The Greens lead with a CBD local

By Sean Car

At the upcoming council elections, CBD residents will have the option to vote for one of their own in Apsara Sabaratnam – The Greens party’s candidate for Lord Mayor. 

And Apsara isn’t just any ordinary CBD resident … she’s lived here for 19 years. 

The Sri Lankan-born Sabaratnam last spoke to CBD News four years ago as a councillor nominee on The Greens’ 2016 ticket where she was placed underneath re-elected Greens councillors Rohan Leppert and Cathy Oke. 

But this time, with the party’s 2016 Lord Mayoral nominee Dr Olivia Ball slotting into the outgoing Cathy Oke’s second position on the council ticket, Apsara has been elevated to lead the team under the policy initiative, “A Good Night’s Sleep for Everyone”. 

As one of very few who could say they have lived in the CBD for as long, she described her experience of 19 years as an “unfortunate rarity”, providing a key motivation behind her team’s policy platform around protecting community interests. 

In an effort to retain more residents in the city, The Greens’ policies target areas close to the hearts of CBD locals, including construction noise, building regulation, garbage truck movements and striking a fair balance between residential amenity and nightlife.  

Ms Sabaratnam said while it was important to allow business and construction to thrive in the city, the needs of local residents were too often overlooked to the detriment of the community. 

“This pandemic I hope has highlighted the importance of green space. A lot of people move into the CBD with this really romantic notion of living in the inner city but often the reality doesn’t live up to that expectation. It’s a real pity,” she said. 

“The idea is we want to strengthen planning because it changes the whole dynamic. We shouldn’t be at loggerheads with business. We actually both thrive by being there but it’s important to recognise that if we want to co-exist, this needs to be acknowledged as our home.”

Current councillor Rohan Leppert, who will be running first on The Greens ticket in pursuit of a third term on council, said the current regulatory system for managing construction was “broken” and “meaningless”. 

“Regulations lie with the state. We need strongest possible advocacy,” he said. 

“With the current maximum penalty in local laws set at $2000, big developers can incorporate fines into the cost of doing business and willfully break rules designed to give people a good night’s sleep.” 

“Works in the public realm, particularly on roads, often don’t require any permits at all, and are frequently scheduled at night with no notice to affected residents. In addition, waste collection to the central city is a free-for-all, resulting in noisy and highly disruptive waste and recycling collection and truck noise at unpredictable times.”

Among its policies to address residential amenity in the central city, The Greens would look at rolling out a “city disruption tool” to provide notice of noisy activities and push for reforms to the Building Act 1993 and all Acts governing road management and utilities. 

Cr Leppert said he would also seek to roll out restricted access zones in laneways to prevent loud waste truck movements at “unsociable hours” and strengthen the “agent of change” rules in the planning scheme to ensure new buildings were adequately sound-proofed. 

Ms Sabaratnam, a teacher at RMIT University who grew up in Zambia and Zimbabwe, said The Greens represented the only council ticket not compromised by major political parties and highlighted the importance of a community-led rebuild from COVID-19.  

“From a voter’s perspective I think it’s really important to recognise who you’re voting for,” she said. “I’m an active member of the local community, or do you want ‘fly-by nighters’ from the big end of the town?”

“For this COVID recovery, we can’t rely on big business. It’s going to be people who work and live in the city. It’s not going to be the big end of town.”

“Big corporations are now realising they don’t need the big office spaces. If we don’t think about this strategically, we could become an urban wasteland. What kind of city do we want to see post-pandemic?” 

“I think there is an opportunity for people in the community to take back the city and reshape into their city and really create the kind of home we want to live in.”

North Melbourne resident and midwife Roxane Ingleton will run as deputy to Ms Sabaratnam on The Greens ticket, with Carlton resident Emily Corcoran, Kensington resident David Jeffery, Southbank resident and urban planner Nakita Thomson, and East Melbourne resident Charlotte George making up the remaining councillor spots.

The Greens are largely expected to retain two councillors on the City of Melbourne in Rohan Leppert and Dr Olivia Ball, with the latter replacing the outgoing Cathy Oke, who has served three council terms during the past 12 years. 

Cr Leppert described Cr Oke’s legacy on council as city-changing. 

“I’m going to miss Cathy tremendously,” he said. “She’s the hardest working councillor and her legacy of achievement is extraordinary. She has changed the face of the city.”

“Olivia is a human rights expert and issues of human rights are central to how a city governs itself. I think taking a human rights lens to how council works is so important right now.” 

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