Lidia Gunnai-Gunditj Thorpe is a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman living on Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne’s north and the Greens candidate in the November 18 byelection for the Victorian state seat of Northcote.
Comfortably held by Labor since it was created in 1927, the seat of Northcote has seen a surge in support for the Greens in recent years. Some polls are indicating that Thorpe is on track to take the seat with a primary vote of about 40%.
Thorpe recently spoke to Green Left Radio about her election campaign. Below is an edited transcript of the discussion.
As someone who has been involved with the movements, what inspired you to run as a candidate and why did you choose to run for the Greens?
I have been born into politics. We have been campaigning forever for our rights as a people and we've been fighting to protect our country forever, so it comes naturally for me to want to continue that.
The reason I chose the Greens is because the Greens values and policies are aligned with my policies. I certainly wasn’t going to choose any other party.
The Greens have been campaigning in this area for many, many years and have won the respect of the people.
We’re a growing party and I think it’s about time that someone stepped up to the plate to bring people together to fight for our people, the protection of country and for the greater good of all.
The old parties don't seem to be getting it right. They seem to be selling us off and selling us out, and not looking after country. So the Greens was the place for me.
What are some of the issues you have been raising in the election campaign?
The environment is one. The Great Forest National Park is certainly something that is very close to my heart, and going out to Talangi a couple of weeks ago and seeing the destruction and continuing logging of old growth forest, in the twenty-first century, is unbelievable.
This is only 90 minutes out of Melbourne, and they are cutting down these century-old trees that affect our climate but also the water we drink in our electorate.
It’s an issue that’s close to my heart but it’s also something the people in this electorate feel strongly about.
Another area is the public transport system. Getting to work is an absolute nightmare; the trains and trams in the morning are constantly overcrowded – there are just not enough trains and trams to cater for the amount of people we have.
Another issue is sustainable and smart development. The people of Northcote are saying to me that they are concerned about the amount of development that is happening in the electorate and how developers seem to be calling the shots rather than the community. People have real concerns about that.
One of the issues there is that we need to ensure that developer donations are not part of politics so that developers respect the community and work with the community to ensure that any development is what the community wants and needs.
As an Aboriginal woman running for parliament, what have been some of the responses you have encountered in light of the decision by Darebin council, which Northcote falls within, to not celebrate Australia Day?
It’s been a mixed response. Certainly doorknocking, when people realise it’s me knocking on their door, it’s something they want to talk about and usually it’s because people do not understand the issue.
Every door I knocked on, where people were questioning that decision, I have been able to talk through how that affects me as an Aboriginal woman and how that has affected me all my life and continues to affect my children and family.
When people are given some insight and education around why this is so important, people are OK with it.
I had one gentleman who was still celebrating the AFL Grand Final and he said that Darebin council had done the wrong thing by changing the date and that we need an Australia Day.
I said that this is not about cancelling it but making it inclusive for everybody and after spending five minutes at his door talking to him, he turned around and said: “Well that makes a lot of sense, now I understand and I’ll be voting Green”.
I think these people have been denied the real truth through their education journey in this country. We need to re-educate people and the truth needs to come out about some of the sad history that we have to deal with it.
Once people are on board with that, then they will support the decision that has been made by Darebin council.
The state government is currently going through a treaty process of some kind between the Aboriginal community and the state of Victoria, but there is a lot of discontent about it among the Aboriginal community. Could you explain why you think a clan-based treaty process is important in Victoria and what’s wrong with what the state government is doing?
Before colonisation, there were 300 clans that existed in Victoria and over the border, because we didn’t have the borders that exist today, and of those 300 clans, we have just over 100 left. The others have been totally wiped off the face of the Earth.
The clan-based treaty is about allowing, or giving an opportunity, for those clans that are left to be at the table and to be the people that negotiate and start the treaty.
The way the state government is doing this at the moment takes away self-determination and takes away human rights in terms of free, informed, prior consent.
The process they have decided to undertake is that they have hired consultants and paid them $600,000 to go out and talk to Aboriginal people across the state. That has not worked.
As a result of a failed consultation process, they then came up with the idea of a community assembly to take the treaty discussions further. That process again has failed because they only had 88 applications.
There was a rigorous process where three people decided who was in and who was out. Many respected Aboriginal elders were rejected from the process and it does not include the 100 or so clans that exist today in the state.
So it’s a flawed process and it hasn’t been a process where our elders and other sections of our community have been able to participate.
As someone who has been involved in the fight for your people for a very long time and involved with the social movement, who might now potentially assume a seat in parliament, how do you view the relationship between elected representatives and the social movements?
I am known for standing up for accountability and transparency in my own community. I have been very strong about that for a long time and I want to see the same in parliament.
Any elected person should not lose sight of how they got there; they are there because of the people in their electorate. I want to be a person who is connected to their electorate, from the grassroots level, and ensure that the people of Northcote are heard in parliament about what matters to us as a community.
Could you comment on the Greens’ position regarding Labor’s plan to sell off 80% of state public housing?
We are campaigning hard against that, of course. We need every bit of public housing stock that we can get.
The waiting list for public housing is over 30,000 people long. I cannot understand why the government thinks that selling off public housing is a good idea when we have people in crisis needing housing.
We will continue to fight the sale of any public housing and ensure that existing stock is maintained or upgraded. There are a few under threat in this area and I have been attending the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to support local residents and its appalling how people are being treated even in that process.
Again, the developers are dictating the terms and forcing people out, and that’s why we have to stop developer donations in politics.
Do you have any other comment you’d like to make?
I’d just like to say that it’s about time we had a change of guard for this electorate – we need to do politics differently.
And by electing me as the member for Northcote, I will be a strong voice for all the people in Northcote and I will continue to fight for issues like public housing, for our environment and to ensure that people can get to work on time in a comfortable and safe public transport system.
[For more information on Lidia Thorpe’s campaign visit lidiathorpe.com.]