By SUSAN FOREMAN NAMES ARE beginning to emerge for inclusion on the ballot paper in the August 26 Warrandyte Byelection.
Last month, member for Warrandyte, Ryan Smith MP, announced he would be retiring from Parliament.
His successor for the Liberal candidacy, Nicole Ta-Ei Werner, was announced following a preselection battle.
Since then, other parties have been weighing up their options.
A source from within the Labor party told Warrandyte Diary that the party has yet to decide on their intentions for the seat.
Victorian Greens have announced that the current Deputy Mayor of Manningham, Cr Tomas Lightbody, would be contesting the seat for the Greens.
Minor parties and independents are beginning to emerge, the Freedom Party’s Greg Cheesman has confirmed he is looking to contest the seat, a group calling themselves the Warrandyte Movement are putting up an independent candidate in Vern Hughes, and Raymond “The Snake Man” Hoser announced he would run as an independent.
There are also a host of other whispers about minor parties, Teal and other independents making plans to run.
Keep an eye on the Warrandyte Diary and Manningham & Nillumbik Bulletin over the coming weeks for the full card of starters.
Passing the Liberal baton
The Liberal Party have already preselected their new candidate, which itself was contested by nine hopefuls, among them Manningham Councillor Andrew Conlon, the former Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam, former Eltham candidate Jason McClintock and KPMG director Sarah Overton.
A 22-year-old law student and champion rower, Antonietta di Cosmo also contested the Liberal ticket alongside former political staffer Jemma Townson.
The victorious contender is Nicole Ta-Ei Werner, a 32-year-old former food relief worker for Empower Australia, the charitable arm of Pentecostal church Planetshakers.
She said she was “humbled and honoured” that the members chose her as the Warrandyte candidate.
The election is said to be a test of the Liberal party leader John Pesutto, who has overseen infighting and internal divisions, most notably over the expulsion from the party room of Moira Deeming after she attended an anti-trans rally also attended by neo-Nazis.
Ryan Smith was one of those who opposed the expulsion motion. Nicole and Ryan sat down with the Diary as they passed the baton.
Ryan said he was pleased they chose a local person as the new candidate.
“I think she’s the right person,” he said. “There were nine people who put their hand up, five weren’t locals, and I would have been disappointed if the party had selected a non-local.
“So, I’m happy that we got one of the four, and I’ve seen Nicole campaign very enthusiastically and really connect, particularly with many of the younger people.
“I think that party had seen what work she had put in over the last election.
“So, I’m hoping to see that again,” he said.
Nicole had an 8.9 per cent swing against her in Box Hill at the 2022 State Election, but she remains optimistic about a different result in Warrandyte.
“It was my first run as a candidate, and I’ve learnt from that.
“There are setbacks in everybody’s career and life, but I’m a fighter, so I’m back to fight — I want to fight for the people of Warrandyte,” she said.
Nicole said her passion for politics goes back to her family’s story.
“My parents moved from Malaysia for a better life for the family — with quite a backstory as well.
“My maternal grandmother is illiterate; she can’t read or write, she was born into poverty in Malaysia, and her family was too poor to send her to school.”
She said her grandmother was an amazing woman.
“She survived WWII by hiding in the jungle as a child, and as the eldest daughter, the family sent all her siblings to school, but not her; she stayed home to do the housework.
“She tells stories of dropping all her younger siblings at school, and she would peer through the window and try to catch bits of learning where she could.
“She worked as hard as possible to send my mum and her other children to school.
“My mum grew up in that environment, with a degree of poverty, and decided at age 22 to move out here.
“And this is so many migrant stories; you move here for a better life, you make a fresh start for your family.
“Mum recently told me the story where she’s a new migrant, first-time mother, she’s been working two jobs just to get ahead and they have just bought a house, and she is pregnant with me the first child, and she put a hand on her belly, and she said that she would say to me, ‘I want you to be a leader and I want you to change the world’.
“I think that’s always been ingrained in me that there is this hunger and desire to make a difference to the community.
