Residents seek justice following ‘Pattern of Negligence’

It’s been four months since 200 residents of Fitzroy’s Atherton Gardens, a housing estate located at 125 Napier Street, were forced to flee their beds in the early hours of March 29 when the sixth floor of the high-rise housing estate was set ablaze.

Now residents are seeking justice for a catastrophe that they say could have been avoided and are seeking legal advice in an attempt to resolve issues with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Following the fire, the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) released a report damning the Fitzroy Housing Office, citing a lack of duty of care and mentioning several faults. These included a lack of smoke alarms and sprinklers and the build-up of combustible items – like a mattress that started the blaze, that had lain for weeks on the building’s sixth floor, despite residents’ complaints.

The Fitzroy Housing Office has announced they will be accepting all of the MFB’s recommendations, and Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing Martin Foley has announced the changes will be applied to all 44 public estates across Melbourne.

But according to one resident, the fire is just one in a series of incidents that Minister Foley and the Department of Health and Human Services, of which Fitzroy Housing Office are a branch of, have to answer for.

Ranko Cosic has been a resident of Atherton Gardens since 2001, and is fed up with what he describes as a “pattern of negligence” on the part of the DHHS and the Fitzroy Office of Housing.

He says that in the 16 years he has lived in the building, there have been no fire drills or inspections to ensure all smoke alarms were in working order, but he says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A terrorist threat, rampant drug use in common areas and instances where the DHHS had taken nine months to address complaints regarding unstable or unsafe tenants are just some of the issues Mr Cosic has brought to the attention of the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office. His appeals went as far as the Premier himself, but he says his complaints fell upon deaf ears, and that the neglect goes further than just the Fitzroy Housing Office landing at the doorstep of Minister Foley himself.

“Since his election, the Minister did not come to our estate until the day of the fire,” Mr Cosic says of Minister Foley, who he believes to be uninterested in his position as housing Minister and unwilling to police the performance of his subordinates.

“Everything rots from the top; it starts at the head and transfers through the whole body. I have reported very serious matters to Minister Foley and it all gets ignored,” Mr Cosic says.


Ranko Cosic says the first time Minister Foley visited Atherton’s residents was when they took refuge in the Town Hall following the March 29 fire. Photo: Ranko Cosic

He also recalls personal experiences of harassment and attempted character assassination at the hands of the department, which he feels came about in an attempt to silence his efforts to improve living conditions for himself and fellow residents.

Mr Cosic remains defiant however, declaring he’s “not going to lay down”.

Fed up, Mr Cosic reached out to Yarra City Councillor Stephen Jolly, whom he describes as an ‘integral part’ of the legal battle: “I’m fortunate Steve is there, because who else would fight? I haven’t seen anyone else.”

Like Mr Cosic, Cr Jolly is tired of the pattern of neglect shown by the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office, who he says have ignored their residents for years, “and it’s taken a fire and media publicity [and the] threat of legal action for them to do anything”.

While Mr Cosic rallied 30 fellow Atherton residents, Cr Jolly recruited key stakeholders and legal counsel.

He hopes the class action will lead to changes within the department, whose behaviour he labels “dangerously incompetent.”

“It’s outrageous the way the residents are treated … the only time the Department is efficient is when you fail to meet your rent,” he says.

Residents of 125 Napier St are seeking a formal inquest of the fire, along with achieving a successful means of communicating their issues with the Department and working towards having these issues addressed.

Mr Cosic admits his hopes for the outcome of the legal proceedings are “lofty” and go beyond monetary compensation. He says he would like to see the Fitzroy Housing Office “purged”, and Minister Foley, whom he describes as “inept” removed from his position and replaced with “a minister who does care about private housing, who will go to the estate”.

Cr Jolly agrees with Mr Cosic, saying of Minister Foley, “I think he needs to go”.

Mr Cosic says for him, it’s not about the money, but social justice, and with the aid of Cr  Jolly, he will continue to fight his cause until he sees justice done.

Written by Alice Wilson 

Subsidised solar anyone?

Residents Yarra wide will soon have access to subsidised solar panels through the Yarra Energy Foundation’s ‘Solar Bulk Buy’ program.

The program’s expansion comes after a successful trial in the neighbouring suburb of Richmond where there were more than 300 expressions of interest and solar capacity within the suburb increased by 10-12%.

The bulk buy gives residents access to market leading rates by aggregating suburbs of people and making a single discounted bulk purchase.

Yarra Energy Foundation acting chief executive Dean Kline said the program’s expansion will make solar power more accessible and affordable.

“The solar bulk buy, planned for early 2018, will give all Yarra residents the opportunity to purchase high quality solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for their homes or businesses at market leading rates.”

“This is the best option for homeowner’s eager to invest in solar power. The program’s scope means that we are able to demand quality materials with bulk purchase discounts.”

