More than 500 people protested outside two libraries in Djilang on May 20 and 21 against the projected closures and cuts to services. The biggest was outside the Geelong West Library and attracted library users and supporters.
The library had been one of three targeted for closure. But in a last-minute back down, on May 19, the City of Greater Geelong Council (CoGG) and the Geelong Regional Library Corporation said no libraries would be closed.
Instead, they would delay opening a new library in the growth area of Armstrong Creek, and cut hours at most other libraries.
Angela Carr, a local activist and unionist who chaired the Geelong West rally, said the new agreement was not good enough. “We’ve decided to proceed today because we don’t accept any reduced hours,” she said. “Many members of the community access their libraries on weekends and after hours: we need these services.”
The rally responded with cries of “shame”.
The community had only just become aware that the CoGG budget has a $130 million black hole, which will result in about $82 million worth of cuts to services.
The Australian Services Union (ASU), which covers most CoGG employees, alerted the public to the impending cuts to services by organising a rally on April 26, the day council released its draft budget for public consultation.
The draft budget projects cuts to community events, sponsorships and partnerships and community grants. An estimated 19 jobs from the Community Life Directorate will be cut.
Adele Welsh, an ASU member and Geelong Women’s Unionist Network co-convenor, told Green Left the jobs being cut support and advise “some of our most vulnerable community members — older people, people experiencing family violence and homelessness … they also provide gender equity and multi-cultural services”.
Welsh said that that if the jobs go, the community will likely never get those services back.
The ASU held a well-attended community meeting at Geelong Trades Hall on May 18 to inform participants on how to make budget submissions to the CoGG. They produced a submission template and discussed how the budget was at odds with the community’s needs.
The ASU leaflet presented on the night expressed concern that CoGG “is forcing workers and services to absorb the costs of capital works cost blowouts, rather than seeking more appropriate funding measures including State and Commonwealth grants”.
Sarah Hathway, a spokesperson from Socialist Alliance, echoed the ASU’s concerns saying CoGG is wildly out of touch to cut much needed services to disadvantaged communities during a cost of living crisis.
“Norlane is now the most disadvantaged suburb in Victoria and Corio comes in at number three,” she told GL. “The council should be out there building a campaign, with other councils, calling on state and federal governments to increase local government funding. Councils should be run for the community, not for the developers.”
[The ASU has called a rally outside the CoGG meeting at City Hall to protest the draft budget on May 23 at 5.30pm.]