Friday, October 12, 2007

Election 2007: An interview with Green candidate Simon Kean-Hammerson

This is the second in a series of interviews with the declared candidates for the local seat of Lilley in the forthcoming 2007 Australian federal election. With the apparent demise of the Australian Democrats, the Greens have emerged as the third force in Australian politics. Polling roughly 5 to 10 percent in elections, they are unlikely to win any seats in the lower house, but will be hoping to add to their four Senate seats. Two of their senators, Bob Brown (Tasmania) and Kerry Nettles (NSW) are up for re-election this time round. In 2004, Greens candidate Sue Meehan took 5.6 percent of the lower house vote in Lilley. Their 2007 candidate is Simon Kean-Hammerson and Woolly Days met him earlier this week.

Simon Kean-Hammerson was born in Kenya and came to Australia in 1975. He has worked in a wide variety of occupations including stockman, street counsellor, small business owner and IT contractor. He began the interview by describing his background. “Dad was a farmer and the first man in Africa to take merino sheep back from Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “Africa makes you feel alive. Growing up in Kenya was an adventure every day, you saw lions and giraffes and I learned to speak Swahili and Luo.” His mother moved to country Victoria when Simon was nine. He grew up in Myrtleford and Mansfield and moved to Sydney where aged 17 he helped out in an AIDS halfway house and worked as a street counsellor for St Johns Ambulance. He also spent 9 months working with long-term prisoners in one of Sydney’s toughest jails where he said “his idealism was laughed at.” After an incident where he was threatened at knife-point by one of the state’s ten most wanted men, he decided he had enough and went back to the family farm.

Aged 22, Kean-Hammerson was diagnosed with dyslexia. He had to effectively re-learn to read and write. He freely admits that reading is still a difficulty but it has not stopped him from leading a full life. He said his wife was a great help as were the people he worked with. “In my professional life, I have a synergy with my staff, and I’ve always found people are happy to help me”. He moved to Queensland in 1988. He lived in Yeppoon where he “shovelled sheep manure under shearing sheds.” He moved to Brisbane in the early 1990s. “Brisbane was a lovely cosmopolitan town with great potential for business” he said. “You walked down a street and someone would smile at you. I didn’t see that down south”.

Woolly Days then asked him why he wanted to run for parliament. “I woke one day listening to the radio news about Bush, Howard, Blair and Rudd all talking about the same thing,” he said. “But there was either nothing being done about the environment or what they were doing wasn’t enough.” He said he had a rain tank, solar panels and used water wisely but wondered what else he could do. “I looked at the policies of all the parties,” he said. “What I found out was that the Greens had the same core values as I had on peace, social justice, ecological sustainability and drug policies.” He said the Greens were now a mainstream party. “I’m not a protester, I run a business,” he said. “I use my head, not my brawn. I care.”

Woolly Days asked Simon why the people of Lilley should vote for him. He began by saying he represented the Greens and not himself. “We’ve got the best environmental, health and social justice policies,” he said “If there is no environment, there is no economy. You’re starting to see that with the farmers”. He said he was in politics for the long term: “This is a six year plan for me.” Woolly Days then asked what themes were emerging from his discussions with the electorate. He said that some people had told him that “you politicians were all the same”. Beyond that, people were worried about housing, water, environment, health, education and the lack of public transport. He and pointed to the example of North Lakes where the problems of bored teenagers and youth violence were attributable to the lack of good public transport.

Kean-Hammerson saw the three biggest issues at this election were the environment, health and education. He said water was the biggest immediate challenge in the environment. This was not just a Queensland problem. He said Ballarat in Victoria has a crisis and will run out of water in the middle of Summer. Health was the second issue he rated and he said that doctor training needs to be improved. As for education, he said that learning in early childhood was a critical component of life long learning. “Strong funding for education would benefit us and our children,” he said.

Woolly Days then asked him how the Greens could break through the media framing of issues in the terms of the two major parties. Simon began by saying that Australia has always had a choice beyond the two major parties. “The Democrats have held the balance of power in the Senate and now the Greens are having their day,” he said. “People are taking us more seriously and the media are giving us more time on the air.” Kean-Hammerson then denied the Greens were against development. “We are not an anti-development party, we are anti-unsustainable development,” he said. He said he was against building more roads. What was needed was more public transport “in and out and across the city”. He said developers are only looking at how to move cars not people.

He believed that Larissa Waters “had a great chance” of winning a Queensland Senate sear for the Greens. He continued: “we need to have the conscience back in the Senate. Good debate is good for the country”. Simon Kean-Hammerson finished the interview by bringing up two additional points. He decried the planned move of the paediatrician ward from the Prince Charles hospital to the state funded but privately owned Mater hospital. He also condemned the growing development at Brisbane airport including the proposed new parallel runway. He said the people of Lilley had no say on this development on federal land and it would lead to noise pollution, devalued homes in the area and the destruction of the sensitive habitat of Moreton Bay mangroves.

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