Queensland elects its first Greens councillor, Jonathan Sri

The law graduate wins the inner south Brisbane ward of the Gabba in what the Greens hope is a harbinger of federal electoral success

Queensland has elected its first Greens councillor in what the party hopes is a harbinger of more electoral success in coming federal and state elections.

Jonathan Sri, a musician, law graduate and son of a Tamil Sri Lankan migrant, has claimed victory in the inner south Brisbane ward of the Gabba.

He won 31.4% of the primary vote, prevailing with Labor preferences over Sean Jacobs, a dreadlock-wearing candidate put up by the Liberal National party in a ward noted for pockets of bohemian subculture in areas including West End.

No Greens candidate has previously succeeded in a local government election in Queensland, although the party had one state MP when Ronan Lee defected from Labor in 2008.

The Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters said Sri’s election was “wonderful news for Queensland and for our party, which has been campaigning in Queensland now for decades and has had some challenges in our voting system here.”

“We don’t have an upper house in our state parliament and it’s been harder for the Greens to have the people who vote for us reflected in parliament,” she said.

“This is really the start of the Greens having more opportunity to show that we’re responsible when we’re elected, that we’re responsive and that we actually have some long-term vision and the courage to stand up for what really counts – to take action on sustainable development, of course on global warming, and federally on issues like more decency for people seeking asylum.”

Waters said the party – on the back of its most successful local government campaign yet, with four Brisbane wards polling primary Greens votes of more than 20% – would field a candidate in every Queensland seat in the coming federal election.

Her counterpart on a Senate ticket in a double dissolution election would be former Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett.

Sri flagged the beginning of a combative relationship with a city hall, controlled by the LNP, who hold the reins to one of the largest local government areas in the southern hemisphere, with an annual budget larger than Tasmania’s.

“How do I see myself working with the LNP? I think there’ll be a few small issues where we can find common ground but I think by and large residents have elected me to fight for them and that’s what I intend to do.

“I wasn’t elected to be a bureaucrat or a puppet for the corporate sector. It’s important that we shift the power balance because right now the big end of town has far too much influence over city council and I’m here to change that.”

Sri’s last paying job was as a musician with the band Rivermouth and as a spoken word artist and poet performing at writers’ festivals.

He is a law graduate specialising in human rights and studied constitutional law under the University of Queensland professor Graeme Orr.

Sri has worked with remote Indigenous communities negotiating with councils, gaining fluency in a dialect of the Yolgnu nation of Arnhem land, and has also done community work assisting young asylum seekers who arrived by boat without parents.

Asked why it had taken until now for the Greens to take a local government seat in Queensland, Sri said the party’s refusal to accept large corporate donations to fund campaigns was “probably one of the biggest things holding us back”.

“When you look at cities like Sydney and Melbourne they’ve had Greens councillors down there for a while and even when they haven’t had a majority on council, they’ve been able to effect meaningful substantive change,” he said.

“So the first thing you can do is raise issues and policies that they other parties simply aren’t thinking about.”

Sri said there was anger and frustration in his constituency about the cost of housing along with “deep concerns about how much high-rise development is appropriate”.

“So lots of town hall forums, lots of online voting, neighbourhood councils, community meetings, where it’s not just me making the decisions but it’s ordinary citizens taking control over the future of their city – that’s how we’re going to change things,” he said.


Joshua Robertson

The GuardianTramp

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