Public housing residents from the historic inner-suburb of Millers Point rallied at Sydney Town Hall on April 7 to oppose state government plans to sell off nearly 400 public housing properties.
City of Sydney Liberal councillor Christine Forster moved a motion in support of the state government's move to evict the tenants and sell the properties. But the council voted overwhelmingly against the sale plan and instead allocated funds and resources to help the residents' campaign.
The resolution, moved by Mayor Clover Moore, called on "the NSW government to halt the proposed sale of the Millers Point social housing estate." The council approved $100,000 in funds for the Redfern Legal Centre to provide legal advice to Millers Point residents and allocated $10,000 to the Millers Point Community Defence Group.
Residents and supporters heckled Liberal councillors as they tried to amend the resolution — and clapped loudly when it was passed. Several councillors, including Greens councillor Irene Doutney, spoke strongly in support of the residents and against the sale.
Outside the Town Hall before the council meeting, tenants' representative Barney Gardner told the crowd: "If we don't stop them now, the sell-off will spread everywhere. Other inner-city suburbs like Redfern and Woolloomooloo will be next.
"There are currently 60 empty homes in Millers Point. Why doesn't the government fix them up, and move people in, rather than try to evict us. Around $40 million worth of places have already been sold in Millers Point, but no new places have been built.
"Premier Barry O'Farrell and his government just want the money from the sale of our homes. The Sirius Flats were purpose-built for residents of The Rocks, after the Builders Labourers' Green Bans saved the area in the 1970s. Now they want to kick out 80 and 90-year-old residents, with nowhere to go.
"We need to organise bigger rallies to show the people of NSW what's really going on at Millers Point. We need to get the unions to support us, just like in the 1970s.
"We're not going anywhere. We'll barricade ourselves in. We must stick together, and get stronger. We're not going to move."
Patricia Corowa, a Millers Point resident and Aboriginal elder facing eviction, told Green Left Weekly: "We were advised not to cooperate with the Specialist Relocation Officers [SROs] appointed by the Housing Department. Every time they called, I was out.
"Eventually I received a text from the SROs. I replied, 'Legal advice being sought'.
"I have a 10-year lease with the Land and Development Corporation; others have 99-year leases with the Maritime Board or NSW Housing. What are our legal rights in these cases?
"Just what is the NSW government's real agenda here? Housing minister Pru Goward says we can have choices of Redfern or Woolloomooloo to move to. But those public housing estates are under threat as well."
An April 10 Sydney Morning Herald article ostensibly criticised the sell-off at Millers Point. Titled "Cities are for everyone, the mix is crucial," it said: "Rather than wasting energy opposing the sale, they should insist on being rehoused in sophisticated, mixed-use, inner-city developments. They should demand that all moneys raised be spent, not on some vague 'housing system,' but on building these smart, new, green urban communities."
But the Millers Point public housing residents do not want to move. They want the right to stay in their existing homes, as part of a lively and sociable community, of mixed ages and backgrounds. They want Australia's oldest urban community to remain, and their right to choose their own neighbourhood to be defended.