November 14, 2014 – 12:45PM
By Andy Hazel
‘Hmmm,’ muses Dean O’Callaghan. ‘Why did I decide to stand?’
Brunswick’s Save The Planet candidate leans against a desk in the messy front room of his partly constructed microbrewery just off Sydney Road. Piles of paper sag out of small shelves and the floor is littered with crates of his kombucha – a fermented tea drink. Binders and folders limit the floor space, much of which is filled by a large, loud hyperactively affectionate dog.
As operator of the Good Brew Company, he offers sustainable solutions to established breweries and makes his own kombucha, a living, fermented drink sampled by many of his rival candidates.
Greens candidate Dr Tim Read bought a case and says his family love it. Labor’s Ms Jane Garrett admits to liking it and Mr Giuseppe Vellotti, running for the Liberal Party said ‘It was good. I had some bowel movements later on, so it worked!’
If that’s any sign of the party pitching for the compassionate vote, consider the motion passed.
After unsuccessfully trying to quiet his dog, Mr O’Callaghan smiles and answers the question about why he is running in the state election. ‘Well, I’m pretty out-there. I’m gregarious and extroverted and I love being seen. Also, not many people really want to run for politics. I don’t think being universally despised is a dream job for many people!’
Mr O’Callaghan – universally known as Deano – is a small-business operator, event coordinator and outspoken advocate for renewable energy, sustainable development and environmentalism.
‘The key message to take home about Save The Planet is that if you want the Greens to get in, you can still vote for us first and use your preferences to get the Greens in,’ he says.
He has yet to formally announce how he will allocate his preferences, but it’s a safe bet that those prioritising climate change, such as the Greens and the Animal Rights Party, will get the nod.
Recently described by an interviewer on community radio as a ‘gold-hearted hippy’, Mr O’Callaghan describes himself as an eco-entrepreneur who believes politics is severely lacking in compassion.
Mr O’Callaghan came to politics after being repeatedly told to do so by businessmen to whom he was teaching English in Germany.
‘Every single student I connected with said “what are you doing here Deano? You should be at home running your country. You should be a politician, agitating for change.”’
Called back to Australia to help run a brewery his father had just bought, Mr O’Callaghan was asked by Adrian Whitehead, the founder of Beyond Zero Emissions and Save The Planet, to run as an independent candidate.
Mr O’Callaghan contested the seat of Wills in last year’s federal election and received 2,048 votes – 2.25 per cent – a figure that encouraged him to run again. While not expecting to be elected he has his sights set higher than state politics.
Mr O’Callaghan describes Save The Planet’s ideology as ‘extreme’ but sees this view as essential part of a diverse political spectrum. That they exist, he says, means the Greens appear more mainstream.
‘We’re going to for the Greens what Pauline Hanson did for the Liberal Party,’ he says with a ready smile.
He says he is happy for the Greens to steal his ideas, as John Howard was accused of doing with Hanson. ‘That’d be good! None of us want to get elected. We’re just there because we have to be there.’
Mr O’Callaghan’s ‘grand dream’ is to get elected and resign immediately to replace himself with a new system of government, an ‘internetocracy’.
An internetocracy, he explains, is a natural evolution in citizen-engaged, referendum-happy countries such as Sweden and Iceland.
The internetocracy would work like this: everyone can create policies and vote on others’ policies. If 50 per cent of people in the neighbourhood support a policy, it is promoted to a city level. If enough people there agree with it, the policy becomes a bylaw and is promoted to state level where if it again receives enough support, it becomes law.
Critics cite the time-consuming nature of involving the population in law making, but Mr O’Callaghan is optimistic that you could train an avatar to respond for you. He is also excited at the prospect of cumulative local bylaws creating culturally diverse enclaves.
As it stands, he says politics ‘Is a combination of what the big companies who lobby government want talked about and ‘Operation Look Over There’, something that distracts you from the big stuff.’
Top of the big stuff he wants to see discussed more is climate change.
‘There are scientists that know what kind of sea-level rise we’ll get because of what we’ve done up to this point. Which basically puts the Docklands under water, but no one wants to discuss this in mainstream media. This is what we’re here for. We’re here to say ‘“hey, we have an emergency”’.
If Australia can export brown coal without it being a major media issue and the opposition stays quiet about it, then Save The Planet is essential, he argues.
With scant policy about other issues, Mr O’Callaghan nevertheless sees Brunswick as a perfect example of an electorate he thinks will prioritise environmental issues at the ballot box.
‘I’m against inappropriate development,’ he says, referring to one of the key issues cited by residents and other candidates. ‘I like the idea of more concentrated living but it has to be done in a clever way.’
Mr O’Callaghan cites the South Melbourne Commons as being a good example of this. Established by Friends of the Earth, Father Bob Maguire Foundation and the Parish of St Peter and St Paul, the Commons was established to be a community centre with food gardens, a café, childcare centre, an events venue and parklands.
Community-based ventures like this epitomise Mr O’Callaghan’s ideas of social enterprise.
‘The decisions I’ve made in my business are environmentally focussed. They mean that I have to create employment, which is a wonderful thing to do because you’re building community, which is the whole idea of a social enterprise.’
Whether the community of Brunswick will vote for him on election day remains to be seen. Either way it’s a safe bet Mr O’Callaghan will keep brewing and working toward the society he wants to see.
To connect with Mr Dean O’Callaghan
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne.