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Melbourne Mayor John So
Questioned by an international audience

City Mayors invited those who participated in World Mayor 2006 to put questions to Melbourne Lord Mayor John So, winner of the 2006 World Mayor Award. From the questions received, a representative selection was forwarded to the Mayor. Below, he replies in detail, as well as with candour and thoughtfulness.

Questions & Answers
From Keith E., Melbourne
Being the first directly elected Mayor of Melbourne, do you feel that you connect more with the public because they assisted you in gaining the position you hold?

John So replies:
I feel a strong connection because I am directly responsible to them. Listening to the needs of the community is essential. I work hard at being as responsive as possible. Melburnians are passionate about their city, and more and more people are coming to stay. More than 690,000 people now live, work and visit the City of Melbourne each day – a 20 per cent increase from four years ago. And we have more residents and students, more outdoor dining and more public spaces – with no sign that we’re slowing down in the future.

From Tom H., Melbourne
  What can the City of Melbourne do to combat global warming and are you going to be supporting the push for Australia to sign the Kyoto Protocol?

John So replies: I support the push for Australia to sign the Kyoto Protocol. In 2002, I presented the Melbourne Principles of Sustainable Development at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Soon after, Mayor of Kyoto Mr Yorikne Masumoto accepted my invitation to come to Melbourne for a climate change meeting we convened with the International Council for Local Environment Initiatives.

On behalf of Mayor Masumoto, I wrote to the Prime Minister to express our position and request his support. Next February, I plan to attend the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change, which will also mark the 10th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol.
In November, we proudly welcomed former Vice President of the United States Mr Al Gore to Melbourne and sponsored free forums to promote Melbourne's strong commitment to the environment.

In 2005, I travelled to San Francisco to address over 60 mayors from around the world about Melbourne’s success in environmental sustainability, as part of the United Nations World Environment Day celebrations.
The City of Melbourne has played a leading role in greenhouse gas reduction activities since the mid-1990s. We joined the Cities for Climate Protection program in 1998 and the National Greenhouse Challenge program in 2000. The City of Melbourne is also a longstanding member of the International Council for Local Environment Initiatives.

The City of Melbourne is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the municipality to zero by 2020 and is leading the way in ensuring our future sustainability and liveability. Our aim is to end Melbourne’s contribution to global warming by 2020.           As an organisation we have reduced our greenhouse emissions by 26 per cent in the last decade. We have recently opened the United Nations award-winning green office building Council House 2 and we operate the largest urban solar power generator in the Southern Hemisphere at the Queen Victoria Market.

From Shaun H, Melbourne
Water has become one of the most pressing issues in Melbourne during the past few months. What are your plans for recycling, the re-use and sustainable allocation of water for those who live and work in the city? As Melbourne has a high concentration of apartment buildings, what steps will you put in place - beyond token gestures of water-saving showerheads - to use our most precious resource sustainably?

John So replies: The City of Melbourne is committed to water conservation and is dedicated to both short and long-term sustainable water management practices. We deliver a wide range of programs to the community including the Saving in the City program, which encourages behavioural change towards saving water.
Savings in the City is an innovative environmental program to help city hotels cut energy, water and waste consumption. The program aims to provide leadership, support, recognition and advice to over 25 major hotels in three key environmental areas: waste, energy and water.

The Holiday Inn on Flinders is just one participant of the program and earlier this year they invested $22,280 installing water saving devices in guest rooms and back-of-house.  They also installed low-flow shower heads in guest rooms, to reduce water flow from 20 litres per minute to 10 litres per minute. More than 6,000m3 (23 per cent) of water will be saved annually through these initiatives.

Through our Total Watermark Strategy, Council has successfully reduced its water use by 20 per cent since 1999/2000. Total Watermark outlines Council’s comprehensive strategy to achieve sustainable water savings over the next 20 years.
In light of Victoria’s continuing drought-like conditions Council has committed to at least another 30 per cent saving through the implementation of a Water Conservation Plan (WCP).
The City of Melbourne is fortunate to have almost 480 hectares of internationally acclaimed parks and gardens. We have approximately 50,000 trees in our streets and parks, including many that are of historical significance. The challenge for Council is to minimise our water use while keeping trees alive.

Council is leading the way in water conservation through the wetlands at Royal Park, Trin Warren Tam-boore, which treats stormwater run-off through natural biological processes so that it can be used to irrigate the Royal Park Golf Course. By the end of this year this project will be capable of producing 74 million litres of recycled water per annum for use at the golf course and adjacent sports fields.

The recently opened Council House 2 is capable of producing about 50,000 litres of recycled water per day for use outside the building, primarily for trees. The equipment is currently undergoing tests required by the Environment Protection Authority and the water should be available for use early next year.

Council is also managing the Queen Victoria Market Rainwater Harvesting Project, which is designed to capture, treat and re-use rainwater collected from the Queen Victoria Market that would normally flow as untreated stormwater into Port Phillip Bay. The harvested water will be recycled for flushing market toilets and used to wash down outdoor areas. Through this project it is expected that the market will save more than 10 megalitres of water a year – or 20 per cent of its current water needs.

