Following the media buzz of recent weeks, The Greens have finally confirmed that former Gabba Ward Councillor, Jonathan Sriranganathan, will be their candidate for Mayor at the March 2024 Council elections. He spoke with us about his vision for Brisbane.

Why Local government? Many assume you have the profile to secure a state or a federal seat in Parliament. What is important to you about local government? 

There’s a lot of factors pushing me in that direction.

Fundamentally lasting change comes from the bottom up and we need a strong vision and impetus from local communities to drive change, so that it’s not imposed on us.

We’ve seen the Liberal Party adopt and impose an agenda that suits the property industry, advertising corporations, the big corporate sectors, with very little involvement from the community. I think that’s been corrosive to community connectedness and good urban planning. But it’s also been corrosive to democracy itself because people’s experience of what should be the most democratic and responsive level of government is poor.

My theory of change revolves heavily around rebuilding and invigorating democracy. And I think if we are to talk credibly about participatory budgeting and community voting at the state or national level, where we start allocating the federal budget through direct plebiscites, then we need to be able to test and show proof of concept at the local level first. So, I see local government as a good incubator for democratic innovation that gets to the heart of the problems we’re dealing with, at the macro level.

Brisbane City Council has a large budget to manage. What are your financial credentials? 

Obviously, whoever’s in charge has a whole department full of economists and accountants and financial advisers, offering them guidance and advice, but I do think a strong understanding of economics is important. And I have that.

There is a commonly repeated trope that The Greens don’t understand economics. I think we understand it very well. And one of the things that’s important to me is that we factor in externalities that are often omitted by conventional economic analysis. So, a business case for a new project, for example, won’t look at the value of all the trees that have been removed. It won’t look at the long term, community impacts of widening a roadway – the elements and variables that we include and exclude from our economic theories and our economic analysis. These are highly political questions.

Economics really is politics dressed up in a different gown. And the truth is that for a long time, economic orthodoxy in Australian politics has tended to serve the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the environment and long-term human welfare. More specifically, I do have quite a robust understanding of council’s revenue streams, how money comes in, where it’s spent.

Road widening and road maintenance.

I’m very critical of how much money the council spends on road widening and road maintenance projects in general. The council’s current strategy is not financially sustainable. They are spending more than they’re going to be collecting over coming years. And even when they’re spending upwards of $100 million per year on road resurfacing, they still can’t keep up with all the potholes. So, they’re really struggling to cover ever increasing costs of an ever-expanding road network.

And increasingly, they’re also struggling with the cost of waste disposal and waste management because people are still producing a lot of waste and that costs a lot of money. But what we really need to be thinking about from a financial perspective is that we have a lot of big industries that are based in the city that in terms of the rates they pay, are a net drain on the council budget. So, you can imagine big shopping malls or big box warehouse stores, they generate a huge amount of traffic. But the proportion of rates revenue they contribute back to help pay for the roads is quite small. So, there’s a real mismatch between the industries and the activities that are costing Council a lot of money to support versus how much they put in. And the same is true for property developers, of course.


I’ve been on the Finance and Administration Committee for several years. I’ve been on the transport Committee, (previously called the public and active transport committee). I’ve been on the Lifestyle and Community Services Committee for a couple of years. And I’ve also spent several years on the City Planning and Development Committee.

Minority Mayor

Campbell Newman was first elected Mayor when Labor held the majority of wards. Would the voting public be keen to have a Greens Mayor in what could be an LNP-dominated Council?

I think realistically, if we win the mayoralty, we will also be winning enough wards to knock the LNP out of majority. So, the most likely outcome is probably a Greens Mayor with maybe eight to ten Greens held wards, with Labor the minor party in an alliance.

Party Political Binaries

I’m very keen to break down the strong party-political binaries of council. Looking at some of the small councils down south there are quite a lot of party members that are public about their party affiliations, but they don’t necessarily vote strictly along party lines. And there have even been examples down south where a council will be split, and some Greens will vote in favour of a proposal, and some will vote against it, etc, etc.

I would like to support and facilitate a council where people vote on policy on its merits and based on what they think their community and their constituents want rather than strictly on party lines. And so, I think it would matter a little bit less whether we had a clear majority because much of the Greens political platform and my vision for the city revolves around putting more decision-making power back in the hands of ordinary people. So, whether there are, five Labor and ten Greens or whatever, perhaps matters slightly less if important decisions are being made by directly consulting the people themselves.

Negotiating outcomes.

If you win, the Greens will need to work with Labor. How do you think you have demonstrated your skills for negotiating outcomes in the past?

Despite a hostile LNP administration, we still have managed to secure some positive improvements in The Gabba award over the past few years. And that was not because the LNP wanted to do it. It was because we combined respectful negotiation and diplomacy with some more assertive forms of political pressure. And we did get a lot of money spent on some significant pedestrian crossing issues. For example, the traffic lights at Aldi in Victoria Street, West End, and the new 86 bus loop.

