Council Election Interviews: Serge Thomann

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Councillor Serge Thomann is defending his seat of Catani Ward in the upcoming elections. He is an independent candidate, endorsed by the community group unChain.


Q: What do you hope to achieve should you be re-elected?

We are all about independent councillors, who are not affiliated with any party. This means firstly that we can work with any government in power – Labor or Liberal, Federal or State. So we can better work with the government on issues like schools, St Kilda Triangle, Fisherman’s Bend, St Kilda Harbour, the St Kilda Festival, just to name a few. We also strongly believe that as a group of independents, hard working and committed to our local community, we can achieve much more for the benefit of that community than if we were part of the Labor, Liberal or Greens party machine.


Q: What is your position on the 2012 St Kilda Triangle Vision framework?

I think it is a very good document and a good starting point to progress to the next step. To be honest, it has taken the Council longer than I had envisaged, but then we must remember the last developer only walked away in 2010, and we’ve had to start again from scratch… with a community that had lost trust in Council. For the last 18 months we have re-engaged with the community and made sure that the vision for this piece of Crown Land we have now is the vision that the community endorses and owns.

Because it is only a vision at this point, some people might find it a little vague. If I get back on Council, I look forward to expending as much energy on developing this plan and turning it into something more real, as I did in stopping the last one. I want us to create something that we can all be proud of, that will stand for the generations to come.

In a way, I don’t even want it to be a triangle. If we treat Jacka Boulevard in a way that it becomes less of a barrier, create some bridges and such things (without spending millions of dollars), then the Triangle will no longer be a triangle because we will have incorporated the foreshore with St Kilda…


Q: What is your position on the St Kilda Harbor redevelopment?

Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron got a planning approval to make the harbor safer and to extend it by 250 berths (from 230). Since then, the State Government has committed $1.2 million towards the pier. My main concern is that the pier is in a bad state. The State Government, who is responsible for it, is aware of the need to refurbish the pier, which is a $20 – $30 million project and hopefully that will be found in next year’s budget.

Next year, we will have a beautiful new safe harbor in St Kilda, and hopefully soon we will have a new pier so people can more easily go to Kerby’s or see the penguins. In the concept design, there is a viewing platform over the water. This will make it safer for everyone, including the visitors, as it can get crowded sometimes.

What I also like about the plan as well is it is going to be open, so people will be able to walk around the boats, and it will be better than it is at the moment.


Q: What is your position on the skate park to be built on the Marina Reserve?

I am very excited about the skate park. The City of Port Phillip has been trying to build a skate park for 15 years. There were various ideas that were stopped, and people even went to court…

I had a lot to do with this skate park, and I am thrilled that we have started building it. We are going to have a fantastic facility, 750 square meters of skating facility as part of a brand new Marina Reserve, with new barbeques and playground and other bits for people who are not skaters. It is a great facility and I have already had a lot of positive feedback from skaters from all over the world who have looked at the plans.

I can’t wait for it to be opened!! It will be a great new addition to the St Kilda foreshore!


Q: Will you support St Kilda’s live music scene?

Absolutely, and I always have! My background is in music, I used to be a rock photographer, starting by going on the road for INXS and other bands in the 80s. I think Council should do everything possible to support the scene, including advocacy with State Government and other agencies to make amendments to the Planning Scheme like making strict sound insulation in new developments compulsory to allow live music to continue and become even better.

I have been involved in many actions over the past few years while on Council to make changes. We set up the Live Music Working Group, which is something I had been advocating for. We had our first meeting [in August] and I am looking forward to making some serious progress on the matter. I also think that Council should help in the promotion of live music and gigs and mentoring young musicians and help them get a start in the industry. Some small wins can be achieved like for example by having loading bays for musicians close to live venues.


Q: Would you like to see a supervised injecting room in St Kilda?

I am responding to this question on a personal level. Yes. But it is not a decision that is going to be made by the Council. I personally think we need to have a safe-injecting room somewhere in St Kilda where there are already many agencies that provide services for people who are drug addicted or drug affected. Obviously you want to have a safe-injecting room in the right place, but more research needs to be done. I have even discussed this issue with David Davis, Minister for Health. I think he was quite shocked when I brought up this topic with him at one of our Australia Day Citizenship ceremonies!


