Geelong Council was sacked in April last year by the Victorian state government. It was accused of being dysfunctional, having no long-term strategic plan and failing to respond to a highly-publicised report on bullying in the council.
As serious as some of these allegations were – particularly those regarding bullying – neither of us as Geelong residents felt they warranted the undemocratic sacking of a duly-elected council. Surely the people of Geelong should be the ones that make any such decision?
We were more concerned with the way successive councils have ignored the needs of the community while prioritising those of developers and big business. Countless valuable assets have been torn down or sold off to line the pockets of the already wealthy.
Geelong has an aging population and high levels of unemployment and underemployment. Areas like Norlane and Corio have unemployment rates that are almost triple the national average and one in six people across the region are either unemployed or looking for more work.
No council in the past has seen it as their place to address these issues. Everything gets hand-balled to the state or federal level.
So that is why we have decided to run for council.
We want to put the need for quality services at the forefront of our campaign. The pressure on local councils to privatise and outsource services has increased in recent years, as rate capping and cuts to state and federal funding has reduced council income.
At last count, some $1.5 million was stripped from the Geelong Council budget in the 2016-17 financial year due to rate capping alone.
This has meant that to balance its budgets, successive councils have considered outsourcing home services, selling council properties and sacking workers to reduce costs – just when many residents need these more than ever.
We do not support rate capping and the consequent rises in council charges to cover the budget shortfall. We will vehemently oppose all privatisation and outsourcing of council services.
We also want to raise concessions on rates and services for all low-income earners.
Currently, pensioners and veterans can receive a slightly more than $200 concession towards their rates in Victoria. Yet Geelong has many low-income earners whose properties are now worth a fortune and their rates are teetering close to $2000 a year in some cases.
Rate capping and concessions were meant to address these problems. Clearly they do not work: homelessness is on the rise.
Australia is facing a housing crisis. Geelong Council has owned or inherited a diverse range of housing in the past. Instead of selling these off to developers, the properties should be run by council, redeveloped and made available for those in most need.
With one in ten Australian homes currently empty, we want to see fines or higher taxes placed on landlords that refuse to put their properties on the rental market at reasonable rents.
We also want Geelong Council to prioritise sustainability and climate change. A 30-year plan was put out during the period of the administrators with some wonderful proposals.
But they will not be achieved if council does not prioritise the retention of open green spaces, emergency heat shelters and green corridors to stop overdevelopment in rural areas.
Council should also support campaigns for renewable energy subsidies, especially for low-income earners.
For all of these reasons, we think Geelong Council needs a couple of socialists to really shake things up.
[Sue Bull and Sarah Hathway are standing on the Socialist Alliance ticket for the ward of Brownbill in the Geelong Council elections. Residents will start receiving their ballot papers for the elections in the mail from October 10.]