reason why so many Black men and women have died at the hands of the police and the justice system.

There is only racism.

And it’s absolutely shattering to read about.

The thing is… the closest white people like me are ever likely to come to this experience is reading about it, or seeing video footage, or hearing eyewitness accounts.  Being able to not think about it is actually an incredible privilege.

And that’s something to think about right there, because I don’t want to read all of this stuff which I know full well is going to traumatise me and make me cry and give me nightmares, and yet Black Americans and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders don’t get the choice of switching off from that trauma because it is their lived experience.

(And now I’m thinking about how much of an emotional and intellectual load that must be – I mean, we were all talking about how it was hard to be fully productive when dealing with the stress of the pandemic, but the stress of racism is there ALL THE TIME. There are some amazing, clever, funny, delightful Black writers whose books I love, and I’m just trying to imagine how brilliant they must be to be able to write what they do while at the same time living with a level of stress that I am terrified even to experience at second hand. Imagine how much more they could do – more importantly, how much happier they could be – if they didn’t have that stress and that pain in their lives.)

And look, mental health is real and important, and I am not here to tell you that justice and solidarity demands that you must do things that will be harmful to you. I want everyone to be safe, physically and mentally.

But it is important to acknowledge that if you are white like me, being able to choose to take care of your mental health by not exposing yourself to the harm done to people of colour… is in itself a privilege. And that is a whole extra horrible thing in itself, because the ability to protect your mental health ought to be a right for all of us, not just those of us with a particular skin colour.

In fact, perhaps that’s the thing in a nutshell:  things that ought to be basic human rights – things that white people believe are basic human rights, because for us they are – turn out to be privileges that are only extended to us as a matter of genetic luck. I don’t want to lose my privilege. I want everyone else to have the same privileges I do. I want my privileges to be rights.

So yeah. I’m uncomfortable. And I think I need to be, because 432 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have died in custody in Australia since 2008 and I had absolutely no idea. I thought we had a Royal Commission and fixed that.

I mean, I donate to charities which work to fight racism, and I’ve always felt like that excused me from digging too deep into what racism feels like when you are on the wrong side of it. But I’m realising – rather belatedly – that I don’t have the right to remain ignorant, because ignorance means that I am likely to do harmful things through a lack of knowledge – or if not that, it certainly means that I’m not paying attention to the harm that is happening, and therefore I’m not able to work against it.

I do not like this conclusion. I do not want to read all those books I have been so studiously avoiding.

