November 7, 2014 – 7:00AM
By Andy Hazel
He might have grown up in Adelaide. He might live in Burwood. But Liberal Candidate for Brunswick Mr Giuseppe Vellotti is all about Australia, and family.
Outside the café in which we meet, Mr Vellotti is keen to show me his latest handiwork.
‘I built all the A-frames I’ll use in the election,’ he says proudly, showing me the wind-resistant design. ‘I use garden hose as a hinge see? Because they’re lightweight when you push on the top, it pushes back and they don’t blow over. I put a lot of thought into it.’
As he demonstrates the design, an old Italian man passes by, stops, reads the sign to himself smiles and takes a leaflet. Mr Vellotti smiles back, shakes his hand and the man moves on.
‘That’s one of the three to four per cent!’
With his overtly Italian name, Mr Vellotti has been parachuted into the Brunswick electorate by a Liberal Party keen to make an impression in a seat that has been resolutely Labor for 111 years.
Estimating that a swing of three to four per cent can be put down to his name alone, Mr Vellotti says a primary goal is to push for greater representation in the Upper House.
One week into the campaign, public appearances haven’t gone as well as hoped.
‘I’ve been called names in the streets,’ he tells me laughing. ‘I’ve been called a “w a n k e r”,’ he says, spelling out the word. ‘I’ve been told to “eff off out of here” when I was in front of Barkley Square Shopping Centre. I found that strange.’
With his history in sales and quiet confidence, Mr Vellotti prides himself on handling these situations. ‘I don’t react,’ he shrugs. ‘I’m very extroverted but I’m not aggressive.’
Boasting four careers over his forty years in the workforce, and now a sales engineer, Mr Vellotti is embracing his newest challenge, politics.
‘Well, I’m not in politics yet!’ he says with a laugh that echoes in the roomy Brunswick café. ‘After four weeks, it’s back to my day job. I’m trying to get into politics. I might get in I might not, but at the moment I feel I can be a voice for Brunswick.’
Mr Vellotti feels connected to the area due to his Italian heritage, but he is realistic about his slim chances. If successful, he’s pledged to move to the area.
Despite being born in Australia, Mr Vellotti spoke the Italian Napoletano [Neapolitan] dialect until school age. These Italian roots provide him with the core values that govern his approach to politics.
‘I’ve got four pillars,’ he tells me. ‘Trust, transparency, respect and patience. ‘You should always have time for someone. It doesn’t matter if they’re poor or wealthy, you should respect everybody.’
Public safety and the East West Link road are the two key issues for Brunswick, says Mr Vellotti. He provides a rare voice of support for the proposed road development, singling it out as a tough sell.
‘I think Brunswick would benefit tremendously from it. Once you free up traffic you can increase tram efficiency and have more trains. I understand that people see $6 billion for a small piece of road as being a big issue, but what do you do?’ he shrugs. ‘You try to go down Alexandra Parade – it’s shocking!’
Asked if he thinks $6 billion could be better spent, Mr Vellotti considers the question carefully. ‘That’s an economic discussion. I understand what’s proposed at the moment and how that affects Brunswick, but that’s for the Treasurer to answer.’
‘It’s progression!’ he continues abruptly. ‘You’ve got to spend money to progress. You want to put someone on the moon? It costs money. Was it worth it? No. But what did you get from that research? Telecommunications, satellites, all sorts of things we take for granted.’
An avid cyclist, Mr Vellotti says he understands the ‘fors and againsts’ around the issue and cites the $70 million worth of bike paths and walking trails as being of major benefit to the heavily bipedal community.
Mr Vellotti laughs at some of the conversations he’s had while canvassing the electorate. ‘People aren’t thinking ahead. They don’t want the East West Link but they’ll use the bike paths. There’s a bit of a divide there!’
The more cyclists off roads and on paths the better, he says. Along with higher-density housing, this sort of development is an example of what he calls ‘good urbanisation’ and ‘moving with the times’.
Building over and near train stations, he says, will lead people to use fewer cars that in turn allows for more frequent public transport, a core asset to any well-integrated community.
Mr Vellotti is a strong advocate of safe, active, integrated neighbourhoods. Brunswick’s richly varied population – 39 per cent of whom were born overseas – provides a great opportunity for government and council programs to prioritise this integration.
‘The 60 per cent that were born here might feel it’s good to have new people,’ he tells me, ‘but they’re not coming to existing businesses, they’re sticking to their own businesses. The only businesses they’ll go to are Safeway and Coles because they have no other choice. This is natural. If you’re Middle Eastern, you feel more comfortable around your own people.’
Mr Vellotti says there is a role for local and state government in supporting integration through promoting multiculturalism through festivals and inclusive policies.
‘We should embrace the fact that we’re not in individual countries, we’re in Brunswick, so let’s work as Brunswick.’
The Liberal Party are hoping the well-established Italian and Greek bias to the demographics of Brunswick will work to its advantage.
In a tight race to the finish line, that could make all the difference.
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne