Jonathan Sri: 'Public transport should be cheaper, the government can afford to do it'

January 29, 2015
Jonathan Sri, Greens candidate for the seat of South Brisbane in the Queensland election.

This is Part two of an interview with Greens candidate for the seat of South Brisbane, Jonathan Sri. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Evan Verner about the state of politics in Queensland, his position on various policies and what it is like to run a political campaign.

What are the causes of unemployment and how do we secure jobs?

This is a complex one and I don’t want to simplify it. I think it’s important to start by critiquing this narrative that economic growth is always a good thing. I think a stable economy is probably a good thing, but economic growth that only benefits the very rich and leaves everyone else behind is not necessarily something our society needs to strive for and we need to keep that in the back of our mind whenever we talking about economic reform.

Part of the reason we’ve got this problem of rising unemployment is connected to the fact we haven't diversified our economy sufficiently. So we put all our eggs in one basket and we failed to invest in research and design. We failed to invest sufficiently in education. We failed to support small business and we allowed larger corporations to monopolise certain sectors and force smaller businesses out. We also created a regulatory environment that makes it really difficult for entrepreneurs and worker co-ops and collectives that don’t fit the accepted model of a business. We made it harder for those to survive and thrive.

Rising unemployment is really a symptom of a broader problem in our economic system and we need to talk about going back to the fundamentals and saying "Ok what is the point of an economy?" An economy is a means of exchange with the end goal to increase social welfare. Making money is not an end in itself and a government that gets caught up talking about the economy to the exclusion of social issues is doomed to fail in the long term. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that.

We have to remember the most affected in these times when the job rate falls are the poorest people. Those are the people with the least education and they’re the ones who suffer. They’re not the ones making these decisions at the top of the pyramid, but they are the ones that are most affected by them.

Short answer is, there are no simple solutions, but it’s about critiquing the fundamental assumptions that inform those policy decisions that politicians make.

What are your personal goals in politics?

One of the big ones that I’m really concerned about at the moment is the cost of public transport. It almost feels elementary when you think about how important efficient transport systems are in a society, particularly in cities where you see how a bad transport system has many negative flow-on effects. It makes it harder for poor people to get to work or to seek healthcare and education, causes traffic congestion and leads to exorbitant expenditure on road maintenance and widening roads.

Our population looks like it’s going to keep growing for a while, so does that mean there are going to be more cars on the road or does that mean we find other ways for people to get to work.

Right now only 10% of Brisbanites use public transport. It’s pretty low. Some people use the excuse that Brisbane is a low density city so public transport is always going to be inefficient. That’s nonsense. The inner city suburbs, even out to zone three have sufficient density that you could have a fairly cheap and efficient public transport system — but it’s not a governmental priority.

Most of our politicians and most of our government decision makers still prioritise the car as the main form of travel. As a result, public transport is sidelined — we don’t have bus lanes and we don’t have significant investment in rail infrastructure. Public transport ends up really expensive, which is a self-defeating cycle because then fewer people use it, less revenue comes in, more people get cars and cars become prioritised again.

So I really want to talk to as many people as possible about the fact that if we invest more money in public transport in the short term, we save money in the long term in a whole range of industries.

The other big issue that I’m really concerned about is donations and the way that donations to political parties can influence the political process.

We’ve seen in New South Wales, that donations from big business and developers are corrupting the political process and I feel sure the same is happening in Queensland.

There’s not sufficient scrutiny. The Crime and Misconduct Commission (now Crime and Corruption Commission) has had its teeth removed. There’s no oversight of what’s happening in that sphere.

You can make a $10,000 donation to the LNP and they don’t have to tell anyone about that. No one knows where that money came from. So there’s not sufficient scrutiny of how money from the private sector might be influencing politicians. That for me is a big one.

I’m really keen to press Labor on this issue because they still take donations from large companies and they still take donations from property developers. I’d really like to see the Labor Party say "well, actually no, we are going to ban donations from property developers", which is what they did in New South Wales. This isn’t radical thinking; this is already happening in other states in Australia. In New South Wales now it is illegal for political parties and candidates to take donations from property developers. They still keep doing it, and that’s why they had ICAC and this massive corruption enquiry down there, but the fact that they kept doing it even when it was made illegal shows that money is greasing the gears of politics.

We need to keep cracking down on it and try to stamp it out. The conversation in Queensland is decades behind. I don’t think anyone truly appreciates or understand the extent to which political donations are undermining the democratic process.

There’s almost a collective shared myth of "Oh yes we were really corrupt and then we had this great purge and cleansing and now Queensland is fine". That’s nonsense, there is still major corruption in Queensland; it’s just no one wants to talk about it.

I’ve been wanting to talk to what I’d call the radical left for want of a better term, to encourage people out there to start thinking strategically and tactically about what it is you want to achieve. I think there is this sense on the left of maybe not reflecting enough on how to achieve what we want to achieve.

So, recognising that compromising or adjusting your methods doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on your principles and fundamental values.

Maybe the old methods aren’t working. It’s a question. Do we want to continue just being this minority on the sidelines shouting at everyone or do we want to bring people with us, and if we want to bring people with us maybe it’s time to start thinking more innovatively about how we do that.

What are your plans for the election?

Political candidates should be out there in the electorate hearing from locals, finding out what people are concerned about, having those conversations on the ground rather than preaching to the masses through the conduit of the mass media. So we are doing heaps of door knocking all around the electorate of South Brisbane.

We’ve got people on the ground in every suburb going door to door asking "what issues are you concerned about?", "let’s talk political philosophy", "let’s talk about what you care about", and trying to shift people's values, not just for this election but in the long term.

If I had more time for this election campaign, I’d do more door knocking. But I'd also do more community discussion groups and meet the candidate forums and those sorts of things — where people are given an opportunity to engage with politics at a more meaningful level, rather than just slogans about economy or jobs. We need to encourage people to think critically about these issues and to recognise that politics directly effects every aspect of their lives. So they need to take an interest or they’ve taken themselves out of the conversation and they are dooming themselves to a position of less power.

The main game for us over the next few weeks is door knocking, door knocking, door knocking. We’re also hanging out at market stalls and on Election Day we’ll have people at every polling booth talking to people and handing out flyers.

That’s kind of where the campaign is at, at the moment. If we had more time, we’d just talk to more people and that’s how politics should be I think.

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