But I have the privilege of not living my life in a world that views me as something less than human based on the colour of my skin. The least I can do is bear witness.

~~~~~

Things we can do

Note that the links and charities below are primarily around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.  I’m listing a handful of US-based charities and bail funds at the end, because God knows, they need all the help they can get, but I’d encourage you to make local action your priority – because God knows, we need to do a lot better than we’ve been doing so far.

Places to donate in Australia

  • https://paytherent.net.au/ – As a descendant of immigrants, I live on stolen land. Paying the rent is both a symbolic gesture of solidarity, and a practical way to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.  You can decide how much you can afford to contribute per month, or support them with a one-off donation.
  • https://sistersinside.com.au/ – Sisters Inside supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders women and girls in prison. Many are imprisoned for non-payment of fines (think 19th-century-Debtors’ Prison, but with extra racism), and they have a specific GoFundMe which raises money to pay these fines so that these women can be free.
  • The families of several Aboriginal men and women who died in police custody or at the hands of police are seeking justice, and have fundraisers to which you can donate
  • Welcome to Country has an extensive Aboriginal Charity Guide which lists charities that work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in areas from health and education to activism and the environment. Whatever your favourite cause, you will find it there.
  • https://www.asrc.org.au/ – The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre supports asylum seekers with material aid, legal aid, housing assistance, and help finding work. Asylum seekers in Australia face discrimination on a number of fronts, not least from the government, which denies them access to Medicare, financial assistance, and in some cases forbids them from working. And if you don’t think racism plays into that… well, I suppose I have to admire your ability to think kindly of people who don’t deserve it.

Some articles I have found helpful

Some books I need to read (and maybe you do too)

  • Dark Emu, by Bruce Pascoe – if you were taught at school that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people didn’t practice agriculture or have technology… this book will enlighten you.
  • Talking To My Country, by Stan Grant, talks about his experience as  an Aboriginal man in Australia. It’s highly acclaimed and needs to find its way out of my ‘To be read’ pile and actually get read by me.  He has also written a follow up book, Australia Day, which I gather talks more about reconciliation
  • Welcome to Country, by Marcia Langton – this is a travel guide to Indigenous Australia, with information about Indigenous languages, customs, history, and more, as well as cultural awareness and etiquette for visitors.

Other actions you can take

  • An amazing woman named Zoe Amira posted an hour long video on YouTube filled with art and music from black creators. It has a heap of ads, and is basically designed to rake in revenue that will be used to support Black Lives Matter organisations.  This is a great way to support the cause if you have no money and can’t get to a protest. I’ve had it running quietly in the background while writing this list (because I don’t actually want to hear the ads).
  • Buy some music on June 19 to support racial justice, equality and change.
  • Sign the petition calling for an end to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody.
  • And here’s another petition to prevent deaths in custody caused by improper restraint.
  • There are a number of protests tomorrow.  Honestly, I’m really torn about this. Protest IS important right now.  But I’m also super concerned about the public health risks of having large groups of unscreened people gathering during a pandemic.  It looks like the organisers are trying to do this responsibly, but ultimately, I don’t think there is a responsible way to hold an event of this nature in this context. I don’t think I can, in good conscience, link to them. However, I *have* seen a number of Ministers and politicians out there telling us, with varying degrees of sincerity and self-righteousness that the best way to exercise our right to protest right now is to write to or call your local MP. I think we should take them at their word. So here are some suggestions from my friend Emily about people to contact and what to say:
    • Prime Minister, Scott Morrison – (02) 9523 0339
      Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt – (08) 9359 0322
      Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese – (02) 9564 3588
      Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney – (02) 9587 1555
    • In Victoria: Premier, Daniel Andrews – (03) 9548 5644
      Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gabrielle Williams – (03) 9096 8587
      Leader of the Opposition, Michael O’Brien – (03) 9576 1850
      Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Peter Walsh – (03) 5482 2039
    • Talking points:
      • I fully support the important protests that are happening across Australia/in Melbourne tomorrow.
      • Governments must move immediately to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody and police violence toward Aboriginal people, and police who have killed and harmed Aboriginal people must be held to account. I am asking you to take urgent action to make this happen.
      • I am asking you to guarantee that all protesters tomorrow will be able to protest freely without fear of police violence.
      • When you call the office, ask the staffer who answers the phone to take a message for the MP. Give your full name and postcode, and then proceed.

Read, Listen to, and Watch Content by Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Black creators

