By Jane Salmon
Round blue eyes, unfashionably thick brows belie the fact that Janine Kitson was extremely effective in her campaigns for natural heritage and accountability. So much so that she was voted out of Ku-ring-gai Council in 2004 only after a concerted effort from Liberal apparatchiks – at a time when Barry O’Farrell had yet to become NSW Premier.
Now, quixotically, she plans to stand for the environment, accountability, public education and broadcasting in a seat that has been regarded as “safe, blue ribbon Liberal” since Federation. Her opponent is the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher, who despite his strong position, suffered a small but significant swing against him in the last Federal election.
Her slogan “Bradfield Can Do Better” is based on the notion that voters cannot be taken for granted. The rise of self-funded candidates who campaign on integrity and are unencumbered by deals or debt is a fairly recent phenomenon in federal politics. The emerging powerful Independent voting bloc in parliament shines a fresh light on issues. There have to be alternatives to the closed-policy and backroom machinations of the major parties. As a group, she believes that Independents can thrash out and determine outcomes crucial issues.
Janine Kitson identifies with the impact of Zali Steggall, Cathy McGowan, Helen Haines, Andrew Wilkie and Rebekah Sharkie.
While Kitson’s broad smile may have one wondering whether she is calculating enough to enter cut-throat politics, she claims to know how hard it is to win the seat. She has committed her savings as a retired teacher to the campaign. “This is about the future of every young person I have ever taught from Mount Druitt to here. We can do better than reflexive coal or gas subsidies, sloppy NBN rollouts, stranded Aussies and the appalling Covid vaccine distribution debacle.”
She claims that her resolve is strengthened by her life as a teacher and the thousands of learners she has taught from Kindergarten to HSC to senior citizens.
Her optimistic demeanour and enthusiasm cannot conceal that Kitson has strategised, fought and sustained endless campaigns to protect the ABC, public education, natural environmental features and local heritage across NSW. She knows her opponents at every level of government, through and through.
“Funding can be deployed more sensibly. Privatisation can be inefficient and short-sighted. Basic home economics misleads us to imagine that a budget is fixed and finite. But in fact, with the national economy, experience proves that there is opportunity for greater flexibility. I refer people to the work of the Australia Institute which is also independent. So many areas that would operate better under steady public funding are now the province of charities or private companies that duplicate resources over and over without solving essential problems. Australia has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It’s not socialism so much as common sense. We can level playing fields in a targeted way to give everyone a fair go.”
“All human beings deserve respect and have the same basic needs, no matter how they are met.”
“Governments can do better at following up on the findings of Royal Commissions, too,” Kitson adds.
Kitson bridges groups from the conservative National Trust and Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment to progressives of the NSW Teachers’ Federation.
She says that economic solutions to environmental sustainability are central, given that stock dividends matter at least as much as jobs round here, to paraphrase David Marr. “Sure. We can’t run a national budget on gum leaves,” she says. “Renewable energy and reducing car dependency is possible in big cities like Sydney. Nor should we mine the nation’s food bowls. Australia ultimately need to build healthier, smarter technologies to take over from raw material extraction just for starters.”
Isn’t she a bit Anglo Aussie for a suburb attracting an influx of conservative millionaire migrants? Kitson responds that she may not be into the latest fashion trends but has taught locally, met people at local parks, run market stalls, waved from her bike and listened after tennis, led historic walking tours or hikes and simply chatted on trains. “This community is for everyone,” she said. “It’s a cliché but I’m on the ground to listen to local concerns every day, not just during election cycles.”
Indeed, it could be said that Kitson’s warmth has been a lynch-pin of community around Bradfield.
Her chief political opponents in Bradfield may argue that the area is destined to be an enclave reserved for the rich. Those who want affordable living will probably have to move elsewhere. Kitson is not indifferent. “The older flats round here make great homes for single parent families,” she says. There should be a mix of housing options to ensure fair access to leafy suburbs. Balance is all.”
Kitson herself plays host to many in her light-dappled older flat replete with nature prints, shared backyard, camellias, compost bins and storage for her bike. She still has family in the area where she attended Gordon East Public School.
What does Kitson see as Bradfield’s future? Is it a cosy anachronism gradually eroded by urbanisation or a blueprint for other areas?
“Some of my childhood was spent near Penrith. I also taught in the western suburbs. As a result, I value all that we have here even more,” she concedes. “Other parts of Sydney are tearing up the concrete and being re-planted. We should save what exists, from carefully maintained native eucalypts planted by Annie Wyatt or ancient bunya pines to the azaleas in our parks. If you have it, value it. Some of the nation’s foremost student climate activists are from this area, which augurs well.”
What else does the Bradfield area have to offer youth?
“It has amenity and access to urban facilities, study centres and jobs that area a train or bus ride away. All this is balanced by family stability. More local facilities and festivals will help manage youth boredom or alienation. We are protected from some of the vulnerabilities of young adults in regional towns if we engage more. Take this ‘we-are-all-connected’ t-shirt, a local young woman made and sold at the Lindfield East Sunday market. I bought a set because we need to get behind our youth and their enterprises.”
“A degree of financial steadiness gives us an opportunity to think beyond ourselves. Ethics matter wherever you are. We can and must afford coherent values, not one set of conditions for the privileged and to hell with the rest. That’s not what decency is.Out of sight is not out of mind.”
Kitson’s main political foes are probably the white retired rugby males rusted on to 2GB, Fox Sport and Sky. Does she herself even think about “franking credits”?
How well does she think aged care is being managed federally?
How about public health?
Can private schools be too rich?
What guarantees quality in public health and education?
Would she keep cutting the ABC in favour of Murdoch outlets?
Where does she stand on a federal ICAC?
Isn’t cronyism the domain of both Liberal and Labor?
How will the current Cabinet’s anti-China sentiment go down in Lindfield or Gordon?
How would Kitson protect local open spaces given current state laws?
And why isn’t Kitson a bog-standard Green? “The Greens have achieved a great deal as a bloc in parliament”, she says. “However, some aspects of the Greens platform, like drugs policy, are too extreme for people round here. We need more consideration and wider representation. Not every conservationist is up for radical change.”
She says she will tap into knowledge-based think tanks and canvas local opinion by surveys in a timely way.
As an educator, Kitson is confident that she can talk the public through each policy, step by step. Transparency is important and we need diversity of media ownership to encourage that.
What about preferences? Will she urge voters to put Liberals last? What will happen if she does not? Isn’t a vote for her a vote for the Libs anyway?
Kitson believes that voters themselves will join the dots and are not too lazy to deliberately place their preferences in a coherent way on a ballot form. “Every voting position counts, including on the senate form. Each vote is a message about the standard of conduct and values you are willing to accept from your elected representatives and your government. We need to think hard rather than let the major parties decide everything for us. Considered policy begins with a thought-through, thorough vote. We are not cogs in a two-party political machine. Together we can make a huge impact.”
Kitson will be launching her local campaign at Roseville Cinema on Wednesday evening with a screening of ‘The Weather Diaries’. The film was made by a Bradfield local mother Kathy Drayton with famous cinema icon Tom Zubrycki and will be introduced by prominent carbon and climate conservationist Ian Dunlop.
Tickets to Bradfield Can Do Better screening of ‘The Weather Diaries’ on Wednesday 5 May, 2021, 6pm can be purchased from fan-force.com.
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