Q: What is your position on high-rise developments in St Kilda, and in particular St Kilda Junction? 

A couple of years ago we developed a document called C62, which is an amendment to the Planning Scheme. To put it simply, there are three categories of development: no growth, low growth, high growth. The planning scheme doesn’t necessarily cover every part of the city very clearly. And we have been very busy working on Montague, on the St Kilda Triangle, on St Kilda Road precinct, and many more elaborate strategic plans. We had to catch up with the backlog left by the previous Council.   Decisions have been made by VCAT and the Planning Minister to build some inappropriate developments. The minister approved a 26 storey and then VCAT approved and 18 storey tower across the road. And both times we were against it.

My concern is that in a few years time no one will know who approved what. And people will ask: “why on earth did Council approve that?” even if it was approved by other authorities.  I think the new Maxx building on the corner of Alma Road and St Kilda Road is the wrong building, and again that was approved by VCAT. The government is currently reviewing those zones. In a way the City of Port Phillip has been ahead of other Councils, and even sometimes ahead of State Government, which is a good thing because it means we care about important issues, and we take them seriously. So in Junction we need to have to look at the structure plan for the area, and it certainly something we want to do as one of our first priorities.

South of the Junction we should keep it more residential, more of a village/small city atmosphere, on the other side you at least have more of a transition. And it is not just a matter of height, it also impacts the traffic. The Leggo building for example is on a very busy corner, and when you add over 150 apartments, I think there will be a problem with cars exiting and entering. I think the objections that locals have raised are valid, genuine concerns.


Q: What is your position on the Fishermans Bend Planning and Economic Development Strategy? 

There is no doubt that the current Council is a more Labor leaning Council, and so I don’t think our discussions with the current State Government have been as they should be. I don’t think there is a lot of trust on both sides, and I think a more independent Council would go a long way to restoring some of that trust between Council and Government. People’s motivation on Council should be to help their community and not to do things out of political ambition, or to knock the Government…

I think Council should be apolitical and all the unChain candidates are.


Q: Is there anything else you want to bring to our readers attention?

It is important that people vote. It is compulsory that residents vote, but ratepayers, who might own an investment property in Port Phillip but actually live somewhere else, should be voting too, even if it is not compulsory for them.

unChain has developed a comprehensive policy and there is a lot I would like to talk about. There is one thing in particular that I have included in our policy, and could make a huge difference at no cost to Council. We need to set up a Port Phillip Cultural Foundation. I see this as a way for the City of Port Phillip to engage and get some money from local businesses and residents to spend on more arts and cultural projects. At the moment we have a cultural development fund, but the budget is only $134,000, so it is not that much. But if someone has a spare $5,000, $10,000 or more and they would like to provide it for cultural purposes, they can give it to this foundation and an independent board will allocate it to groups who apply. There is less and less government funding for arts projects, and a foundation like that will help.  I already have the support from a couple of other foundations, like the Smorgon Foundation, Scanlon Foundation… And at the end it will not cost much more than a bit of administration and staff time, but it will have a lot of benefits.

On the arts side, I would like to look at the Peanut Farm Precinct to see if there are ways to have more arts studios there, maybe build another floor, and make the precinct an even more vibrant place – including an upgrade to the sports facilities. Making it the green heart of St Kilda.

At Theatre Works there will be some new opportunities as Father Mitchin, the priest, is leaving – I wish him well in his retirement – and so potentially the houses around Theatre Works could become available for other things, and we could be involved in facilitating more arts use. Or even a childcare use with the availability of lots of open space.

The Linden Gallery I think should engage more with the community. I’m not saying they should have a Postcards exhibition every month, but just engage more with the community so it becomes and even more exciting place and a bigger promoter for contemporary art.

And at the same time Council should facilitate (and we are helping as much as we can) for cheaper and more affordable housing, so people don’t have to leave the city – there should be more places for artists to live…

And lastly, it will be exciting to work on what Acland Street will look like into the future with the new tram stop at the Barkly Street end, with full consultation with our residents and traders.

A lot to do to make our village even more beautiful… and get the vibe back!

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