  • Check out some of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bloggers listed at deadlybloggers.com – you will find blogs on a huge range of topics art to politics to health.
  • Here’s an article listing some great social media accounts to follow from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • My friend Heath made this excellent list of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, actors and musicians. (I would add that Adam Briggs, in addition to being a muso, is a fantastic comedian)
  • Did you know that we have a National Indigenous TV channel? You can find it on Channel 34. I am terrible at remembering to watch TV shows, but we really enjoyed Ready For This, which is just a nice, well-done teen drama series about a bunch of Aboriginal kids from various parts of Australia who come to Sydney for their final years of school, to pursue their dreams. It was very good, and lots of fun.
  • I read a lot of romance novels, and some of my favourite writers right now are Black women.  If you are in the mood for some escapism, check out Charish Reid Alyssa Cole, Talia Hibbert, Farah Rochon and, Rebekah Weatherspoon, for starters. (I especially like them because… not all fiction centering People of Colour needs to be sombre – indeed, writing happy endings for people in demographics who are often denied them is a subversive thing in itself.  Also, as Tom Lehrer so accurately pointed out, dirty books are fun, that’s all there is to it.)

Actions you can take in the USA

  • Donate to a Bail Fund. Lots of people are going to need help with bail in the near future.
  • Black Visions in Minnesota wants to dismantle systems of oppression and violence and to develop Minnesota’s emerging black leadership.  It is Black-led, queer- and trans-centering, and my friend in Minnesota tells me they do good work.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union is recommended by pretty much everyone I know in the US as an excellent charity for justice.
  • Black Lives Matter has a very comprehensive list of actions you can take, from petitions to protests to calling politicians to donating.

Distantly Social

Hello, my friends!  I hope you are all keeping well, and that if you are stuck at home, that you are not going completely mad and have plenty of toilet paper (what is even with the toilet paper hoarding? Myself, I hoard chocolate. And, apparently, garlic.  But that is another story.).

I don’t think anyone needs to read any more articles about Coronavirus (though if you do, this one is pretty good). But as someone who is now practicing social distancing, I thought it might be worth sharing some of the many, many links I’ve seen go past on my social media of things to do if you are stuck at home. I mean, beyond the obvious of reading, cooking, sleeping, and, of course blogging. I’m sharing these as much for myself as for you – I don’t want to lose track of them. And if I see anything else good go by, I’ll add to it.

Please do look after yourselves and each other. Check in with friends and family, especially those who live alone, by phone or by Skype – I’m planning some Skype gatherings with friends, and we are also thinking of going to some of these exhibitions and other bits and pieces together. Do your best to eat properly and get some exercise and see some sunshine, as far as this is possible. If you can afford it, donate to charities that provide material aid – a lot of people, particularly casuals, are without income at the moment. If you are someone who can leave the house, do some shopping for someone who can’t. This is a time to really practice being a community, because a lot of people are vulnerable and scared right now.

And look, you know all of that already. Let’s get on with the fun stuff, eh?

Edited: Note that I’m updating this every so often, as I see or am sent more links. 

Ways to leave the house while you are at home

Music and Dance

Art Galleries and Museums

  • Visit one of the many Art Galleries with online exhibitions through Google Arts and Culture.
  • Or try a museum.  How does the Louvre sound? And here are some other immersive museum experiences.
  • Ooh!  Turns out that the Musée de la Musique in Paris has virtual tours of their collections, which includes samples of music for many of their instruments – I’ve been to this museum, and the experience of wandering through listening to music is wonderful – I highly recommend this virtual tour. (Descriptions are in French, but if all you want is beautiful musical instruments and classical music, you will be fine)
  • Or if you want a whole different view of museums, here’s a rabbit hole for you – the Great Museum Dance Off. There are some true gems on that blog.

Theatre, Films and Books

  • Visit the Virtual Cinémathèque, presented by ACMI and Melbourne Cinémathèque for a weekly movie night.
  • OzFlix is trying to get streaming happening for every Australian film if you want some local culture.
  • Neil Gaiman has a bunch of cool free stuff on his website, including some fun things for younger readers.
  • Listen to a Story – Amazon has made their Audible collection free until schools (presumably in the US) open.
  • Watch some Shakespeare from The Globe Theatre
  • The New Decameron Project – science fiction and fantasy authors are posting new stories during this time of plague. You can read the stories for free, or support authors plus a refugee clinic in Rome via Patreon. Added 25/3/20
  • Sir Patrick Stewart is reading a Shakespeare Sonnet every day on Twitter. You can find him on Twitter here, or look for the #ASonnetADay hashtag. Added 25/3/20
  • London’s National Theatre now has an online broadcast every Thursday.  Added 30/3/20
  • Cosmic Shambles is having a Stay at Home Festival – this is a comedy show with episodes focusing on books, science and music. Added 30/3/20

Science and the environment

Education

Socialising & Spirituality

  • Netflix Party lets you sync up your Netflix watching with friends, so that you can have a viewing party together.
  • Couch choir!  Their first event is over, but I think there will be more.
