November 7, 2014 – 7:00AM
By Andy Hazel
Stella Kariofyllidis may not have the easiest name to pronounce. But, unlike her party, People Power Victoria – No Smart Meters (PPV), it’s a name is familiar to many Brunswick residents.
Two-time Mayor of Moreland and local resident for nearly 40 years, Ms Kariofyllidis is a passionate advocate for the rights of locals and is surprising herself as much as residents at her latest tilt for government.
‘People are always whinging about things,’ she says. ‘Saying things like ‘this government is no good’. If the government is no good, put your hand up! Don’t just complain. Do better if you want to, that’s my belief.’
PPV secretary Marc Florio says he selected Ms Kariofyllidis as she was a party member and put herself forward when he asked for candidates. The candidate herself however, has a different story.
‘When they rang me first I thought, “who are these people”? I didn’t think much of them. But they persisted and I thought OK, I’ll meet with them. Then they gave me the charter. I read it, and I thought “why not”? I’ll give it a go.”’
PPV are a new party advocating for consumer choice and running on a banner issue of refusing smart electricity readers, which they claim are harmful to health, an invasion of privacy and were forced on Victorians without consultation.
They’re also campaigning on housing reform, a moratorium on coal seam gas mining and banning Wi-Fi in schools.
Meeting in a Greek cake shop on Sydney Road, it’s not long into our conversation that some elderly Greek women, as if on cue, stop by to say hello.
‘Friends of my mother’s,’ she says smiling after saying a few words in Greek. Many Greeks know her through her work in the council or the Commonwealth Bank where she’s worked for much of her time in Brunswick.
During her second term as mayor Ms Kariofyllidis was suspended and then expelled from the Labor party for voting against the party-sanctioned mayoral candidate and narrowly avoided a state government investigation that brought down another council.
As she sees it, the problem was the Labor forcing her to “follow the line” and go against her morals.
‘I was punished for not doing that. Expelled from the party. Hoo hah!’ she exclaims, her eyes wide. ‘Other people do worse and stay in.’
PPV, she tells me, are happy with her independent streak. As long as she agrees with the charter, she is free to follow local issues and it is these about which she is particularly well informed and passionate.
Though she enjoyed her time as Moreland’s first female mayor, Ms Kariofyllidis says she’s ready to go where there is ‘more power’.
‘In local government there’s not so much you can do. There are some things at a grassroots level, but when it comes to big decisions and money, we are a creature of the state government.’
Key among her concerns are housing, planning and development and public transport.
Housing issues, also cited as a key policy platform for her party, are a major problem for many people in Brunswick. Ms Kariofyllidis is particularly concerned about housing stress for victims of domestic violence, single mothers and older women.
This issue is one particularly affecting Greek and Italian woman, says Ms Kariofyllidis. Though some own a home worth over one million dollars, they live alone and rely on local friends and businesses more than ever. Pride keeps them from selling their house and moving elsewhere.
‘They want to leave it for their kids,’ she explains. ‘And they’re suffering. Rates and electricity are going up. They can’t make ends meet. They might be asset-rich but they’re not money-rich.’
Though demographics are changing, Brunswick is still dominated by Italian and Greek families, many of who object to the apartment blocks sprouting throughout the suburb. Ms Kariofyllidis recognises it as a highly divisive issue and one that requires careful management from whoever is in power.
Building above and behind main street shops and along public transport routes is the most visible sign of new development in Brunswick, something the PPV candidate is all for.
‘I would like to see that increase in density. It will bring people onto Sydney Road and revitalise the shopping centres. Forty years ago it was booming. People would come from other suburbs to shop on Sydney Road. We were the Bridal City,’ she laughs, referencing to the many shops selling wedding dresses nearby. ‘It could be much better.’
Ms Kariofyllidis singles out property developers who “would rather have a shop empty than drop the rent” for particularly strident admonishment. Her time as a councillor gave her plenty of experience dealing with developers, many of whom would try to push through apartment blocks with poor design and cheap materials.
Frustratingly caught between bad designs and a council telling her that they couldn’t knock the building back because of them, she is pushing for state government intervention to allow greater council control over planning approval. Music Victoria, the government body advocating for many of the electorate’s live music venues, also supports this initiative.
An underlying theme of PPV policy and one wholeheartedly supported by Ms Kariofyllidis is increased communication between party and people.
‘We need to engage the people more to make decisions with us,’ she says. ‘Especially the main issues that are affecting their lifestyle like the East West Link.’
Disappointed that the Labor government changed their policy for what she sees as cynical reasons, Ms Kariofyllidis is a strong supporter of Moreland Council’s push for a judicial review of the government’s decision to fast track the first stage of the project.
‘A lot of ratepayers are angry with the council for spending money on this issue,’ she says. ‘They’re saying it’s a state government issue and that they should be spending the money on something else.’
Current mayor Lambros Tapinos takes credit for choosing to use council money to pay for the court costs involved with the legal action. He says he was grateful, but not surprised to be joined by Yarra Council and more recently by neighbouring Moonee Valley council. The court case will be heard on December 15th.
One of the few down sides to running in this state election, says Ms Kariofyllidis, is running against a fellow Labor maverick, incumbent Jane Garrett.
‘She is a nice person. I do like her, unfortunately that’s how things are in politics,’ she sighs, waving again to her mother’s friend. ‘I’m sure if she was in my position she’d do the same, but I’ve been given an opportunity. If I wasn’t known in the area I wouldn’t have tried. But people do know me and I’m going to give it a go.’
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne