Geelong socialist: council should protect workers' rights


Bronwyn Jennings, Geelong teacher and community campaigner, is the Socialist Alliance candidate in the Cowie ward by-election for the Geelong City Council, which is currently underway by postal vote.

Two years ago, Jennings, received more than 10% of the vote in Cowie ward.

In 2008, Jennings preferenced the incumbent, David Saunderson, a right-wing ALP candidate. Saunderson was under a cloud at the time due to corruption allegations. However, there were no Greens running and most of the other candidates were Liberal Party supporters or other conservatives.

As often happens in local politics, things started to come unstuck for Saunderson. He was charged, fined and sacked for failing to declare a conflict of interest.

Saunderson had received cash from Lascorp, a developer, for the 2004 council election and then failed to declare this when an issue involving the developer was debated by the council. The by-election is to choose his replacement.

Jennings is running on a platform that prioritises public accountability, the environment, green jobs, public housing for low income earners and free public transport.

Currently Geelong has a growing army of unemployed manufacturing workers. Jennings argues that by retooling almost empty sites like the Ford factory to produce socially useful and ecologically sustainable products, many jobs could be created.

The Geelong City Council would have a very significant role to play in such a campaign, she told Green Left Weekly.

As a teacher unionist, Jennings is interested in workplace rights. Geelong was the city where two council workers were unjustly sacked last year in what became known as the "steakgate" affair.

A large public campaign led by the Australian Services Union won those workers' jobs back. Jennings said that the Geelong Council could easily have avoided the confrontation if it had taken a more pro-worker stance.

She told GLW, "The council is an extension of the community and should set an example with workplace rights and standards. Geelong Council must not use anti-union laws to drive down wages and conditions or to harass workers."

On the issue of corruption and public accountability, Jennings said: "I'm sick of Lib/Lab councillors who put their careers ahead of the future of our community. I have no vested interests in development companies nor would I accept funds from them."

She also called for a referendum on any issue if 10% of residents call for it, plus a community consultation process that allows residents to set council planning and budget priorities.