Canberra gripped by social crisis

January 28, 1998

By Russell Pickering

CANBERRA — As the February 21 ACT election approaches, there is a real possibility that another minority government will be elected. A recent independent poll has found that minor parties and independents will do well, and that almost 36% of voters remain undecided.

A Democratic Socialist candidate for Molonglo, Sue Bull, told Green Left Weekly this finding was not surprising. "Given the record of the current Liberal government, which has further enriched the wealthy while attacking the public sector, given us record unemployment and the highest youth unemployment in the country, combined with the memory of Labor's abysmal record in power, is it any wonder people are looking for an alternative?"

The ACT youth unemployment rate of 43% gives a clear picture of the social crisis that has gripped the national capital as a result of the policies of successive local and federal governments. A recent ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) document has detailed the effects of massive job losses forced on the ACT by local and federal cutbacks.

ACTCOSS reports an increase in demand for welfare services, as a result of the downturn of the ACT economy, while there is a reduction in federal funding of services. As a result, "service provision is being tipped in favour of crisis intervention and away from prevention".

In the area of family support, for example, all five agencies reported an increased demand for services. The Belconnen Community Service reported total contact with "clients" rising 74% last financial year from the previous year. Agencies also noted "increased violence in families and more people with mental problems".

Emergency relief services reported a marked increase in demand. Youth Pathways reported that requests for financial assistance were up by more than 300% percent last year and the Smith Family assisted 29% more people last financial year. The report noted the "emergence of the 'working poor'", and increases in drug-affected clients, older men with families being sacked and young mothers with children seeking support. Smaller agencies reported having to turn people away and larger ones having to rely more heavily on public donations as budgets are exhausted more quickly.

Demand for emergency accommodation for women escaping domestic violence has increased. Nursing hostels are becoming increasingly expensive and revised government policy has led to the early discharge of patients from hospital. Changes to Commonwealth aged care arrangements are forcing more people to stay at home and seek financial assistance. ACTCOSS concludes that "more people [will] miss out on services in the future if extra resources are not provided".

The growing social crisis in the ACT is a direct result of the economic rationalist policies of both the Labor and Liberal parties, Bull told Green Left. "The Democratic Socialists oppose the profits before people policies of the major parties. All supporters of social justice can join with us to help throw the Liberals out. With 10 parties and numerous independents contesting these elections, a united progressive vote is essential if we are to stop the attacks on working


Bull added that such opposition needs to go beyond putting forward electoral alternatives if the attacks are to be stopped. "Through community based campaigns which raise their own demands and involve many more people in political action, we can build a movement for progressive change which can defend our economic and democratic rights far more effectively than any ballot box", she said.

The Democratic Socialist election campaign can be contacted at (02) 6247 2424. 55D>

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