Geelong socialist councillor says councils must invest in communities, do more for the disadvantaged

March 11, 2024
Attendees Councillot Sarah Hathway (centre) at the IWD event on March 8. Photo: Refugee Women Action for Visa Equality/Facebook

Geelong City Council councillor Sarah Hathway told a Geelong Women Unionists Network International Women’s Day (IWD) event on March 8 that the cost-of-living crisis means councils need to play a bigger role to help communities.

Hathway said the “most important” thing local council can do is to invest in the community and services including aged care, maternal child health, leisure and recreation, youth services, libraries, parks and playgrounds.

“Council should be creating secure, well paid, good jobs in safe working environments.”

She said while her council aspires to be high performing “we need high performing staff and that requires good pay and conditions, security of employment and safe working environments”. 

Addressing the theme “Inspire, Inclusion”, Hathway said she supported the government’s target of equal representation in local government by 2025, but added that Geelong is lagging behind.

Four of the 11 councillors (36%) in Geelong City Council are women. Women make up 66% of the council’s workforce are and 65% of management and senior management positions, she said.

While numbers are important, Hathway said that just having more women representatives was “not a silver bullet”. Ultimately it depends on the person’s politics: “Who will they represent? And, more importantly, what will they do?” 

Hathway also reflected on misogynist and ageism, saying she has had to weather a culture of misogyny, including “constant undermining”, being “talked down to” and “passive aggressive nonsense”.

She criticised the culture where it is deemed acceptable to comment on a women’s physical appearance.

Hathway said she was concerned about the rising number of women who are being forced to access welfare, food and other necessities.

Driven by domestic violence, mental health and the escalating cost of living crisis, that number has risen by 50% this financial year, she said, compared to last year. and “women over the age of 40 are the cohort that most needs food relief”.

Hathway said the Lazarus Community Centre had also reported a rise in young women under 25 seeking supports and there has been a rise in women with children needing food vouchers.

Hathway said more than 56,000 women and girls across Victoria approached homelessness services for support over 2022-23, according to Council to Homeless Persons.

“Family violence was the main reason for this, but evictions and the lack of affordable housing are other key reasons.”

What can council do, Hathway asked, given it doesn’t directly fund a lot of these services and, in her council, redundancies from the Community Life sector had made the problem worse?

“We need more politically progressive women on council, who are prepared to campaign with the community to make a difference,” she said.

Hathway ended her speech with a reminder of the political significance of International Working Women’s Day.

“It’s important we recognise the impact of war and conflict on women and children, particularly those in Gaza. We know that war, conflict and, in the case of Palestine, outright genocide disproportionately impact women and children.”

Hathway said the women who inspire her every day to “keep up the fight” are the “socialist women, the anarchist women, the community activists, my sisters in the union movement and the women I’m working with in the Northern suburbs, to reactivate our public spaces and build community”.

“Thank you for being in the trenches with me, over the many years at every rally, for every issue that matters.

“Thank-you for your unwavering solidarity with all marginalised groups.

“Thank-you for teaching me how to organise, how to hold onto hope and optimism that we can, and will, achieve a more equitable society.”

Hathway concluded: “We don’t just want bread and roses: we want the whole damn bakery and florist too.”

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.