There are a few things locally that I feel I can point to and say this wouldn’t have happened without my ability to negotiate outcomes across party lines. And the same is true on a city-wide level, whether it’s the conversion of Victoria Park golf course into genuine public parkland or free off-peak bus travel for seniors. So yes, I think I can point to my record and say, even when the LNP really didn’t want to give us anything, we were still able to get outcomes and I imagine in a context where we have more structural power and influence, we’d be able to get quite a lot done.

Election Prospects

You have talked up the Greens’ chances of winning wards, particularly from the LNP in the next council elections. What gives you the confidence that The Greens could do much better in the 2024 council elections, and how many wards do you think they could secure?

There were several factors that kept the Greens vote quite low in the 2020 council election. Number one was the fact that because of the COVID lockdowns, a lot of young people were unaware that there was an election happening. And so, turnout was down across the board city-wide. Voter turnout was only around 75 per cent. Even for state and federal elections it’s usually up above 95 per cent. So COVID meant that voter turnout was low in 2020. And it was particularly low among the demographics that are most likely to vote Greens.

Optional Preferential Voting in Council Elections

But we were also hurt by the fact that a lot of people just voted for one rather than number every box. And that was partly because no one was handing out how to vote cards at the polling booths. It was a real object lesson in why parties do hand out those flyers because if we don’t, people just vote one and don’t allocate preferences.

And so there are quite a few seats, namely Coorparoo, Paddington, Taylor and Central that the Greens would have won if more Labor voters had preferenced the Greens number two, but a certain chunk of Labor voters just voted one Labor and left it at that.

So those two factors alone removed from the equation, make it highly likely that we’ll win the inner ring of wards.  

The thing that makes me excited about winning more than five wards is that we now have federal MPs who cover wards like a Enogerra, The Gap, Holland Park etcetera, and voters in those areas are now having a positive experience of a Greens representative which really helps neutralise some of the main barriers to voting Greens.

Grandstanding or genuine policy outcomes

People often criticise the Greens for grandstanding rather than negotiating genuine outcomes, what is your response to that?

Our political opponents often say that because they’re trying to delegitimise us, but there’s no strong evidence base to back up that claim. I think I’ve already given a few examples of the stuff we get done. I guess I would just add that people need to be clear-eyed about how parties get political outcomes. And usually, the way to get good outcomes is to advocate strongly and not give too much ground too early.

Affordable housing

All parties are talking about affordable housing in one way or another, and it’s an issue that is playing out in heated debates at the national level between the Greens and Labor. Adrian Schrinner has talked about wanting to address the issue of affordable housing at the local council level through the mechanism of the TLPI.

What capacity does the local council have to influence outcomes in the affordable housing space, and what would you do if elected to ensure this happens?

We will be making quite a few announcements around housing policy over the course of the council campaign. Broadly speaking, there are quite a few levers that council can pull and could be using differently. In terms of rates there’s a lot the council can do to discourage rent gouging and discourage investors from leaving homes empty long term and to discourage investors from converting residential homes into short term accommodation. So, about a year and a half ago the council introduced a higher rates category for Airbnb properties. And that was directly in response to Greens pressure, but they didn’t put the rates up enough. And so, there’s opportunities there to use rates to shape behaviour and release more housing stock into the long-term rental market.

There’s also a lot of land banking going on now where developers will buy an old warehouse or block and then wait for property values to rise. In the meantime, that land is completely underutilised, sometimes even with empty apartments on it or empty units on it. So discouraging land banking is something that the Council could be much more proactive about.

I also think there’s a case to be made in terms of ideas like inclusionary zoning, and that probably requires some level of cooperation with the state government. And the Council could also be directly investing in public housing. So, there’s a raft of options that the Council could be exploring. And, in fact, Brisbane City Council has played a bigger role in housing in the past, such as working through setting up Brisbane Housing Company. And I think there’s definitely a need for more of that to happen in future.

Council can also play a more active role in advocating around state and federal solutions because right now the debate has been reduced to a very simplistic question of private market supply, which ignores a lot of the factors that are driving up housing prices. And it would be great for example, to have a mayor of Brisbane who came out publicly and said it’s time to scrap negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts on investment properties. I think that it is important to remember that state and federal governments are often heavily influenced in their policy platforms by what mayors and local government entities are saying. It’s surprising how much policy gets driven from the bottom up even something like the Olympics, that came from Council – these ideas often begin at the local level. So, there’s definitely a lot of room there.

Kurilpa Precinct Plan – Temporary Local Planning Instrument (TLPI)

There’s no evidence that approving 1000s of additional dwellings on the Kurilpa floodplain will improve housing affordability or make housing cheaper.

I am strongly opposed to the TLPI and I’m putting developers on notice publicly that if the Greens have the power to do so we would revoke the TLPI and we would not make the zoning changes permanent.

So anyone who’s thinking about investing or planning a 90 storey project, better hold on off because you you might find that in a couple of years time it’s going to be a lot harder to get that project through.  