As a community leader in water conservation the City of Melbourne, together with City West Water, is also continuing to investigate and push for a plan that involves treating waste water at an underground plant that could be located at the southern tip of Princes Park. The plant could produce two to seven million litres of high quality recycled water every day, which would be pumped to underground storage tanks and used to irrigate the parks, saving valuable drinking water.

From Richard G. W., Melbourne
Given the increasing popularity and respect that you now command, are you considering a future in federal politics or perhaps a vice-regal position such as governor general?

John So replies: I am happy doing what I am doing and have no plans for a future in federal politics or anything else. Of course, I am an independent and have no affiliation with any political party. My focus is Melbourne and I’m delighted with how well the city is prospering.

From Peter, Macao, China
Which of your contributions do you consider the most beneficial to the city of Melbourne?

John So replies: Whilst I believe the community is the best judge of my contributions, my vision for Melbourne includes creating closer links between the city and the water, whether that is the Yarra River or Docklands. I also focus on Melbourne’s expanding links with Asia, including sister city relationships with Osaka, Japan, and Tianjin, China, increasing the number of direct flights to and from Melbourne, and being an active member of the Business Partner City Network combining 12 global cities.

From David L., Hong Kong, China
Do you think building a stronger relationship between Melbourne and the major cities of China is important and do you think Hong Kong can help in connecting the culture between the West and the East?

John So replies: While China’s economy has grown rapidly, Melbourne has also enjoyed prosperity. We have built a vibrant retail sector, exciting waterfront entertainment precincts, and a portfolio of international sporting and cultural events.

Melbourne is home to almost one third of all international students in Australia. The global focus of our universities has established our position as one of the world’s top destinations for higher education.

In particular, Melbourne enjoys a special relationship with China, dating back to the great Goldrush. Our Chinatown is the longest continually inhabited Chinese district in the world outside of China – a living history celebrated by numerous iconic festivals.

The City of Melbourne enjoys strong cooperative agreements with Guangzhou, Foshan and Nanjing as well as links to Hong Kong and Shanghai through our membership of the Asian Business Partner City network.

Melbourne was the first Australian city to formalise a sister city partnership with China. Our 26-year long relationship with Tianjin is our most active. Indeed, last Sunday, 72 couples from Tianjin, will reaffirmed their vows during a western style mass wedding celebration at Federation Square.

Hong Kong’s Closer Economic Partner Agreement with mainland China provides the potential for Melbourne and Hong Kong to explore joint initiatives with China. Hong Kong is the fourth largest source of foreign investment into Australia, and much is focused on our city.

We enjoy strong relationships with organisations such as the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, and the City of Melbourne is a long-term supporter of the Hong Kong Australia Business Association.

Half of Cheung Kong Group's $7 billion in Australian infrastructure investments are held in Victorian companies, such as electricity distribution companies Powercor and CitiPower.

Australian Maritime Services – a joint venture of Swires and Hutchison Whampoa – has its headquarters in Melbourne, and other notable companies like Jeans West and CK Life also take advantage of all we have to offer.

We are extending our Biotechnology Business Exchange Partnering Program with Guangzhou to include other major biotech centres like Hong Kong, Beijing and Tianjin.

Melbourne is already a manufacturing base for international pharmaceutical companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Monsanto,  Bayer CropScience  and CSL .

Melbourne’s future growth will rely upon the development of expanded business and trade relations with important regional business centres such as Hong Kong.

From David, Melbourne
As the Commonwealth Games were such a success for Melbourne are there any plans for other major events for the City?

John So replies: Earlier this year we successfully hosted one of the world’s biggest sporting events, the Commonwealth Games, attracting an estimated world-wide audience of 1.5 billion. The success of this event confirmed our reputation as an established events city.

On one weekend in November, we successfully hosted G20 along with 30 other events ranging from U2 and Make Poverty History concerts, to a Polish Festival and a re-enactment of 1956 Melbourne Olympics Opening ceremony to celebrate 50 years since the games.

The events keep on coming in Melbourne. In March 2007, we will host 10 world-class events, including the FINA World Swimming Championships and the Melbourne Osaka Cup Double Handed Yacht Race, an epic 5,500 nautical mile journey.

Melbourne is the only city to host an Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and the FINA World Championships – and hopefully, one day, the World Cup. It is no wonder we are recognised as the sporting events capital of the world.

From Jen R., Park Orchards
With the world in upheaval and religion and culture being at the centre of all the problems, I believe to have a Mayor of our city with a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background is wonderful. My question to you is what are your thoughts when you hear of public places, including shops, schools etc rejecting Australian traditions because it may offend people who also have a CALD background? How would you as the Lord Mayor of Melbourne encourage people to embrace the 'Australian way'?

John So replies: Embracing diversity is the Australian way. The City of Melbourne is the home, workplace and leisure centre of one of the world's most harmonious and culturally diverse communities. Residents from more than 140 nations live side by side in Melbourne. Australia’s greatest strengths are inclusiveness, harmony and unity. I believe that the cosmopolitan, friendly community of Melbourne is a symbol of Australia at its best.

