Jonathan Sri (his friends call him Jo) is something of a renaissance man. He is a musician and a poet. He has studied law and journalism, and he has just completed his first novel which he describes as speculative fiction (the election has interrupted his hunt for a publisher). He speaks an Indigenous language, has worked in land rights, volunteers with community radio 4ZZZ, and is currently a paid carer for three orphan refugee children.
Racism is a significant motivating issue for Mr Sri. He says that people rarely understand the economic and social implications of racism. It is harder for migrants to integrate, he said, and this creates tensions. “We need more people of colour in leadership positions,” he said, “And a more nuanced conversation about racism in this country”.
Mr. Sri says he comes from a family of Labor voters but when young he was not particularly interested in politics. The crunch point for him, at the age of 18, was Labor’s attitude to asylum seekers. After that, “Labor wasn’t my party anymore”, he said. Now all of his family has shifted to The Greens he added.
Mr. Sri grew up on the Northside but has lived in South Brisbane for the past seven years.
“I think it’s really important for candidates to have a strong sense of connection to the electorate they seek to represent, particularly at the state and local levels. If you don’t live (or at the very least, work) in the electorate, you’re less likely to understand the needs and perspectives of your constituents”, he said.
He recently moved from the West End to East Brisbane and said for him, and for a lot of young people, housing availability and affordability in the inner city is becoming a real issue. He said that the West End is losing its art-based community as a result.
“Rents are getting higher and higher, and landlords are offering shorter and shorter leases” he said.
This means he says that people don’t have the incentive to invest in their communities on an emotional level. “They don’t get to know their neighbours, they don’t plant a garden, they don’t set up local businesses,” he said.
The Youth Vote
As a young musician with popular local bands, The Mouldy Lovers and Rivermouth, Mr. Sri has a strong following among young people in South Brisbane. He is a competent user of social media and makes creative use of video, song and verse to get his political message across.
On the first Monday of each month Mr. Sri has been running “Roving Conspiracy” which are music, art, and politics themed events.
He said that there is currently no one aged under 30 in parliament, and he thinks the lack of younger politicians is a symptom of youth disengagement from politics and is becoming a ‘self-perpetuating problem’.
“Everyone’s ringing their hands about youth unemployment, but there’s no-one directly affected by those issues making the decisions,” he said.
Young people have a healthy scepticism about politics Mr Sri said. It’s a recognition that political power is only one form of power. Instead of party politics, young people are looking for alternative channels of political expression; he says, such as GetUp and The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC).
He told The Westender that a touchstone issue for young people and The Greens is restoring a “sense of community, and collectivism and connectedness”. He said that these values resonate with older voters as well.
This, he said, is perhaps at odds with the more recent “radical individualism” of Australian culture.
“People talk about The Greens being radical” he said, “but really, this breakdown of the family unit, communities and sub-cultures, which is being replaced by a market-oriented approach where people are seen as consumers, and their work is commodified – that is new and unnatural.”
Mr Sri said he wanted people to start talking about local, geographically oriented communities.
“It might manifest in different ways”, he said, “and we might have different ways of expressing the belief that we all want a connected local community, but that’s what we can all agree on. Fundamentally we have very similar values.”
Why party politics?
Even if you are cynical about party politics Mr Sri said, if people disengage, the current power holders will maintain the status quo.
“Workers’ rights are being wound back, health care is being privatised, and education is being privatised,” he said.
He thinks his move to party politics was a pragmatic step.
“Idealism only gets you so far…it’s very difficult to change the system from outside, particularly because the state exercises coercive power over people who try to act outside the system.” he said.
What are the voters of South Brisbane saying?
He said that the cost of public transport, traffic congestions, and parking and all issues being raise with him by South Brisbane voters and these concerns he said are indicative of a poorly designed transport system.
“The future for the inner city, is cycling, buses, trains, feet,” he said.
Another issue, particularly in the West End is over development he said. He is involved in Kuripla Futures Group and other grassroots community groups that are concerned about the “rapid push to really big apartment blocks.”
The proposed Kuripla Master plan, he said, is poorly designed. Many new apartment blocks, “don’t connect well to the street, don’t connect well to transport, and aren’t accompanied by other important infrastructure” he said, adding, “It seems to be driven by profit oriented developers and ignores the concerns of the community.”
Mr Sri wants the major parties to stop taking donations from developers and said he will push both Labor and the LNP to make such commitments.
Mr Sri said most voters don’t actively distinguish between federal and state, and he thinks because of that, a lot of people will vote on federal issues. He thinks as leaders neither Mr Abbott nor Mr Shorten is particularly well liked, so he thinks it is hard to tell whether Federal issues will affect the outcome of this election.
While The Greens are often seen as weak on economic management, Mr Sri thinks they have a better plan for Queensland than the two major parties.
The Greens, he said, are against unsustainable development that doesn’t make economic sense.
He said that jobs growth and the economy will depend on diversification.
“Both major parties have been pursuing a model of economic growth that puts all our eggs in one basket”, he said, adding, “A developed economy has to look at research and design. We can’t keep exporting raw materials; there’s no future in that.”
Mr Sri cites wi/fi and solar panels as Australian inventions that were developed overseas and are now being sold back to us.
“We’ve got to go beyond coal mines and casinos”, he said.
Who will win?
Mr. Sri says The Greens has a good shot at winning in South Brisbane. He thinks the party is getting a lot better at campaigning and communicating its policies. He says he has knocked on 2000 doors, and this is a new more intensive level of campaigning for The Greens.
“People are looking for a serious alternative to the two major parties”, he said, and he thinks The Greens can provide what they are looking for.