“This process makes it easy for households to make the move towards solar power because we organise everything from finding quality manufacturers, to overseeing installation and even project managing if required,” Mr. Kline said.

Solar powered panels installed as part of the program are predicted to have paid for themselves after five to eight years and PV systems are guaranteed for at least 25 years.

Saint Marys House of Welcome in Fitzroy received an eight kilowatt (Kw) solar PV system last September and business manager Kathy Hogarty said the donation makes a huge difference to their bottom line.

“Our services like hot showers, a warm place to relax and freshly prepared meals demand considerable electricity use and the solar panels save us about 10 to 12% on our monthly electricity bill.”

Solar piping can be used to heat water without gas or electricity. Photo: Joseph Regan

“That equates to around $2500 a year, which is enough money for us to provide meals to the homeless for a month.”

“The installation itself was quite seamless and a sideline to that it brought a level of awareness both to our organisation and the community at large where by people consciously thought about their own energy use,” Mrs. Hogarty said.

Doctor Jacek Jasieniak Monash university’s director of Energy Materials & Systems Institute said solar power is the most viable renewable energy option for those living in metropolitan areas.

“About 16% of Victorian households have solar power, which equates to about 400,000 homes. It’s a popular renewable energy option for metropolitan households because it is among the cheapest available and only limited by roof direction and size.”

“The average household uses between 20 – 25 kWh per day. To produce enough solar power to meet these energy demands a household would need 17 – 21 high powered panels at the minimum.”

“While it is unlikely that typical metropolitan houses will be able to go off grid, there is no impediment for local generation on a smaller scale that is used, passed back to the grid, or stored in a local energy storage system,” Dr. Jasieniak said.

Registrations for the Yarra Energy Foundation’s solar bulk buy are expected to open early 2018, for more information click here.

Written by Joseph Regan

Recognising 100 years of Maternal and Child Health services through art

This month a series of art murals are being installed around the City of Yarra in celebration of 100 years of Maternal and Child Health services.

Yarra City Arts and the Maternal and Child Health Service of the City of Yarra have partnered up to develop an Art Trail, featuring a series of pop-up artworks installed around the Yarra at different Maternal and Child Health (MCH) centres, from June 30.

Commissioned by the Yarra City Council, the purpose of the Art Trail is to acknowledge and celebrate the history of MCH services and the importance of the centres to local communities. The Art Trail is a part of the project #100MCH, which is currently being curated by experienced historian Cassie May.

The centenary is being celebrated through art because, “Art communicates to everyone, [and shows] how important the service is, and how it started 100 years ago [but] is still relevant today,” said curator, Cassie May.

Kitty Owens, All Hail Sister Muriel Peck, 2017, vinyl print at Princess Hill Maternal and Child Health Centre.Photo: Yarra Arts

Working alongside Cassie May, to create the Art Trail, are artists Kitty Owens and Lizzie Dennis.

Both Kitty Owens and Lizzie Dennis were brought onto the project because of their personal experience with the MCH services and their ability to empathise with families and new mothers using the MCH services.

“I knew that they could feel [and] express and funnel [their emotions and empathy] into a single piece of content, [and] it’s delightful to see that they enjoy their work,” said Cassie.

The Art Trail takes the public on a tour of the sites located in the Yarra where MCH services were initially set up and still exist today. Each site tells a different story through the painted or paste-up art pieces.

“We draw the public’s attention to those spaces in a new way.  Not only is some of the history of the sites exposed, through Kitty Owen’s historical paste-ups (Love Them Back) for instance, but the sites are also reinvigorated,” said artist Lizzie Dennis.

“[The] contemporary painting of simple line work (located at the MCH centre, South Richmond) may not be seen at first glance, but hopefully the discovery of the imagery provides a happy moment of reflection and perhaps even memory back to those crawling, feeding, playing and reading moments, and in turn the appreciation for the amazing maternal and child health services we are lucky to have,” she said.

Kitty Owens, All Hail the Campaigners. Photo: Yarra Arts

The Maternal and Child Health Service of today is an invaluable resource for families with children from birth to school age. It not only promotes healthy outcomes but provides free practical support and advice.

The purpose of the service is to reduce the high death rate of babies in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne, providing free practical advice to mothers and families regarding nutrition, breastfeeding, hygienic preparation of milk, and mothercraft, according to the Yarra City Art website.

“The value of the MCH service and the need to acknowledge those that established the service and continue to provide the service today [is important].  As a mother of one and [with] one on the way, I have directly experienced the help and assistance that the Maternal and Child Health Care services provide, and understand the necessity for such services,” said Lizzie Dennis.