From Fiona, Barwon Heads
Which one strategy do you think matters most if the City of Melbourne is to maintain its liveability status whilst attracting an increasing number of residents?

John So replies: What we cannot ignore is that our city is growing. In the last four years, City of Melbourne residents have grown from 50,000 to 69,000 and CBD residents have grown from 8,300 to 13,300. Over the past ten years, the number of inner city residents has grown by 830 per cent.

There are more people coming to the city. At present around 690,000 people visit the CBD everyday and current projections show that within a decade this figure will grow to more than a million people.

Growth is, of course, a good problem to have but research from the Committee for Melbourne, Business Council of Australia and others shows our existing road system is reaching saturation, and that road congestion is costing our city billions every year.

There is also an environmental cost to traffic. Pollution threatens our quality of life and Melbourne’s liveability, of which we are all so proud. I have always held that one cannot expect people to give up one form of transport, such as private cars, without providing suitable, convenient alternatives.

We are working to create sustainable transport solutions that will contribute to our vision of Melbourne as a clean, green city. We will be exploring ways to improve public transport, promote walking and cycling, create more short-term parking, and expand our new free tourist shuttle service. In its first six months, almost 95,000 people have already used this service.

From Joseph B., Melbourne
Question: Melbourne Suburbs have a large population of Australian Aborigines and Islanders from all parts of Victoria and beyond. Could there be a cultural centre in Swanston Street with local and visiting indigenous bands on each weekend? And a dance festival once a year for all the Australian and Pacific Islander and Maori dancers?

John So replies: Melbourne is a city internationally recognised for the cultural events it offers. The variety of events and festivals, many of which are staged at Federation Square on Swanston Street, encourage city visitors, while also celebrating the community’s diversity and talents and increasing cultural understanding and awareness.

I am campaigning strongly for the development of an indigenous cultural project similar to the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris. I envisage a development that celebrates indigenous culture from here and across the Oceanic region. The discussions I have had with the Premier of Victoria and the New Zealand Consul General have been constructive. An ideal site would be above the Jolimont railyards, next to Federation Square.

Federation Square is symbolic because in 1901, Melbourne hosted the opening of the first federal parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, sending a poweful message of unity and inclusiveness – something that Melbourne is committed to.

From Veronica S., Melbourne
As Mayor - you have brought the city to life. You have given the city personality. If there were one world leader you would like to have in Melbourne as a guest of the city – who would it be?

John So replies: It is difficult to single out one person; however, I am excited that on 31 October 2006 Melbourne was provisionally announced as the host city for The Parliament of the World’s Religions 2009.

The Parliament is the world’s largest interfaith event, held every five years. It brings together religious leaders and faith community members for a conference and forums in inter-religious partnership. The event attracts high profile delegates such as Nelson Mandela, Kofi Anan and senior Vatican officials.

From Wu, Hong Kong
What would winning the 2006 World Mayor Award mean to you?

John So replies: It is an honour to be nominated in the 2006 World Mayor Awards. I believe the nomination is a reflection on how people feel about the famous city. Melbourne is passionate, diverse and sophisticated.

When I reflect on our achievements over the past year, I can’t help but feel great excitement for the future. All that we have accomplished over the past year has set the stage for Melbourne’s future as a thriving and sustainable city.

In a global context, it is the forward-thinking cities, like Melbourne, that will lead the world’s communities to harmony and prosperity. Melbourne confidently engages in the global economy, as Victoria’s capital city, as well as Australia’s gateway to the Asia Pacific, and as an independent hub of activity.

Melbourne Lord Mayor John So, winner of the 2006 World Mayor Award

John So
Melbourne’s longest serving Lord Mayor John So can be viewed as a positive symbol of diversity in Australian public life. Re-elected in 2004, the affection shown for So in the Victoria state capital has even manifested itself in a tribute record, possibly the first city chief to enjoy ‘cult status’. The city’s first directly elected mayor is widely accredited with the successful staging of the 2006 Commonwealth Games and his assiduous efforts to promote the city abroad. In 2006 he was the winner of the annual World Mayor project.

Though having lived in the city for most of his life, So was in fact born and raised in the south of China (in 1946), before moving to Hong Kong. In his late teens he moved to Melbourne, where he has remained ever since. During this period in the 1960s, Australian society remained governed by the ‘White Australia policy’ pursued by successive governments (as recently as 1982), with So campaigning against this while at university. So qualified as a science teacher at the University of Melbourne with a diploma in education and science degree and taught physics at school level in the city for a short time. He then pursued a successful business career in the city’s restaurant trade – Melbourne has one of the oldest Chinatown’s in the world.

As Lord Mayor, So is assumed to be the figurehead for the greater Melbourne metropolitan area of the city and its surrounding 30 councils, though he only heads the smaller city council itself. As Melbourne’s population constitutes three-quarters of the state of Victoria, most public services are carried out at state level, with local governments being mainly responsible for environmental and cultural services. The city is the most diverse in Australia and although Sydney has long held pre-eminence in business and cultural affairs, Melbourne is frequently held up as the more innovative and culturally diverse of the two. The city retains a strong manufacturing base through being the home of the country’s automotive industry and largest sea port. More