The end of the independents

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By Serge Thomann

Former Councillor and Deputy Mayor

St Kilda News has kindly asked me to write an article as a wrap up of the Council Elections. I originally declined, but changed my mind – I have received hundreds of messages and telephone calls of support, and I feel that I need to thank all the kind people who have been thinking of me.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I cannot thank you all individually so please accept my thanks through this article. I have been surprised by the response I have received, tears people have shed, all the good wishes. I am very touched.

A bit like Hillary Clinton, I had a very strong primary vote – but it was always going to be difficult as the Greens, Labor and the Libs worked together to preference against me. Independents are not liked by the political parties, I have certainly learned that in the past few years. As (ABC radio presenter) Jon Faine said on 774 a couple of days after the election, the “popular real independent St Kilda Councillor Serge Thomann is fighting for his survival”.

It took the three parties eight years. I am proud to have been a community representative, an activist on the Council. I gave it my whole, my heart and my soul. One day, I’ll say a lot more.

I would like to acknowledge the dozens of people who endorsed me before the elections. Thank you so much. Without singling anyone out, I am proud that a prominent Muslim got together with a prominent Jew to endorse me, together (see photo). The former head of the Anglican Church in France St Kilda resident Monsignor Ken Letts also added his name to their words. I don’t think this has happened before, and I am so proud that I got their support.

I enjoyed my eight years at the Council. As well as serving my community and assisting people every day, I believe I have achieved a lot. I stopped the Triangle. Built one of the best skate parks in the world, saved the Palais (the building – I still believe that giving the Palais to Live Nation for thirty years is a huge mistake). Mark my words, there will be fifty gigs maximum at the Palais in 2017. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Neil Crocker (the outgoing manager of the Palais) all the very best and thank him for the terrific job he has done over the past 8 years. Neil, I am sure you will be missed by all. There’s the new St Kilda Life Saving club that is about to open, and the Acland Street upgrade, which looks exactly the way I imagined it three years ago. There’s also St Kilda Tourism and Events, two new childcare centres, and I planted the first seed for the Pride Centre in St Kilda. When I was elected, I said that I did not want any of the cakes shops in Acland Street to close while I was a Councillor. They are all still there! And I also did not want the St Kilda Festival to stop – it nearly did, but it is still a great success, and it’s our best way, once a year, of showcasing what is so good about St Kilda.

We have a new Council with 3 Greens, 3 Labor and 2 Liberals. And one independent. By pushing the Greens brand, the Greens have changed Council elections forever. The ALP has already decided to push the Labor brand at the next Council elections, as they believe they lost a lot of ground in October and they fear they will lose State seats at the 2018 elections – they certainly will lose seats. The Liberal Party will do the same. The parties will endorse their candidates.

In the past, a Councillor was first and foremost an active member of local organisations – their kids’ childcare centres or schools, the local sporting club, the neighbourhood house, other community groups. To become a Councillor was seen as a natural progression. Now, we have Councillors who hardly had any involvement in the local community – just ambitious “political animals”. It is a sad day for our city. There is no more room for well-intentioned independents – unless one is well organised and well resourced.

I decided to run this year as I could see this coming and I hoped to get back in for one more term as an independent, to keep representing my community, not a political party. But the preferences did not go my way. In the end, candidate Ruth Allen was the kingmaker, because she had done a deal with the President of the St Kilda Liberal Party branch and decided to give her first preference to him and then to the “progressive” candidate supported by the ALP – ahead of me. I missed out by a few votes.

So now I am out of Council…but did I really want to spend four years working with a Councillor who pushed the commercially-driven, developer-driven monstrosity that was the original St Kilda Triangle plan? (See ‘The Triangle Wars’ movie on YouTube to be reminded!)

I am not interested in providing a running commentary of the activities of the new Council. I’ll move on. I hope that people will respect my new found privacy. I’ll look at other opportunities – hopefully my eight years at the Council have brought me a lot of knowledge and strategic thinking. Once again, thank you to all for your kind thoughts. Thank you for the people who trusted me and voted for me, who helped me over the years. And thank you to my group of volunteers who dedicated their precious time to my campaign, including on election day in the rain and wind. I’ll never forget you.

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