Omar Ameer, Greens candidate for Mount Coot-tha

Don’t forget to breathe ...

It was after a decade-long stint practising as an insolvency lawyer that Brisbane local Omar Ameer tuned in to his passion for the environment and let it guide a career change. Moving into what was then known as the Environmental Protection Agency, Omar has spent the past eight years working in environmental regulation. It was his experience leading a carbon reduction action group that led to his entry into politics some years ago, as he took his commitment to climate change to his local branch of the Queensland Greens. Now the Red Hill local and dad of two is running for the seat of Mount Coot-tha in the upcoming Queensland election, so The Weekend Edition checked in to talk Brisbane highlights and the biggest myths about politicians.

What do you love about our city?
I love the way I can live five minutes from the CBD and be surrounded by greenery. I love the old timber and tin houses around Paddington, especially when I stand on the top of a hill and look down on a streetscape. I love the way it’s come of age over the last 20 years – I can remember when XXXX and VB were the only beers you could get in a pub! – but still has a laidback easiness that other cities don’t.

… and what do you think needs to change?
I’d really love to see a world-class public transport system – we could definitely do better on that score. And I’d love to see developers thinking a bit harder about new buildings – so many developments around me don’t fit in with their surroundings and are bland and uninteresting.

If you were to take a tourist on an adventure around Brisbane, what would be on the must-see list?
I’d start off with breakfast at somewhere like Sassafras in Paddington – great food and coffee, and you can sit outside and soak up the sub-tropical ambience. There are some great self-guided walking tours through the back streets around Petrie Terrace, where tourists can see Brisbane’s old workers’ cottages in all their glory. Then out to somewhere Bayside for fish and chips for lunch. New Farm and Fortitude Valley would feature, especially the art galleries. I always take people up to the top of Mount Coot-tha for a fabulous view of the city – dusk is the best time. And the day would finish off exploring some of the new places popping up in the laneways in the city.

What are you passionate about, and why?
I’m a passionate believer in hope – that although it may be a tough road, change for the better is possible. I reject cynicism and defeatism, and the idea that things will always be this way so why bother.

What do you believe is worth fighting for?
I was reflecting the other day about the society and the world that my kids will live in when they’re grown up. I’ll fight to make sure that they – and everyone else, regardless of their circumstances – have every opportunity to live safe, happy lives to their full potential, and enjoy the wonders of nature that I took for granted.

You care deeply for the environment; what’s one fact we might not know?
It’s a bit depressing, I’m afraid, but Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinction in the world by quite some distance. But we know so much more now about conserving our native wildlife that with the right political and community attitudes, we can make sure we don’t lose any more.

Where’s your favourite patch of greenery in Brisbane?
Brisbane Forest Park, just out past The Gap. It’s easy walking trails – so it’s great for the kids – and there’s a huge range of birds living there that I never see in my garden at home.

Let’s go back a bit, what were you like as a child?
I was a real bookworm! I would devour books, and still love to read when I get the time. I was also fascinated by nature, and can remember collecting fossils on bushwalks in Tasmania where we lived for several years, and catching all sorts of bugs and keeping them in shoeboxes covered with clingfilm. I am the eldest, and my siblings would probably say that I was quite bossy. Again, I maybe haven’t completely grown out of that trait!

How did you first get involved in politics?
Several years ago I was running a carbon reduction action group – we all pledged to reduce our carbon emissions by 20% over a year. By the time that wound up, the federal government had wimped out on taking action on climate change. Seeing as the government wasn’t doing anything, I felt I had a personal responsibility to keep taking action and so I got active in my local branch of the Greens.

What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learnt on your journey so far?
That change doesn’t happen by itself. Change is hard, and leading change is even harder. There are no quick fixes and no short-cuts. If you try and cut corners, you’ll never move on from the status quo – at least not in any lasting way. But I’ve also seen that change happens, which is what gives me the inspiration to keep at it!

What’s the biggest myth about politicians?
That all politicians are just in it for a cushy job with lots of perks. Though I’ve never been in Parliament, the amount of work that goes into running an election campaign is immense. And a good local MP will be working nights and weekends for their constituents.

You’re the Greens candidate for the seat of Mount-Coot in the next Queensland election, what would you hope to achieve in this role?
I really want to change the conversation. Politics doesn’t have to be about holding your nose and picking the least-worst option, and then waiting to see which promises the government will break. So many people have lost faith in politics. If I can show that there is an alternative choice, that politicians can be a voice to stand up for what’s right and that people can trust, then I’ll feel I’ve been successful.

What would you like your political legacy to be?
If, 30 years from now, the Great Barrier Reef was healthy and thriving, all Queenslanders were enjoying the fruits of an economy powered by clean, renewable energy, and politicians were trusted and respected by their communities, then I would feel that I’d left a legacy to be proud of.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever given or received?
‘Don’t forget to breathe’. When everything’s piling up and half-a-dozen things need to be done NOW, I really find just taking a minute out to stop, breathe, clear my mind and then get back into it stops my brain from exploding.

What are your essentials for happiness?
Love. If I have people around me who love me and who I love, all the rest is background noise.

What’s your personal definition of ‘success’?
To have done what needs to be done, despite myself. When I don’t let my fear or self-doubt hold me back, and I tackle a challenge that seemed out of reach, then I feel that I’ve succeeded.

Only a Brisbane local would know that …  if a jacaranda flower falls on your head, you’ll fail your exams – or at least that was the story when I was at uni!

Perk up …
Kitty and the Bean in Red Hill. I get there by walking along the banks of Ithaca Creek, which is a lovely way to start a weekend morning. Organic coffee, plus it’s kid-friendly!
Relax … My back garden, especially at this time of the year when the butterflies are out in force and everything’s green.
Dine … We recently went to Tukka in West End – there’s no other restaurant like it in Brisbane! It’s all Australian food, so crocodile, kangaroo and emu are on the menu.
Be inspired … Northey Street City Farm – it’s a thriving community garden that shows what can be done when people committed to a common cause come together to create something special.

Image courtesy of Christian Costa.


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