To build hyper-dense high rises on a floodplain is catastrophically short sighted and irresponsible. It sets future residents up for persistent and frequent disruptions due to flooding and impacts to the lower levels of the building regardless of whether the apartments themselves are above the flood level.

The state Labor government didn’t even listen to its own rhetoric about how we need to reduce and stop the amount of new development on the floodplain. There are plenty of other places across the Brisbane urban footprint where we can create medium density public housing, rather than just cramming more and more people into neighbourhoods that are already struggling from a shortage of public Greens space and community facilities.

The number of people that are proposed to be added to the Kurilpa Peninsula necessitates another school and the fact that the council has not planned for land for an additional school is itself really concerning.

I guess the only other thing I’d highlight is that despite the rhetoric there is no public housing locked into the Kurilpa TLPI – there’s some tokenistic superfluous references to affordability. But it seems that neither Labor nor the Liberals want housing to get cheaper. And the blunt reality is that if we must get on top of the housing crisis, property values and rents must fall a little bit.

Council’s record on consultation

We see groups resisting Council decisions across Brisbane around things like the Lumina Night Walk at Mount Coot-tha, pokies at the Stafford Bowling Club, the removal of East Brisbane Bowls club, and the Kurilpa TLPI. How would you want to change the way Council consults with residents?

If I had to synthesise our entire campaign message and theme into a concise statement it would be that the Greens want to give residents more control over the future of our city.

Fundamental to our vision for Brisbane City Council is to democratise decision-making about urban planning, about transport networks, about the design and management of public spaces and green spaces, and about Council policies more generally. So, we want to give residents a direct say through mechanisms such as community voting and participatory budgeting, through participatory and collaborative planning, and through engaging in genuine consultation that cares what residents think.

The term consultation is thrown around so loosely, that it’s almost lost all meaning. And what I really prefer to talk about is collaborative decision-making, where we don’t just ask people for their opinion and then decide what we’re going to do with that feedback. We can co-create solutions and directly negotiate with and empower residents to help make decisions. So, there’s quite a significant difference between tokenistic consultation versus empowering residents as partners in decision-making.

Whatever the local frustration is, in different parts of the city, it comes back to the fact that residents have lost control of their local democracy and the future of our city and that needs to be changed. =

This is one of the fundamental differences between The Greens on council and Labor, because the Labor political philosophy still revolves around consulting residents a lot, but with the politicians themselves making the final decision. That is a significant difference between Labor and the Greens – we don’t just want to consult residents, we want to allow residents to have a meaningful say and make decisions directly.

Olympics 2032

What is the council’s role concerning the Olympics, and how would you want to play a role – should we do something like Victoria has done and pull out or have a modified more modest games? 

I don’t think it’s too late to pull out of hosting the Olympics. And even if it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to back out of those contracts, that would still save us money in the long term, because going ahead with hosting the Olympics will cost us billions that we arguably can’t afford.

But if we are set to host the Olympics, my priority will be ensuring that facilities are sensibly located, that we’re not wasting money and resources building new stadiums such as the Gabba and that we reuse existing facilities as much as possible.

Hosting an event like the Olympics should leave a positive legacy for the city and based on all the current plans we’ve seen, the overriding impacts are going to be negative.

I would note with relevance to the West End Peninsula, that the state government spent over $160 million dollars buying the glass factory site down along Montague Road for a media centre to then turn into public parkland after the Olympics. And they lied to us. They lied to us because now we’ve seen them approve the TLPI that will rezone most of that glass factory site for 90 storey high rises with a slim, thin sliver of Parkland along the river. The state government bought that land, told the public it would be used for Parkland, and now they’re rezone it for 90 stories and are planning to sell that public land back to the private sector. They are using the Olympics as a smokescreen to supercharge gentrification and private property speculation and enrich their developer mates at the expense of long-term community interest.

Appetite for change

You have talked up The Greens’ chances of winning seats, particularly from the LNP in the next council elections. What gives you the confidence that The Greens could do much better in the 2024 council elections, and how many Wards do you think they could secure?

We honestly don’t know how I, as a mayoral candidate, will be received out in the outer suburbs. But I think there’s a lot of people across the city who have a strong appetite for change, and not just tweaking around the edges, but system change. And I think that cuts across traditional party allegiances and I think we can and will be able to appeal to people with a message of democracy that says, “look, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Greeny or a conservative. The point is we want you to have more say,” and that’s a message that I think will appeal to a wide range of people.

Active Transport

We haven’t talked much about active transport and about the inner city. I think that’s one of the key ingredients to making life better for people and and to making intensification viable. We’ve seen so much densification in suburbs like South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point and West End, but it hasn’t been accompanied by the promise to shift towards walkable neighbourhoods, bike lanes and high frequency public transport. So one of the big challenges and priorities for me in the inner-city suburbs is trying to create neighbourhoods where it is safe for children to walk to school by themselves, where it is quick and efficient to move around, even if you don’t have a car. And that’s something I’m passionate about because I think it’s important for sustainability and climate change adaptation, but it’s also important for community connectedness and creating vibrant streetscapes.