Julia Hocken interviewed 25-year-old Liam Flenady who is running as the Socialist Alliance candidate in the seat of Griffith, held by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
When did you first decide to become an activist and to join Socialist Alliance?
I became politically active around 2010, so not very long ago. Prior to that I had followed political issues, and like many people pricked up my ears around election time.
But I would never have imagined years down the track that I would be a committed political activist, and running in the federal elections.
The main issue that gave me a real political shake-up was climate change. The more I read about the science, the more I realised I had to do something.
Still being young, I’m keenly aware that in my lifetime I will see the severe effects of climate change. So the compulsion to act now is very strong.
Joining the Socialist Alliance was a no-brainer. My partner Hannah and I went along to a Socialist Alliance forum a few years ago about refugee rights. The speakers there not only put forward a humane perspective, but one that made sense in terms of how we need to change our political-economic system in order to get rid of racism.
What is your opinion of Kevin Rudd’s new policy relating to asylum seekers? What policy would you implement as a replacement, if it were up to you?
Rudd’s latest policy — the PNG “solution” — is a total disgrace. In 2010 he assured us that if he came back as prime minister, his government would not be “lurching to the right” on the question of asylum seekers. Well, now he’s outdone even John Howard in this racist, right-wing policy.
It is inhumane in the extreme and shirks our international responsibilities. We also have to recognise that the political establishment whips up hysteria around asylum seekers as a distraction from social and environmental problems at home.
This is a new low for the Labor Party, and I think it’s time that anyone with a conscience in that party should tear up their membership card and join a real political alternative. Such an alternative is more important than ever.
In essence, the Socialist Alliance wants to let asylum seekers land, and let them stay in Australia, process them in the communities and give them genuine support.
We also want to end the criminalisation of “people smugglers” and find ways to help safe passage for asylum seekers coming to Australia. This would cost no more money than the ridiculous policies of the mainstream parties, which have already cost billions of dollars over the past few years and caused nothing but torture and misery for refugees.
But it’s not just about a specific policy for asylum seekers. It goes broader than that. Importantly, we want to withdraw Australia’s support for the wars and genocidal regimes that are causing people to flee in the first place. It is also a matter of what kind of country we want to build.
We should see all kinds of immigration to Australia as a good thing, and welcome people coming to this country, not erect arbitrary barriers and then greet people with suspicion when they get here.
Why are you opposed to the tertiary education cuts by the federal government, in order to fund the “Gonski reform”? What is your alternative?
Look, this one is pretty straightforward. If you want to fund education, you fund education. You don’t defund education to fund education.
What is the use of putting more funding into primary and secondary schools if when these students get to university, their courses have been cut, class sizes are too big, there are not enough staff, and they are lumped with massive, crippling debt?
Education should be fully funded and free. Everyone should have access to all levels of education. The Socialist Alliance says that we don’t have to cut funding from one area of public spending, to fund another area.
What we need to do is take excess wealth from people like Gina Rinehart and put it where it is most desperately needed.
Students need to fight against these crazy cuts. It will be important to make a big noise on the national day of action against the cuts on August 20.
You have been involved in the anti-coal seam gas (CSG) movement for a while now. What exactly do you think caused the recent win for the movement in the Illawarra?
CSG mining is a massive threat to our local environments, our climate, our farmland, and our communities. It is not a green alternative and it is completely unnecessary from an economic point of view.
It is both necessary and possible to move to a 100% renewable economy within a decade. A thriving renewable energy industry would also be much better for jobs in this country. It is great to see the anti-coal seam gas movement keeping up the fight, and having some wins.
Recently, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission rejected 16 CSG wells in the Illawarra and around water catchments of Sydney. For me this is a testament to the great work that Stop CSG Illawarra in particular have been doing, and shows that if you fight hard and fight long, you can win.
Stop CSG Illawarra is a grassroots group made up of local residents and activists, and has an incredible amount of support from the community and is highly organised.
It has staged numerous 3000 people-strong rallies and has kept the pressure on the mining companies from day one.
We need groups like this all across the country, not just against CSG, but also for all sorts of environmental and social issues.
What is the main goal that you hope to achieve by campaigning in this election?
In this election, I want to take the message out there that we’ve had enough of the scapegoating of refugees, let’s take aim at the real criminals — the owners of big business and the politicians that do their bidding.
The mines and the banks in this country are ripping off their workers, destroying the environment, disempowering Aboriginal communities, generating huge amounts of wealth and hardly passing on a cent to the ordinary Australian.
We have a long fight ahead of us to create the kind of society we need. The main goal through this election campaign is to get reach out and get people engaged and involved around a radically different conception of how our society could be run.
Will you continue to run in future elections, regardless of the outcome of this one?
Sure, if that’s the right thing at the time to help push forward the movement to create a better Australia. But that’s the point — political change doesn’t come through parliament. It comes when ordinary people take power into their own hands — and it starts when people take to the streets in protest, go on strike, or educate themselves.
I see my role primarily in that more grassroots process, doing what I can to help it along.
Of course, we do need a new political force that can break the grip the mainstream parties have over our political lives, but this new political force would have to be born out of and directly connected to the campaigns happening on the ground.