The Westender talks to Greens Councillor for The Gabba Ward, Jonathan Sri.
When asked the key factors behind the unexpected success of his election campaign, Jonathan Sri was quick to answer “Volunteers!”
Jonathan had hundreds of volunteers out and about in his campaign, door knocking and making people aware of his Green policies.
Jonathan says he also won a lot of votes on his refusal to take developer donations.
“We had a robust alternative vision for the city,” he says. “We had a real vision for people to connect with emotionally.”
When asked about generational change, especially following the retirement of a long term sitting councillor, Jonathan admitted that it was easier for volunteers to get excited by someone from their own age group.
“Older people dominate government,” he said. “Being a young renter definitely made me more popular with young people.”
On the subject of building consensus with those who disagree with him – he only received around 33% of the primary vote – Jonathan pointed out he received 55% of the two party preferred vote. “We were a lot of people’s second choice,” he said.
Jonathan is keenly aware of the strong divergence of opinion in the Ward.
“There are lots of points of different viewpoints on lots of issues – development, supermarkets, etc. I see my role as building consensus – but there will always be differences of opinion, it will be hard to win over everyone.”
Jonathan described the mainstream media coverage of his views on civil disobedience as “sensationalist click bait” and a media beat up.
“I do support direct action and peaceful civil disobedience,” he said. “If the laws are not democratic, and if the only way to change things is to protest, then so be it.
“Council is very conservative, and changing policy is going to be difficult,” he admitted. But, he points out, all the great changes in history have come about through direct action and civil disobedience.
Since being elected, Jonathan has been busy reaching out to key stakeholders in the local community. “I have met most of the school P&C groups twice now, in fact I’ll meet with anyone who reaches out for help.”
“People are now willing to meet with us and talk to us,” he said.
Jonathan made much of the issue of homelessness in his campaign and maiden speech to Council.
It’s an issue close to his heart.
“It’s not just the rough sleepers,” he said, “but the people vulnerably housed are also a big issue. These people are ignored by Council, who say to leave it up to the market.
“We should recognise that it’s not just a matter of housing someone, but getting housing in the suburb they know, among people they know,” he said. “We shouldn’t just be having only rich people living in the inner city. All new developments should have a 10% affordable housing component.”
Since being elected, Jonathan has been in constant conversation with the ALP and independent Councillor Nicole Johnston, and also with some of the LNP candidates.
His goal, he says, is significant social change, creating a significantly different form of local democracy.
He’s also been building bridges with disaffected ALP supporters in the ward, and says he’s found plenty of Labor supporters who are willing to work with him.
“I take advice and guidance from anyone who will talk to me,” he said.
“I came into Council cold, with no institutional experience. I’ve been speaking to Adam Bandt’s office in Melbourne, and taking advice from other Green councillors and political representatives interstate.”
On the contentious issue of the Absoe site development, Jonathan organised a city-wide protest rally at the Absoe site on May 14.
One of his first actions in Council was to move that Council re-examine the Absoe Development Application. The motion was voted down in committee, though Jonathan was pleased to see Cr Shane Sutton of the ALP voting in support of his motion.
“We have exhausted all options in Council to get the decision overturned,” he said, “so now the community voice must be heard.”