Newsletter - September
In this month's newsletter,
Reopening classrooms - what do we know about covid spread in schools?
Bail reform - bringing down Victoria’s booming prison population
Gas drilling at the Apostles - what we need to do to stop it
LGBT win! The end of discrimation in religious schools and organisations
Affordable housing - Brunswick carpark to be converted
Scale it Down - protecting Brunswick’s parks from oversize developments
Merri Creek mural - chip in to brighten up the bike path!
what do we know about COVID in classrooms?
It feels like Victoria has been carefully climbing down a cliff, gradually easing restrictions while vaccinating more and more of the population, and watching daily case numbers rise.
But the 18th of October is when we jump.
That’s when kids from prep to grade two return to school part-time. The other year levels will follow about a week later, or earlier if 80% of us over 16 are double vaccinated. It’s a jump because effectively the state government has decided to put all our unvaccinated kids in a room together on that day.
It would be hard to put it off much longer. The impacts of keeping kids out of school have been profound and numerous, as parents and guardians would know well by now.
But with daily cases still increasing fast, it’s hard not to imagine high rates of infection in children once schools restart.
Thankfully though, there’s good news in the numbers – we know that children are much less infectious than adults. Recent NSW data from outbreaks in schools and early learning this winter, showed teachers with COVID infected 11% of other adult staff contacts and 7% of kids, but kids with COVID only infected about 1.5% of other child or adult contacts.
Teachers and early learning staff will all be getting vaccinated – the education minister announced on Wednesday that this will be required, along with improvements in ventilation.
With kids much less likely to infect people than adults, and all teachers vaccinated, the risk of cases ballooning in schools is low.
Plus recent research from Melbourne indicates that the feared condition of ‘long COVID’ is less common in children, as is severe COVID. Of the roughly 20,000 children known to have been infected in Australia, only one, in their teens, has died.
It is impossible to reopen without harm – too fast and hospitals will be overwhelmed, too slow and the many social, economic and educational scars of the lockdown will be too deep, and too many people will stop complying anyway. So I think the government has made a reasonable call to lift restrictions as they have announced.
bringing down Victoria’s booming prison population
A bill developed by my office to fix Victoria’s broken bail laws was introduced to parliament by Greens Leader Samantha Ratnam last week. It aims to reduce the growing numbers of First Nations people and women being imprisoned for minor crimes.
Since 2014 the Victorian Labor government has been making it harder for Victorians to be released on bail while awaiting their court date, even for the most minor offences (often associated with poverty) like stealing groceries. It’s all part of being seen to be tough on crime.
And the Victorian prison population has exploded. Today, four in every 10 people in prison in Victoria are waiting for court, also known as being on remand. For women, it’s more than half. And First Nations people are the worst impacted.
If the government is serious about ending the over-imprisonment of First Nations people and ending deaths in custody, it needs to address the role it has played in the problem.
To help get the word out about fixing these laws, you can share this petition on social media.
Gas Drilling at the 12 Apostles
Last month the Victorian Labor Environment Minister, Lily D'Ambrosio, approved a plan from the company Beach Energy to drill for gas underneath Port Campbell National Park, right next to the 12 Apostles.
The Greens have been fighting this hard. We’re already seeing the devastating consequences of climate change – the last thing we need is another damaging fossil fuel project, no less next to a national park and a marine sanctuary.
We started an open letter, and it has already gathered over 10,000 signatures. The final approval that Beach Energy requires is from Victoria’s oil and gas regulator, which could happen any day. If you haven’t signed the open letter yet, click here (and share it with your friends). This fight is not over!
The end of discrimination in religious schools and organisations
Some good news!
The Greens have been working for years to get rid of the exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that have allowed LGBTQ+ Victorians to be sacked by religious schools and organisations.
It has been announced this week that soon the Victorian Parliament will change the Act to remove these discriminatory exemptions.