  • A friend of mine made this lovely prayer resource for people who can’t get to church due to quarantine or social distancing.
  • Tips from a cloistered nun on coping with self-isolation. (You don’t need to be religious to find some of these useful!)
  • I’ve used Discord to set up a virtual living room for my friends, and you might want to consider doing something similar – it took me just a few minutes to set up and to invite people, and now I have friends in multiple time zones dropping in when they are bored or the toddler is napping, or they just feel like socialising, and it’s low-key and lovely. Slack and Teams are other apps that allow you to do similar things… they don’t just have to be for work! Added 25/3/20
  • I’m also using Zoom to do tabletop readings of Shakespeare plays (something my circle of friends used to do in real life before it all got too tricky). You can find scripts here. The trick is dividing up parts for a small group when a play has a lot of parts, so that nobody ends up talking to themselves (though this can be mitigated with hats and/or silly voices). But if Shakespeare isn’t your thing, what about virtual Storytime with picture books, or a virtual soirée where people take it in turns to sing, or read short stories, or recite poetry, or juggle, or whatever? Or keep it simple and just have a dinner party. You can use Zoom for free for 40 minutes without a subscription – Skype is free and unlimited, I believe, but I’m finding Zoom works better with our terrible NBN. Added 25/3/20

Exercise

  • Here’s a round up from a romance review blog that I’m very fond of with fitness options for when you are stuck at home.  It includes everything from yoga to push ups to dancing, and also links to a collection of truly evil romance-novel-inspired workouts.
  • My talented friend Lyndall is doing online warm-ups daily on her YouTube channel (I’ve linked to the first of them – you can subscribe to the channel on YouTube). Added 25/3/20
  • Barre classes at home!  Only my fellow Australians will understand why I laughed and laughed and laughed when I saw this one… Added 27/3/20 – 3am tomorrow for us, so hopefully they will record it.

Little things

More lists

Keep well and keep safe!

Catherine

Three Letters and some Links

It feels very strange in Melbourne today.  It’s drizzly and dark, and the weather is cold enough to require central heating and winter pyjamas, but the air is absolutely permeated by smoke – from the Tasmanian fires, we are told, though it could just as easily have been from the ones in Gippsland or in northern Victoria or on Kangaroo island.  There are fires in every direction, and yet we are safe, and can go about our lives as normal, except for the stinging in our eyes and throats, the tightness in our chests from the smoke.

I almost welcome it, though.  We’ve had several days of truly glorious weather over the last week (not consecutively, and none of them like any of the others of course – this is Melbourne we’re talking about), and it has felt so surreal to be able to go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather when all this devastation exists just a few hundred kilometres away.  (Clearly, the Catholic upbringing which I did not have has still managed to give me an over-inflated sense of guilt about ever enjoying myself).

Anyway.  I’ve been meaning to write some letters to politicians, but I’ve been running into difficulties, because my letters to Morrison keep on coming out as ‘Dear Prime Minister, Please get f*cked. Sincerely, Catherine,’ or sometimes ‘Dear Prime Minister, What the f*ck is wrong with you?’, which are certainly sincere statements of personal belief, but perhaps not very productive.

I did finally manage to write something slightly more useful, however, and since I thought that some of you might be sharing my difficulties, I figured I’d follow tradition and put my letters here for anyone to use as a starting point for their own missives.  Per my usual disclaimer, they are far from perfect.  And per my usual encouragement, they don’t need to be.  Don’t be crippled by the need to make everything exactly right.  The important thing is to send *something*.

Please note, incidentally, that I’ve seen a few people saying that emails sent through the form on the Prime Minister’s website are not being read, and that it is difficult to get through to him on the phone.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but just in case, let’s break out the envelopes and stamps for this one.

If you can’t bear to write to politicians right now – and honestly, I can’t blame you for that – I’ve also provided some more links at the bottom to charities and other organisations you might want to support.

And of course, wherever you are, I hope you are staying safe from the fires and the smoke, that your loved ones are also safe, and that you have the things you need.

Continue reading

State of Emergency

The photos and videos coming through from New South Wales and from East Gippsland are honestly hard to comprehend.  They look like scenes from some sort of apocalyptic film, not from reality. The fact that people were literally being told to get into the sea to shelter from the fires is just… I honestly don’t have the words for this.  Four thousand people sheltering on beaches shouldn’t be something that happens.

This is what a climate emergency looks like.

And our government, with their cheerful lines about how Australia “should be proud of its climate change efforts” (it… really shouldn’t), and “there’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet“, while watching the Sydney Harbour fireworks from a harbourside mansion are coming across less as tone-deaf and more like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