“Politics for me is about that more than anything else,” she said.
She said she is from a multicultural, multi-faith family; her father is Buddhist, her mother is agnostic, her brother is atheist, she has Islamic family members, and she and her husband are Pentecostal Christians.
That is what makes Victoria great, it’s a multicultural multi-faith society, and I will always defend the right for people to have the freedom to worship if they choose to or not, and the religion they choose to practise or not,” she said.
Nicole paid tribute to the job that Ryan has done for the electorate over the last 16 years.
She said people told her she had some big shoes to fill.
“Ryan told me they’re not big shoes, we all do things differently, so they’re just different shoes.
“But he leaves an amazing legacy and has been a beloved local member, and so it does for me mean that they are huge shoes to fill because everyone you speak to just adores Ryan.”
Ryan said he had the same issue when he took over from Phil Honeywood in 2006.
“That was 18 years [that Phil had been in office], but you don’t do it the same; you just do it how you think you need to do it.”
Nicole said she would do a lot the same as Ryan in terms of helping the individual constituent.
“The gold standard is ‘Have I helped this person, have I advocated this issue, have I helped this family?’.
“And that is what I want to do, be someone that helps people and fights for people,” she said.
Ryan said the times sometimes force you to act a certain way.
“When Black Saturday happened, bushfire became the overarching focus of the community for several years, we would have meetings at the community church with over 600 people just to get information on what to do, and so bushfire prep became sort of my thing for a while because I knew the community cared about it, I knew how fragile our situation was in regards to fire.
“But then, when I started, the health of the Yarra River was a big deal — there were E.coli levels through the roof, and the runoff from people’s septic tanks was horrible.
“And so, with those different focuses of the community, drives you to act in a certain way which is different to what my predecessor did, in a different way to what my successor will do as well, the times call for a certain type of person, a certain type of action and a certain way of approaching something,” he said.
Nicole said that living in nearby Blackburn and studying in Donvale, she understood the electorate’s needs.
“This is an incredibly diverse electorate in its population demographics and landscape so that I will campaign on local issues pertinent to each area.
“In Doncaster East and Donvale, there are issues like over-development that people are worried about, and then in areas like North Warrandyte, Warrandyte, Park Orchards there is the Green Wedge as far out as Chirnside Park, and that is an important issue to the locals there,” she said.
But she said some issues transcend geography and demographics, such as the cost of living, noting a conversation she has had with a resident in Park Orchards who has to sell their house due to mortgage stress.
“And when I was working in food relief, we saw a rise during the pandemic, and where we were feeding 3,000 people and in 11 months, we gave away a million meals.
“And that for me was such a wake-up call in the sense of how government decisions impact individuals’ lives,” she said.
Greens: Tomas Lightbody
As a young person, Tomas Lightbody says he is keenly aware of the impacts of climate change and the need to phase out fossil fuels like coal and gas.
He said he has also seen how the current housing crisis has left countless Victorians forced to choose between food and rent as renters across the state grapple with mounting rent rises.
If elected, he says he would fight to stop new fossil fuel projects like the disastrous “coal-to-hydrogen” project currently being considered by Labor and push for solutions to the housing crisis, including a big build of public and affordable housing and rent controls.
“Having grown up a Donvale local, I understand the preciousness of our local communities and environments in this seat and feel the urgency with which we need to protect them,” he said.
He says he also understands the importance of supporting those doing it tough amidst the rising cost-of-living.
He said he was inspired to put his hand up for Council in 2020 to be a voice for the young, diverse, and queer communities in his electorate.
And now, he’s ready to be that voice in the Victorian Parliament.
“If elected, I’ll push the Victorian Labor Government to go further and faster on climate change and housing affordability so that we can protect our precious environment and look after people doing it tough,” he said.
During his time on Council, Tomas has secured a local community net-zero target of 2035, increased funding for tree planting, and greater protection for trees on public lands.
