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Climate-concerned Chisholm couple anxious for Coalition inaction to end

Social justice and climate action are absolute priorities in the Ashwood household of Peter Vadiveloo and Belinda Haydon. Reporter Greg Hall continues our special election series Chisholm’s Choice, a collaboration between The Citizen and Crikey.com.au.

Climate-concerned Chisholm couple anxious for Coalition inaction to end

Peter Vadiveloo and partner Belinda Heydon outside their Ashwood home. Beyond climate change, Vadiveloo looks for “a party that will address First Nations rights, a party that will address asylum seekers, a party that will address the disgraceful situation of housing in this country.” Photo: Greg Hall

Words by Greg Hall
 

At the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban Ashwood live a couple of voters who are raging against the machine.

Peter Vadiveloo, 58, was previously a Labor voter, but switched to the Greens “because of their environment and their social justice policies.” He writes and performs his own music – often based on social justice themes – and teaches drums in and around the Monash area. He’s quick to point out that he is not a rusted-on Greens supporter: “I’m a rusted-on social justice person.”

His partner, Belinda Haydon, 44, works for a carbon credit organisation that oversees reforestation programs in Timor. Despite growing up in a family in small business Haydon says she began to vote for the Greens around 10 years ago after coming across health inequality during her studies: “I realised that … the privilege you have access to defines your health outcomes in life.” She volunteers with Climate for Change, organising community discussions about environmental issues with local MPs and helped establish the Glen Eira Emergency Climate Action Network.

When it comes to what matters to them, they’re clear as a bell.

“We have to get a government in that will tackle climate change urgently,” insists Vadiveloo.

Climate is the main issue for Haydon, too. She believes that continued investments in fossil fuels amount to “climate vandalism” and wants political donation reform. “If our government didn’t receive vast amounts of money from fossil fuel companies, I’m certain there would have been more action on climate change.”

In particular, the couple are incensed about the so-called “gas-led recovery”, which has been pushed hard by the government as a path out of the pandemic.

But more gas, the couple say, is a disaster for the planet and for individual health. “Gas is not the thing to lead us out of trouble,” says Haydon.

And the major parties’ carbon emission targets?  “Appalling,” fumes Vadiveloo.

“I’m saying to friends in the climate movement who vote Labor, you can’t vote for Labor this time. You have to send them a message,” says Haydon. “The evidence tells us we need to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030. So  [the major parties’ targets] are just so far off.”

Beyond climate change, Vadiveloo looks for “a party that will address First Nations rights, a party that will address asylum seekers, a party that will address the disgraceful situation of housing in this country.”

The couple live in a quiet corner of Ashwood. Photo: Greg Hall

The couple live in a quiet corner of Ashwood. Photo: Greg Hall

Although the couple are happy renting in their quiet corner of Ashwood, they are also concerned that housing affordability is “just crazy.”

Vadiveloo has two kids, artists aged around 30, for whom home ownership seems out of the question.

He talks passionately about de-coupling housing from investment: “Houses are for people to live in, not for people to make money out of.”

Haydon laments that the world is still not safe for women, and cares deeply about gendered violence and wage inequality.

“I’m 44. Women in their 50s and 60s are most at threat of homelessness after working and caring for people their whole lives … It’s just a disgrace.”

The coalition’s handling of the pandemic has done little to impress them: “If it wasn’t for the competence of the state governments we’d be in so much worse a situation with the pandemic,” says Vadiveloo.

Haydon – who worked as a community development worker with Rohingya refugees at the start of the pandemic – witnessed first-hand how stressful the time was for that group with many losing their jobs and not being able to access government support. “The federal government was just missing … people were literally going without food.”

It’s highly unlikely that either will vote anything other than Green this coming election. ”If an amazing independent came along that I felt was even stronger than the Greens on environment and social justice policies,” muses Vadiveloo. “But I can’t imagine it.”

“The most important thing is that we have really urgent, really serious action on climate.”

With the Greens winning under 12% of the vote in Chisholm last election, Vadiveloo would just be happy with a swing to Labor. The best result, he thinks, would be a hung parliament in which the Greens or climate independents hold the balance of power.

He was “shattered” after the last election and it still stings. “If the fucking Liberals got back in with a landslide it wouldn’t surprise me either.”

Haydon allows herself a little more hope. She thinks that the recent fires and floods might make people realise that the climate crisis is here now.

“Surely with everything with climate change, aged care, botched roll out of vaccines and testing, sports rorts, car park rorts, terrible treatment of refugees,” she says.

“I hope people can see that this government has to go.”

This story is part of a continuing special reporting series focusing on the voters of Chisholm, published in collaboration with Crikey.com. See the Chisholm’s Choice Crikey series here.

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