Political Literacy & social justice – Melbourne Study Tour, 19 – 21 June

The Melbourne trip marks the mid-way point for participants as part of a journey that is already proving to be life changing for many.  “I feel blessed to be given this opportunity to be exposed to so many amazing things that are happening across Victoria.  As part of the Melbourne trip I learnt about working with local and state government and learnt some very simple and practical approaches.  It also re-affirmed that often the people behind some amazing community initiatives (for example: the preservation of Hanging Rock, movement for democratic renewal, and the Abbotsford convent) are often really down to earth and ‘normal’ people,” said secondary teacher Steve Carroll, from Harcourt.

The Northernmost participants travelled from Swan Hill, picking up participants along the way, with the first group stop at Gisborne, hosted by Macedon Ranges Shire Council at the new Manna Gum Children’s Centre.  The afternoon in the Macedon Ranges included a tour of this impressive, environmentally aware and beautifully creative new space for children, and a panel on the future of local government, with elected representatives and community activists sharing a robust and illuminating debate.  Mary-Anne Thomas MP then shared her personal leadership story with participants and gave them some insights into working effectively with their local State Representative.  The group then stretched their legs at the beautiful Hanging Rock where they heard from LMCLP graduate and Board Member, Luke Spielvogel about his and his community’s role in calling for better community consultation around future development of the rock.  Community leaders who are not in formal positions of power were interested to hear about ways governments are empowering communities, finding new ways for community members to have a voice, to get their message out and to make sure they are heard.

The group then spent two days in Melbourne, together with colleagues from the Northern Mallee Leaders program, with a wide variety of speakers and site visits, with generous sponsorship by LaTrobe University.  Highlights included an enlightening and inspiring panel on “Social Justice and Human Rights,” a presentation on poverty from Penny Harrison of the Victorian Red Cross, a personal story on challenging homophobia, a talk from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, a session on sentencing justice with the Sentencing Advisory Council, and a confronting walking tour of the streets of Melbourne learning and seeing a little more about the devastation of homelessness, with Melbourne City Mission’s Frontyard Youth Services.  Participants also had breakfasts and dinner at social enterprises including Streat, Kinfolk, and Lentil as Anything at the Abbotsford Convent where they also enjoyed the Convent’s powerhouse CEO “Mother Inferior” Maggie McGuire who shared a true story of ‘from little things, big things grow” and encouraged participants to maintain vision, purpose and persistence in community projects and causes.

Brett De Hoedt, from Hootville Communications provided light relief and an entertaining take on ‘building your brand’ as a way of marketing yourself and your cause.  Brett has worked in the media for many years and was invited to address campaigners from 21 countries at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Training Event.  This experience in environmental campaigning made Brett the perfect person to teach participants about promoting their causes.

The final stop was the Victorian Parliament House where participants had a brief photo opportunity with Premier Daniel Andrews and heard inspirational accounts of the personal leadership journeys of our elected representatives, Including the Hon Jacinta Allan, The Hon. Peter Crisp MP and the Hon Peter Walsh MP.  Peter Walsh who was on the inaugural Board of the LMCLP also generously hosted the group for lunch.  “I realised that I can make a difference to even major issues by working in my own patch at grass roots levels, but reaching out to higher levels of government if necessary to make myself heard. The sessions we had over the three days gave me some effective tools to be able to do this,” said retired Pilot Peter Lilly from Bendigo.