The 10 buildings that will be included as part of the Art Trail are:

-Abbotsford/Collingwood Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Alphington Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Connie Benn Centre

-Princes Hill Maternal and Child Health Centre

-North Fitzroy Maternal and Child Health Centre

-North Richmond Maternal and Child Health Centre

-South Richmond Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Gold Street Children’s Centre

-Baby Health Centre

You can follow the project on Instagram @YarraCityArts #100MCH to track the artworks at each location.

Written by Zathia Bazeer

New Laws Leave Cyclists Flat

New road rules are set to redefine Victorian arterials for both cyclists and motorists from the 1st of July.

The laws give riders access to all bus lanes across Victoria unless otherwise signed and include $476 on the spot fines for cyclists caught using their phone.

These changes bring cyclists into line with all other road users and are designed to streamline the prosecution process with police issuing on the spot fines, rather than charging riders through the expensive and time-consuming court process.

Changes to the bus lanes come following a five year trial on two of the Yarra’s busiest arterials, Hoddle Street and Johnston Street. The trials found that allowing cyclists bus lane access increased rider safety and reduced traffic congestion.

Acting Minister for Roads and Road Safety John Eren says that the new legislation will make Victorian roads quicker, and easier for everyone.

“Safety is our top priority – that’s why we’re investing in separated cycling paths and updating the road rules to move riders away from high volume traffic lanes.”

“These are common sense changes aimed at keeping people safe on our roads,” Mr. Eren said.

However, Val Nagle from the Yarra Bicycle Users Group believes that giving cyclists access to bus lane’s is only a start and much more should be done to improve rider safety.

“These changes are window dressing, cars going down these roads are travelling at 60 kms an hour and any cyclist who has any awareness of their own safety doesn’t ride down a road with a bus lane in it,” Mr. Nagle said.

Bus/Bike lane on Hoddle Street. Photo: Joseph Regan

“Personally, the only bus lane I use is the one on Johnson Street and that’s spooky enough as it is, there’s so many bikes and cars moving in an out, particularly between Smith Street and Hoddle Street, that it’s just too tight.”

“No cyclist likes using bus lanes, its dangerous but it’s the lesser of two evils, it’s like the choice between Stalin and Brezhnev.”

The new on the spot fines have also caught the ire of cyclists with many feeling the new law is unnecessary.

“I can understand the argument that there should be one sort of penalty for everyone operating a vehicle on the roads, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one person out on their bike having a text.”

“This is not a real issue for cyclists, it’s just a law for laws sake,” Mr. Nagle said.

Distracted road users are a danger to themselves and others. Photo: Joseph Regan.

However, Chief Scientist – Human Factors from the Australian Road Research Board Professor Michael Regan believes that any legislation that encourages people not to use their phones while commuting will reduce road trauma.

“In terms of crash risk, the latest studies suggest that if you talk on the mobile phone while driving you increase your risk of having a crash by two times. If you are texting on a phone your risk is roughly multiplied by seven.”

“Using a mobile device while riding takes your eyes off the road, mind off the road and hands off the road, so I would say that in many ways using a mobile phone while riding a bicycle is more dangerous than in a vehicle,” Prof. Regan said.

A full list and further details on the new laws are available on the VicRoads website.

Written by Joseph Regan

Family Violence in Yarra

Yarra families that are victims of violence are lacking places of refuge and support, according to an online advocacy group run by the Socialist Party.

The Facebook group, We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub was created in December last year after the council released a statement on its website in the same month citing a 24.5 per cent spike in family violence reports over the previous year in the City of Yarra alone. This statistic was derived from the Crime Statistics Agency Victoria earlier this year.

The report was even more alarming because the average increase in family violence reports across Victoria was 10 per cent. The group was one of the key drivers of the investigation run by the Royal Commission which released a report in December last year stating five safety hubs will be built across Victoria, with just one of those five to be built in Melbourne.

Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, a key member and spokesperson of We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub said they lost the battle when trying to turn the council-owned property at 152a Hoddle Street into a domestic violence refuge and resource centre. Cr Jolly said that the decision was a “slap in the face” to survivors of domestic and family violence in the area.

He also said that there is a possibility that the council will use the property, located opposite the Collingwood Town Hall,  for units and other housing development. Jolly said that the Yarra council’s main concern is money, but assures the public that he will “keep banging away” in tune with the new budget due to be released in August.

Annie Douglas from Women’s Health in the North (WHIN), a council-funded organisation and full member of Domestic Violence Victoria told the Yarra Reporter that she didn’t know about the refuge centre issue, but the increase in family violence reports isn’t necessarily negative as it may demonstrate that the ongoing funding and support of the Yarra Council is helping survivors of family violence be more confident in seeking help.

“It’s really hard to say what has caused the increase. Generally, it can be attributed to increased confidence in the system, an increase in media attention and public understanding that [family violence] is not a ‘private matter’. It is simply not acceptable.” Douglas said.