No-one should live in fear of losing their job for who they love or how they identify, but that’s what these harmful exemptions have allowed.
The Greens look forward to supporting this bill when it comes to Parliament and getting rid of these discriminatory laws.
A big, big shoutout to all the LGBTQIA+ activists who've been working so hard on this issue. This win is yours! 🌈 💪🎉
Brunswick carpark to be converted
As house prices skyrocket and rents remain high, our community is in dire need of more affordable housing.
The Moreland council has announced it has made an agreement with a not-for-profit organisation, Moreland Affordable Housing, to convert part of a carpark on Wilkinson Street behind Bunnings and La Manna into at least 30 new affordable residences.
It’s a telling sign that the development of affordable housing in our area has been left up to the council, when it’s really supposed to be the responsibility of the State Government. Victorian Labor really needs to step up in this area. Rest assured, I’ll keep pushing them in Parliament for more investment in good quality, sustainable, affordable housing.
Read more about the project here.
Scale it Down
protecting Brunswick’s parks from oversize developments
You might have heard about the plans to build two new large tower blocks in Brunswick next to Clifton and Gilpin parks.
I'm all for of more sustainable and affordable, medium density housing in our area, but these towers are too big for this site.
So last week in Parliament I asked the planning minister Richard Wynne to intervene and reduce the height of these developments. He was the one who rezoned this land to let oversized developments like this go ahead, and he has the power to scale these buildings back.
Having good quality parks and green spaces in Brunswick will be even more important as our population grows – places where people can exercise, run the dog and spend some time outside away from buildings.
A group of local residents have been organising and fundraising to take this to VCAT and reduce the size of these blocks. Click here to learn more and send them some support!
Merri Creek mural
chip in to brighten up the bike path
A group of Brunswick East locals are fundraising for a new large-scale public mural next to the Merri Creek trail, to be painted by talented local artist Mike Makatron Art. This image is a mockup of what it could look like.
The artwork will feature another Merri Creek resident – the Sacred Kingfisher. It'll be three stories tall overlooking the Merri Corner Community Garden where everyone using the trail can enjoy it.
If you want to support the project you can donate here.
Back to COVID...
Looking ahead to the next few months, my focus will be on listening to health workers about what they need to support them to do their jobs as the health system comes under increasing pressure from COVID patients, both in and out of hospital.
I’m getting calls and emails every day describing terrible consequences of our lockdowns and other health restrictions, from psychologists and teachers, from people who can’t work or run their business, from people who can’t pay the rent. And my office has been hard at work trying to help Victorians stranded in New South Wales for over two months by a now pointless border closure, given the Victorian epidemic has a life of its own. Today we’ve heard they finally have a clear pathway back.
The Burnet modeling shows the challenges ahead. It indicates we face a moderate risk of exceeding our health system’s capacity in the second half of October, with potentially 1200 to 2500 or more COVID patients in our hospitals. Currently that number is around 260. The number of COVID patients in hospital is now the more important number to watch, rather than the number of daily cases. The rate of reopening may need to be adjusted if hospitals can’t cope.
So far, the hospital workers and infectious diseases experts I’m hearing from are unanimous: get vaccinated, get your friends vaccinated, get tested as soon as you get symptoms (even if you’re vaccinated), and keep wearing masks whenever you’re around others.
I will also be listening to those still unable to work because of ongoing restrictions on their industries, whether it’s hospitality or the arts or any of the other parts of our economy currently dying a slow death. If you want to get in touch, send me an email.
After two long winter lockdowns it doesn’t seem fair that the worst may yet be ahead of us, but the enthusiasm for vaccination among almost everyone I speak to in Brunswick gives me hope.
While some fluoro-clad anti-vaxxers may be hogging the limelight, Victoria is not far behind NSW where 91% of people over 50 have had their first dose of vaccine and vaccine coverage is already slowing the spread of the virus.
We will get there. We just need to keep supporting one another on the way.