By Andy Hazel
Ms Jane Garrett is feeling confident. Fifty-five days out from the state election, she doesn’t want to talk about her achievements since her narrow victory for Labor in 2010. She’s far more interested in current and future battles.
The $9 million upgrade to the iconic Route 96 tram? ‘Yes we did that,’ she says. ‘That was easy. But you then had to manage issues around the shopping strips and how that impacts on people who want to park their cars out the front of their houses. That’s the wonderful thing about a democracy; these are the issues you deal with on a day-to-day basis.’
Development is the issue Ms Garrett predicts will be the most challenging to advocate for and manage politically. Brunswick is an electorate of both industrial sites and family homes, and she anticipates heated debate around how to manage inevitable growth.
‘People are challenged by the scale of change,’ she told UniPollWatch. ‘Development in the area over the last fifteen years has been exponential. People in Brunswick understand and want to do their bit, but they feel they’ve had more than their fair share.’
‘We do need urban density. We need to build on old industrial sites so we’re not sprawling. The suburbs of Brunswick are creaking with the weight of it. Plus, you’ve got all the attendant issues around traffic and open space, services and liveability.’
The responsibility for factors determining ‘liveability’, including public transport, open spaces, public services, education and healthcare facilities, is divided between the local council and the state government. Ms Garrett feels strongly that the recently scandal-plagued Moreland City Council hasn’t been up to the task.
‘Look, I think there are some great people at Moreland Council, but I’ve been very vocal during my four years in office that the council has let people down in a range of areas.
‘They really need to step up around traffic and cleanliness. I did an electorate-wide survey and held a forum about liveability and got a lot of responses back that people are concerned about these things. I made those issues clear to the council. There needs to be a catch-up on how much the area has changed.’
Ms Garrett’s life has been spent almost entirely in Parkville and Brunswick, and during this time demographic and social changes have been dramatic.
A discrimination lawyer before she was a parliamentarian, Ms Garrett speaks passionately about her interactions with some of the most marginalised in her community.
‘I think those values and that spirit is very much alive and well in the inner city even though it’s changed enormously. It’s important we always remember there are people doing it really tough in other parts of Melbourne and Australia. We need to be mindful that the policies and ideals we pursue have to benefit the whole community.’
Her proudest moments are small victories: the establishing of a kindergarten, helping a secondary school student when he feared deportation and advocating for individuals struggling against council or government bureaucracy.
‘In 2010, one of the first acts of the Baillieu government was to wind back discrimination law for the first time in 30 years,’ she says. ‘These things matter, they really, really matter and we’re fighting on two fronts now.
‘The federal government is so conservative you’re fighting to get back to where you were on a range of issues, and then take it further. My electorate and community has been deeply affected and angered and saddened by the efforts of the Liberal government at a state and federal level.’
Ms Garrett is troubled by political campaign funding and deeply concerned about the Americanisation of the political system. ‘I think the current system has to be rigorous, transparent and open. What’s happened in New South Wales has been quite horrific. An on-going debate about proper funding of elections needs to happen and it requires a bipartisan approach.’
She is open to a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) provided the ‘right framework’ was in place. She describes the state Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) as ‘a debacle’.
‘You’d need to get the model right but I certainly think that’s something we should be having a discussion about, no question.’
At the last election, just 1,200 votes separated Ms Garrett from Greens candidate Ms Cyndi Dawes. Not surprisingly, Brunswick residents have been bombarded with pledges of investment and upgrades to schools, improved public transport infrastructure and parklands in the event of a Labor victory.
Ms Garrett recently came out as a strident critic of the East West Link, after protestors targeted her office. She cites transport, health and education as major issues constituents have raised with her.
‘We will not be building the East West Link,’ she says determinedly. ‘Every part of that money will go into public transport, which I think has been a very significant announcement from us.’
The 2010 election saw ex-footballer and independent Mr Phil Cleary take nearly 4,000 votes. Mr Clearly has not yet announced whether he will run again. As it stands his votes are likely to be picked up by Labor. Regardless of the outcome, Ms Garrett is relentless about engaging with her electorate via surveys, campaigns, petitions and community meetings and doesn’t see the cultural and ethnic diversity of the electorate as problematic.
‘Some people call that continuous campaigning. I call it doing your job. If you’re having conversations you’re informed about what the issues are and what you need to do about them. It’s diverse, but not just multiculturally. There are a lot of young families now, a lot of changes in the electorate.’
Ms Garrett describes her constituents as ‘highly engaged and politically articulate’, even if many don’t know the date of the election. Which is just as well, as the battle for attention has barely begun.
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne