Locals being heard

THE final Politics in the Pub forum on How Freo Talks to Itself: Being Heard in 2022 at The Local Hotel on Tuesday centred on how Fremantle residents can make their voices heard through enhanced democratic practices. 

The four-person panel included new Fremantle mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge, Whadjuk Noongar Ballardong custodian and Greens WA Burt candidate Daniel Garlett, and  People’s Assembly organisers and deliberative democracy advocates Richard Beavitt and Sarah Nix.

Ms Fitzhardinge, Fremantle’s second female mayor, said she approached the role as “facilitator in chief” versus a top-down leader, and that dialogue had to be respectful, mutual and honour all speakers.

“We must speak up when someone is saying something that is hateful,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.

She offered an olive branch to the council’s most strident critics, saying she’d be prepared to work with them if they could keep a lid on the acidity.  

“Social media is not an ideal platform for dialogue,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.

Mr Garlett said Indigenous people were looking for “something that goes further than the 2007 and 2012 Reconciliation Plan where you look like you engage but don’t actually do anything.”

He praised Freo council for its engagement with the Indigenous community over the last decade.

“I can honestly say that in 2021, I’m extremely proud of this nation…certainly Fremantle is the front runner of any council in the nation,” he said, before putting in a plug to change the city’s name to Walyalup in recognition of its traditional owners.

Ms Nix and Mr Beavitt, whose assemblies were formed under the Extinction Rebellion umbrella, spoke of the importance of recognising climate change. 

Lighting a candle and inviting the audience to “close your eyes and think of the care that you might bring to your words”, Mr Beavitt said deliberative democracy was built on three pillars of communication; trust, active listening and radical inclusivity.

“Deliberative democracy is an opportunity to practice … re-learning how to deliberate in these forums, working from the grassroots because our government is not,” he said.

Ms Nix said democracy should “mean a verb not a noun”.

“We are talking about doing, about making decisions and moving forward through collective democracy.”

The audience identified housing and homelessness as community issues urgently needing airing during the next year, while forum co-organiser Rob Delves raised the issue of corporate interests monopolising decision-makers.

Notre Dame university head of journalism Mignon Shardlow later told the Herald she agreed: “We see that the wealthy and powerful have their interests heard.

“The best of Australian public interest journalism has recently revealed to us the extent to which the wealthy few buy influence and avoid paying taxes while the rest of us feel unheard and taken for granted. 

“Igniting a discussion about how to best animate democracy is part of the solution to these problems,” Dr Shardlow said. 

When asked about the timely significance of democratic voices in Fremantle post-Pride, Ms Fitzhardinge said: “Love is love for me – humanity is exceptionally beautiful because of its diversity. 

“We stop growing when we only accept people who are just like us.

“In the spirit of Pride in Fremantle, I would ask that we remember the idea of common humanity; in being human, we’re all inherently different. We must slow down, sit down, and genuinely understand each other.”

Fremantle Network co-organiser of the forum Christian Mauri said he and Mr Delves chose the theme because they’d been regularly hearing people say “it’s important to have the discussion” and thought 

it a “chance to reflect on the state of discourse in Freo and think about what this means for people hoping to make an impact in the New Year”.

Disclaimer: Herald editor Steve Grant was MC for the event

by RAHUL K GAIROLA

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