He has also fought tirelessly for better public transport, including increased bus links between local activity centres, given there are currently no buses between areas like Wonga Park and Park Orchards, and Warrandyte.
In the Victorian Parliament, Tomas plans to fight for proper funding for maintenance and bushfire mitigation efforts in the Warrandyte state forests and increase infrastructure safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.
The Victorian State Election last year saw the Greens experience their strongest election results ever, with voters electing Aiv Puglielli as their Upper House MLC for the North-Eastern Metropolitan region, which takes in the seat of Warrandyte.
“Support for the Victorian Liberals is currently in freefall, and with Labor potentially not even standing a candidate at all, this byelection will be incredibly unpredictable.
“Every vote for the Greens this byelection sends a message that people want progressive action and that Labor and the Liberals can’t keep going with business as usual and just expect to keep their seats,” Tomas said.
The Warrandyte Movement
A group of local people in Warrandyte is fielding an independent candidate.
The group is called The Warrandyte Movement, and their candidate is Vern Hughes.
The movement describes itself as a group of Warrandyte people, active in local community, arts groups, and small businesses, who want to start somewhere in getting a different kind of politics.
Vern has been described as a community leader and social entrepreneur.
He was the founder of the Social Entrepreneurs Network (Australia and New Zealand) and is a former Director of the Co-operative Federation of Victoria.
He has worked in community health, disability, church, and co-operative and social enterprise organisations for 40 years.
He is also a historian who has written extensively on the history of social movements and community organisations in Victoria.
“I have accepted the invitation to stand as a candidate for The Warrandyte Movement because we all need to do what we can to change politics in Victoria.
“In approaching me, the group wants someone who could play a leadership role, if elected, in spreading the movement across Victoria,” he said.
Vern went on to say he was delighted to accept the challenge.
“We don’t need Left or Right — they have created deep division and cynicism in the community.
“We need a new politics that is about local communities, empowerment of people, and deep integrity.”
Vern says Warrandyte has been traditionally held by the Liberal Party, describing the electorate as a diverse bunch of “small c conservatives”.
“That is, they want to conserve their community, their environment, their jobs, and businesses, in financially sustainable ways.
“They want to conserve families as the bedrock social unit and support everyone to find belonging and stability.
“As conservative-minded people, they are wary of Big Business and Big Government.
“They want bureaucracy kept to a minimum, and they want creativity and initiative to flourish.
“In this sense, I will be a Conservative Independent in Warrandyte.
“The Warrandyte Movement is a movement for the renovation of democracy and government for the 21st century,” said Vern.
Snake Man stands
Raymond “The Snake Man” Hoser has announced he will be running for election in the upcoming byelection as an independent.
He said he would be running on a centrist platform of ethics, economics, law and order, and environment.
Having written books on wildlife, wildlife smuggling, government corruption, and police corruption, and is the self-proclaimed “world’s foremost snake expert”.
He said most people in Warrandyte know The Snake Man as the 24/7 snake catcher “who rocks up at all hours to relocate deadly snakes”.
Raymond has been a Melbourne snake catcher for over 30 years and says he has trained dozens of others across Melbourne and Australia.
Raymond says that only with a strong independent elected to the seat will the local area be properly represented.
“We need representation from a person with a proven track record of running a successful business, honesty, ethics, and an environmental protection record that is the best in Australia”.
At the State level, he says he will seek to cut the excessive size of the bloated public service and the culture of cronyism.
Raymond warns of major party stooges nominating as “independents” or what he called “fake independents”, with Liberal or Labor preference flows, with the sole purpose of disrupting the independent vote to ensure a Liberal win.
Raymond says: “I am needed to deal with the snakes in the Victorian parliament”.
Byelection date announced
Mr Smith’s resignation took effect on July 7.
The Victorian Electoral Commission has announced the byelection will be held on Saturday, August 26, with a two-week early voting period expected to kick off Monday, August 14.
Nominations will officially open in the coming week.
The electoral roll will close shortly after, so make sure your enrolment details are up to date.