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An African Lord Mayor of Melbourne ?

by  Africa Media Australia

True Colours: the Diverse Talents of Melbourne’s Next City Leaders  (by Ralph Johnstone, Wordworks).


Among the nine teams contesting this month’s Melbourne City Council elections, none can claim the rich breadth of experience – personal and professional, local and international – of the Community and Business Leadership team. As its name implies, the four-member team is a powerful testament to the boundless human and economic resources of Melbourne, and to the city’s unique potential to become a global leader in sustainable development, social equity, and technological innovation for the 21st century.


Led by the renowned community leader and environmental scientist, Dr Berhan Ahmed, the Leadership team has compiled a comprehensive agenda of infrastructure and transport improvements, business incentives, and environmental initiatives to make Melbourne a more prosperous, inclusive and progressive city. One of the team’s core strengths is its broad cultural and professional heritage – unprecedented in the council’s 170-year history – which reflects and celebrates the limitless possibilities of one of the world’s most diverse and dynamic cities.





After more than two decades as a spokesman and advocate for Melbourne’s multicultural expansion, Dr Berhan Ahmed is known across the city as a staunch defender of its most marginalised migrant communities. But as well as being an eloquent voice for the city’s silent minorities, Berhan has proven a master of diplomacy and discretion, building close relationships and alliances with some of Victoria’s most senior politicians, policemen, journalists and businesspeople, which have enabled him to effect real change for many of the city’s most neglected communities. It’s no surprise that this calm and compassionate man has compiled the most hard-working and straight-talking team on the council ballot.


Berhan’s selfless work for Melbourne’s migrant communities was recognised in 2009 with the award of Victorian Australian of the Year. He remains a passionate and proactive community leader, heading up the Eritrean Community in Australia and the African Think Tank advocacy groups, and regularly advising the federal government on issues of migrant education and asylum seeker policy. He also sits on the boards of AMES, the Victorian Government’s settlement services program, and the Australia-Africa Universities Network, and has received multiple awards for his charity work and mentoring of young refugees.


Berhan left his native Eritrea at the age of 15 and arrived as a refugee in Melbourne in 1987, working as a taxi driver and tram conductor before studying his way to a PhD in Forestry at the University of Melbourne. Today, he is one of Australia’s foremost experts in timber protection, through his work as a Senior Research Fellow at the University’s Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science, and has published more than 75 papers in international scientific journals. His unique conservation credentials give Berhan the knowledge and commitment to drive a more cohesive response by the city council to climate change – from solar-fuelled streetlights and tree planting, to global best practice for energy-efficient green building.





Sunny Lu is a prominent inner city estate agent, whose passion and commitment to the holistic long-term development of Melbourne are widely known among the city’s real estate community. Like many farsighted professionals, Sunny believes that overseas investment – particularly from China – holds a key to Melbourne’s future development, which she believes should include ‘smart’ automated multistorey carparks like those in China and Europe, and more sophisticated retail and office developments. “More iconic world-class developments would naturally help us attract attention from overseas investors, students and others who could enrich our city’s future,” she says.


Sunny arrived in Melbourne as a business student in 2002. After completing an MBA at La Trobe University and two years as an estate agent’s representative, she co-founded the successful residential agency, Professionals City Residential, in 2006. Alongside her busy real estate business, Sunny is an active committee member of the Australia China Business Council, a regular volunteer and sponsor of community events, and an active fundraiser for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.


Sunny’s expertise in real estate and infrastructure makes her a passionate advocate for Melbourne’s “space-saving expansion” through the development of vertical carparks and underground retail spaces, tougher inner-city traffic management, and subsidised public transport in the CBD, including a regular minibus shuttle service. She is also an outspoken advocate for Melbourne’s Chinese community, supporting the redevelopment of China Town and concession cards for overseas students, and for greater public inputs to council decisions – particularly through social media and other online channels.





Melbourne’s position as one of the world’s great centres of learning will be boosted by the team’s first candidate for councillor, Azeezur Rahaman. Azeezur – or Zubair, as he’s affectionately known – has become one of the city’s most successful providers of vocational training, building his Southern Cross Education Institute into a thriving network spanning three states, employing 130 people, and giving more than 2,000 graduates each year the springboard to a new career.


Zubair arrived in Melbourne in 2000 with a mechanical engineering degree from Hyderabad, and followed this up with a Masters in IT at Swinburne University of Technology – paid for by working nights at a petrol station. In 2004, he started a small IT training company, and three years later opened the Southern Cross Institute in Melbourne’s Queens Street. Zubair’s commitment to accessible quality education saw the institute’s offerings grow quickly to 25 courses, providing local and international students with practical training in everything from hospitality to aged care, computing to mechanics – delivered to groups in the convenience of their own communities.


Like his business, Zubair is committed to providing quality social services to residents in their own neighbourhoods. He is particularly focused on the needs of poorer inner city communities that have often been neglected by previous administrations, including the provision of more efficient public transport, well-serviced medium-density public housing, free jobs-focused education for the unemployed, and more assistance for small businesses, including grants and subsidised training in online marketing, new media, and other emerging tools and technologies.





The accessible and genuinely representative nature of the Leadership team is completed by its fourth and youngest member, Leesa Fischl. A full-time student from South Yarra, Leesa has lived all her 23 years in Melbourne and knows the CBD and inner city suburbs like the back of her hand. She also understands the multiple challenges facing young people in a fast-paced and expensive global city, where jobs, housing and lifestyle opportunities often appear out of reach.


As well as her infectious enthusiasm and a dynamic work ethic, Leesa has compiled a personal ‘wish-list’ of issues she would like to address for the benefit of a more inclusive and equitable Melbourne. These include better tram access for physically challenged people, more council support for community groups and senior citizens, a comprehensive strategy to get homeless people into homes and jobs, a dedicated climate change committee within council, and more approachable platforms for public consultation – including regular ‘mini summits’ to bring issues to the attention of council and public service providers.





The Leadership team has one of Melbourne’s most experienced and capable pairs of hands guiding it through the final days of the election process. Bill Tehan has been actively involved in community projects across the city’s western suburbs for the past four decades, including 10 years as a prominent face in local politics in the richly multicultural environs of Hobsons Bay. Bill is currently seeking re-election as a councillor at Hobsons Bay City Council, where he has been an elected representative for the past four years, including a year as Lord Mayor in 2009-10.


The father-of-three is widely known among the communities of Melbourne’s outer west, where he has been an organiser or volunteer for a huge variety of events, committees and causes. Bill believes the world’s ‘most liveable city’ also has a duty to be one of its most welcoming – and it’s a duty in which we are failing some of our newer migrant communities. “Melbourne will not be able to continue claiming to be a successful multicultural capital unless we address the pressing social challenges facing all of our communities,” he says. “As we near 2013, isn’t it time we woke up to the fact that we’re all equal, and that we need each other if we’re going to move forwards as a truly progressive and productive society?”


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