I posted something about the need to declare a climate emergency on Facebook yesterday, and someone replied to ask what would actually happen if such an emergency was declared.  It’s a fair question – even if it is one that is often heard from people who want to use it to show that we inner city Greenies know nothing about what is needed or how disaster relief works – so I figure it’s worth chatting about here. Especially since the alternative is writing another rage-filled post about our government, and I think we can pretty much take that as read at this point. (Incidentally, I have updated my previous rage-filled post about our government with a few more charities to donate to, and would welcome suggestions of any charities I’ve missed from others.)

There are two reasons to declare a state of emergency, one symbolic, and one logistic. I’ll start with the symbolic one, because, unusually, I think it might actually be the more important of the two.

You see, the government is working very, very, hard to preserve a narrative that says ‘this is normal, this is business as usual, we have always had bushfires’.  Which leads inevitably to ‘we don’t need to do anything different to what we are already doing’.

This is normal, so we don’t need to lease waterbombing planes from the US Forest Service.

This is normal, so we don’t need to to upgrade the equipment and respiratory masks provided to our volunteer firefighters.

This is normal, so we don’t need to activate the legislation from 1991 that allows us to pay our volunteer firefighters.

This is normal, so we don’t need to meet with all the fire chiefs to come up with long-term strategies to deal with the situation.

This is normal, so we can keep on mining coal and gas both for our own use and to export to other countries so that everyone can continue emitting carbon while the world burns.

That last one is the reason for all the others, frankly.  We have a government that can’t afford to admit that we are helping to make climate change worse in ways that is affecting us severely, because it’s afraid of the mining industry.

And that’s a problem, because this wilful blindness, this determination to lean on the ‘Australian spirit’ and pretend that everything is just as it always has been means that we can’t do the things that are necessary to protect people right now from the disasters that are already happening, because that would mean admitting that maybe something has changed, maybe this is different, maybe we need to address not just our response to this emergency but the underlying policies that have allowed us to reach this point.

Maybe we need to talk about climate change.

Maybe it’s too late to talk about mitigation, and we need to talk about adaptation.

Maybe we need to do this even though it is going to have an economic cost in the short term.

Maybe we need to accept that, because the alternative is a human cost that cannot be counted.

***

As for logistics, it’s true that I don’t know a lot about how disaster relief works.  But I do know a bit about how organising people works. And it generally works better if everyone is agreed about who is coordinating things, who is in charge of what, and what the priorities are. Our bushfires cross state borders, and we have volunteers coming from other states (and in some cases, other countries) to assist with the effort.  Leaving this to the States to organise piecemeal just isn’t a particularly practical thing to do.

It seems to me that there are several things that a government could do, if it had the will to do so (above and beyond what I’ve mentioned above).  Just off the top of my head, they could…

  • Accept the help we have been offered by other countries
  • Liaise with the state governments and state emergency services to coordinate efforts to fight fires that cross state borders or that are large enough to require help to be brought in from less-affected areas.
  • Convene experts in emergency management, ask for their recommendations, and act on them.
  • Get the Navy and Army Reserve involved in coordinating evacuations and getting supplies to areas that have been isolated by the fires – logistics is a big part of what the army does.  Let’s make use of that. (The Andrews government in Victoria has requested and received military aid for evacuations. But this should be something that is offered up-front where needed, rather than requested ad hoc.)
  • Budget more money for disaster relief, and coordinate with state and local governments to make sure it gets where it needs to go in a timely fashion and with a minimum of red tape.
  • Build a fleet of waterbombing aircraft (we currently lease ours from California, but as our fire seasons get longer and begin to overlap, this will become a logistical issue)
  • Review building standards for new houses, particularly in at risk areas – consider whether some areas are too risky for rebuilding to be wise.
  • Create a strategy to ensure that vulnerable people (the elderly, the disabled, people with low incomes, people without personal transport) are able to be evacuated early and to places with the resources to look after them in an emergency.  Coordinate care needs for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities who have been evacuated.
  • Create a plan for domesticated animals displaced by fire – if you evacuate people but can’t take their pets or livestock, you are going to have issues.
  • Make sure nobody is being kicked off their pension for failing to check in when their house was on fire or when they were off fighting fires themselves
  • Once the fire season is over, sit down and create a serious policy about climate change and how we are going to have a country that is still possible to live in ten years from now.

I don’t want Scott Morrison on the front line holding a hose or making sandwiches.  I don’t want his thoughts and prayers.  There is nothing wrong with any of these things in principle, but they are not his job right now.  His job is to lead, to make decisions, to provide his ministers, the states and the people on the front lines with the support they need to to do their jobs.

That’s what he signed up for, and that’s what he should be doing.  But the first step in the process is to acknowledge the reality of our situation.

This is not normal.

This is new.

And we need to take it seriously.