Candidates talk Southbank
E-scooters, low-traffic neighbourhoods, the Arts Precinct transformation, trucks on City Rd, and a “master plan for Southbank” were just some of the issues discussed by candidates for the Victorian seat of Albert Park at a forum in Southbank on November 6.
Hosted by residents’ group Southbank3006 at the Holiday Inn on City Rd, the all-women line-up of candidates met with Southbankers to discuss a range of important issues affecting the area ahead of the November 26 state election.
The candidates in attendance included Labor’s Nina Taylor, who replaces long-serving member Martin Foley, as well as Kim Samiotis (Greens), Lauren Sherson (Liberal) and Georgina Dragwidge (Independent).
Moderated by former Mayor of Port Phillip Bernadene Voss, candidates were each given time to introduce themselves to the audience before questions from the floor were opened, as well as from those tuning in via a Facebook livestream.
The forum got under way on the topic of regulation of e-scooters, safety, and the state government’s current trial in the Cities of Melbourne, Port Phillip and Yarra in partnership with e-scooter providers Lime and Neuron.
Safety surrounding the use of e-scooters and pedestrians has emerged as an important local issue since the 12-month trial began at the start of 2021, with many crashes, injuries, near misses and reports of poor user behaviour having been cited.
With tourism and foot traffic beginning to return to pre-COVID levels along busy local spaces such as Southbank Promenade, Ms Voss asked candidates what they thought was the right balance between “enforcement versus education”.
Ms Samiotis said the Greens were committed to providing more safe cycling infrastructure such as separated lanes to help “take e-scooters off footpaths”, stating that they should be classed as road vehicles, so riders were held to account in the same way drivers were.
But the Liberal candidate Ms Sherson described pop-up bike lanes as “an absolute disaster”, saying they should instead be called “pop-up scooter lanes”.
“We have unregistered vehicles, two people riding on a scooter at a time, riding on and off footpaths,” Ms Sherson said. “Safety of children and of cyclists is paramount”.
Ms Taylor said many locals had cited concerns surrounding rider behaviour and e-scooter speeds, stating locals shouldn’t have to “step out on the footpaths only to have to contend with an e-scooter hooning along”.
“The trial is still under way,” Ms Taylor said. “The Minister for Transport will be taking on all that feedback”, adding, “cycling infrastructure and active transport should always be encouraged”.
The Independent candidate Ms Dragwidge – a long-time trader at South Melbourne Market – said she believed it was time to “get the TAC involved” to provide greater regulation. “We shouldn’t trial things that can kill people,” she said.
Residents also raised issues about light pollution in the city, as well as the state government’s recent announcement that it will reinstate the State Electricity Commission (SEC) to take back control of Victoria’s energy market if re-elected.
Ms Taylor said the establishment of the SEC would see an end to coal-fired power, and 95 per cent of Victoria’s energy grid powered by renewable energy by 2035 to address climate change and slash electricity prices for consumers.
But Ms Samiotis questioned the government’s targets, reinforcing the Greens policy on transitioning out of coal and gas by 2030. “Labor still wants to open new gas drilling projects near the 12 Apostles,” she said.
Ms Sherson criticised the proposal by the Andrews’ Government, stating that she considered it “socialism to de-privatise the electricity market”, while highlighting the Liberals’ plan to introduce more hydrogen energy and “actually legislate targets”.
Southbank3006 secretary Trisha Avery also asked candidates what they would each do to “ensure liveability and amenity” in Southbank, citing her group’s policy to implement “low-traffic neighbourhoods” to improve pedestrianisation and open up new green spaces.
Ms Samiotis reinforced the need for more bicycle infrastructure, limiting the number of “big trucks” using Southbank’s streets, as well as regulating the short-stay accommodation industry so more locals could “enjoy the area as their home”.
Ms Sherson responded by saying, “Southbank needs a master plan”.
“How do we connect the promenade to the residents? And why can’t we open up the tunnels and get the heavy vehicle trucks off our roads,” Ms Sherson said, adding that the “City of Melbourne had failed in its capital works delivery”.
While acknowledging that there was “a lot of scope for improvement”, Ms Taylor said the state government’s transformation of Arts Precinct would “in itself” increase connectivity in the area, as well as add new parklands “larger than the surface of the MCG”.
Addressing locals in the audience directly, Ms Dragwidge said, “you have the answers. The government needs to listen to them.”
As the conversation continued into the Arts Precinct upgrades, which includes the construction of the new NGV Contemporary on Southbank Boulevard, Ms Dragwidge said locals she’d spoken to had been “pretty impressed by the level of consultation” that had occurred so far.
But on the question of consultation with locals on all issues, she said, “as an independent, I would only be answerable to you, and give you a louder voice.”
With construction on the NGV Contemporary to begin next year, Ms Taylor said consultation would continue, but urged locals “not to
“Your voices are going to be critical, don’t hold back. It will make for the best possible outcome,” she said.
But both Ms Sherson and Ms Samiotis slammed the government’s record on consultation, with the former saying there appeared to be a “mismatch between reality and what’s being said”.
“Every day I’m hearing [from locals], ‘I’m not being consulted”, Ms Sherson said. “Labor projects are always over time and over budget – we are going to stop that.”
Ms Samiotis said when it came to consultation, the Greens were “embedded in the community”.
“Labor’s idea of community consultation is a bit of a façade,” she said, adding that when it came to the major parties being compromised by donations, locals needed an “unburdened voice to represent you”.
Other issues discussed included working with local councils to improve waste management, climate change and the growing threat of flooding and heat stress in Southbank, green space and removing trucks off City Rd.
Ms Dragwidge said the government needed to explore ways to safely open up the Domain and Burnley tunnels to larger trucks. “If it can be done elsewhere, why can’t it be done here?” she asked.
Ms Taylor said the government was currently in the process of shifting more freight from “port to rail” in an effort to get more trucks off city roads, arguing there were a number of safety and animal welfare issues associated with trucks using the tunnel.
In response, Ms Sherson said, “in short, open the tunnel!”
While acknowledging that there were “some good ideas” around greater use of the tunnels, Ms Samiotis said live animal transport and exports were “inhumane no matter what way you look at it”.
Animal Justice Party candidate for Albert Park Cassandra Westwood did not attend the forum on November 6. •