Douglas, who is the health promotion officer focused on prevention against violence and gender equity, said that WHIN developed a Building a Respectful Community strategy, for 2017 – 2021.The strategy, supported by the state government and backed by a further 26 organisations was released last Friday, and aims to help combat violence using a strategic partner approach with its supporters, Douglas said.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is providing core funding for the strategy, that many major organisations in the City of Yarra and others in the north-metro region are supporting. Cr Jolly said that any strategy or resources are a step in the right direction, but reiterated that he still hasn’t given up the fight to fund more places of refuge.

Fitzroy library showed its support of WHIN’s strategy by facilitating a talk by Fitzroy Legal Service on Wednesday, July 12 in an attempt to educate the public on their rights when faced with family violence. The talk was part of  Know Your Rights, a series of regular sessions held at libraries accross the Yarra, presenting legal information for communtiy members. 

Fitzroy Legal’s community development officer, Jennifer Ward, said that having better access to information surrounding survivors’ rights empowers them to make better choices.

Ward said the main aim of the talk was to target vulnerable people who may not already have access to services.

The City of Yarra is “diverse and full of new migrants,” said Ward, and this is why the service is committed to providing good quality legal information to those who may not have the tools to know their rights and options.

Cr Jolly said that 152a Hoddle Street is continuing to be discussed as becoming a potential safe hub.

Written by Caitlin Matticoli

Emerging Melbourne artists are coming together for a 10 day cultural festival in the Yarra

This month a collection of refugee and culturally diverse artists and performers are coming together for the annual Emerge in Yarra festival.

Thanks to Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV), as part of the Community Cultural Development (CCD) program for “culturally and linguistically diverse emerging and refugee artists and communities in Victoria” a plethora of cultural talents will be showcased in the City of Yarra.

This year’s Emerge in Yarra festival will present 10 events over 10 days and will include a delicious array of cultural food, amazing performances, and enriching cultural experiences; expect language lessons along with innovative musical experiences. There really is something for everyone.

Event organiser Frejya MacFarlane has experienced the enriching culture surrounding Emerge. Having been involved in several MAV events over the past couple of years, she expresses the importance of hosting events like Emerge in Yarra festival.

“It’s all about developing relationships with emerging refugee communities and giving them a platform to be more involved in the arts and developing programs,” she said.

Emerge artists and performers hail from all walks of life, each with a story to share with their Yarra community. Neda Rahmani is a seasoned professional performer and has been involved with MAV since around 1999.

This year Neda is heading up her favourite festival session: Cookin’ up Community, held at the Collingwood Community Kitchen on Tuesday, July 4, at 7.30 pm. Cookin’ up Community unites a cultural cooking experience with music, songs, and stories from distant homelands.

In a collaboration like no other, the Cookin’ up Community session will blend the Iran/Persian culinary roots of  Neda Rahmani with Saba Alemayoh’s East African cuisine, to represent the unique meals passed down from their mothers.

“My cuisine is a great mélange of different flavours and I can’t wait to see what happens when we put each other’s dishes side by side,” Neda said.

“We all have to eat. We all share that human need to nourish and I think people are interested in learning something new and witnessing something new,” she said.

This year’s Emerge in Yarra festival is bringing about the importance of welcoming and learning about new cultures that live right around us.

Art by I-Yen (Molly). Photo: Emerge.

Molly Chen, a new visual artist on the Emerge scene is particularly excited to showcase her collaboration with Yumemi Hiraki at The Ownership Project in Fitzroy. Their exhibit will showcase spatial installations in a “home setting” and elevate the discussion of history surrounding their blend of Taiwanese (Molly) and Japanese (Yumemi) backgrounds.

“It’s a very storytelling exhibition and I expect everyone to come and find it very playful, funny and delightful, but at the same time have a strong feeling surrounding discussion about the trauma and the history in our show,” Miss Chen said.

With a medium cultivated by the artists and their cultural values, Emerge in Yarra will be the ultimate cultural experience for 2017. The 10-day festival will bring forth stories of courage, and events that serve a strong purpose in bringing the community together.

For a full list of programs occurring in Emerge in Yarra 2017, click here.

Written by Grace Evans 


Faces of Yarra

Anchana Muangil, Richmond

“I live in Richmond and my favorite and most visited place is Victoria street. The street with all its ‘Saigon lights’ signs in different Asian languages, busy market stalls, oriental cafes and restaurants remind me of my home in Thailand. There are also a lot of beauty salons where you can do your nails or hair for a very reasonable price. Moreover, the food choice is extremely diverse. For a chef it is [the] perfect place for food experiences and inspiration for creating new dishes. I like that Richmond is not too urban and on your day off you can enjoy beautiful nature in the park.”

Photograph: Alexandra Gorbunova