Vote early, vote Merri

19th January 2023
By Peter Ewer

election stpry  

Funding announcement for Darebin and Merri Creeks 17 December 2022. L-R, Kat Theophanous, (State member for Northcote)
Bridgid O'Brien, (Councillor, City of Yarra), Luisa MacMillan, (MCMC) Graeme Hamilton, (DCMC),
Ged Kearney (Federal member for Cooper).

When American gangsters coined the phrase, they probably didn’t have in mind the opportunity we got in 2022 to vote often for the health of the Merri Creek. But such was the timing of Federal and State elections, that within the space of 6 months we could tell our elected representatives what was required to continue the forty-year, community-led project of protecting and restoring our beloved waterway.

To seize the moment, Friends of Merri Creek canvassed candidates in electorates along the Creek, beginning with the Federal Election in May. Their responses were compiled into a scoreboard, and circulated to members by email and to wider supporters on out social media, and attracted a great deal of interest and comments. 

The result? A commitment by MPs Ged Kearney and Peter Khalil on behalf of the incoming Labor Government to provide $500,000 to the Merri Creek Management Committee (MCMC), with a similar amount for Darebin Creek. MCMC is the incorporated association whose members include the six Local Councils with frontages on the Creek, along with six delegates from Friends of Merri Creek. The funds were formally presented to MCMC at an event on 17 December 2022, and MCMC staff, led by Manager Luisa McMillan, are busy planning how best the money can be spent. 

Welcome though this investment is from the Federal Government, the most important issues facing the Creek are planning decisions within the remit of the State Government. The two critical issues which will define the health of the Creek for generations to come are the declaration of regional parks covering its middle reaches north of the Ring Road – the marram baba regional park – and another covering its upper reaches north of Beveridge and on past Wallan – the wallan wallan regional park. Decisions on these proposed parklands will be made in this term of government, and they provide us with the last opportunity to preserve and restore remnant wetlands that are vital to the health of the waterway. Without good decisions, we will see further suburban subdivisions that rely on ‘engineered’ waterways will convert the Merri into one large stormwater drain, with irreparable consequences for its aquatic ecology. 

With these vital issues at stake, Friends of Merri Creek again canvassed the views of candidates in the weeks leading up to the State election in November. The result was an encouraging level of consensus across the political spectrum about the importance of the Creek as an ecosystem of profound value to the community. The Animal Justice Party, the Australian Labor Party, the Greens, Socialist Alliance, the Reason Party and the Liberal candidate in Preston all gave commitments in support of the Creek. This was a great result, one that reflects the need for any serious candidate in the northern suburbs to take heed of community interest in the health of the Merri. Again, we circulated a ‘scorecard’ by email and social media, and our members and supporters responded very positively, ensuring candidates knew that the health of the Merri was a topic in the minds of voters when it counted, on election day. 

Now that the ballots have been tallied, we find the Andrews Government re-elected, but with a minority in the upper house, the Legislative Council. In this context, it is opportune to recall summarise Labor’s commitments, which include: delivering 6,500 hectares of new parkland across Melbourne as part of a $315 million Suburban Parks Program; the introduction of planning controls on the Merri and Darebin Creeks to safeguard them from inappropriate development, create wildlife corridors, protect the waterways and restore the natural environment, and; a $10 million Green Links Fund to support revegetation along our creeks, rivers, and waterways. It was also pleasing that at a personal level, Labor MP for Northcote Kat Theophanous gave her support to the planning work for the wallan wallan and marram baba regional parklands.

Having voted early and often through 2022 in support of the Merri Creek, we will naturally be taking a keen interest in seeing the re-elected Andrews Government follow through on the commitments it took to the people. Our Creek depends on them, and you can be sure we will keep you informed of progress, and where necessary, ask for your support in reminding Government of the pledges that have been made.

Image: Monica Williamson

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