The Olympics won't benefit Sydney



The Olympics won't benefit Sydney


SYDNEY — The mass media awash with pictures of the Olympics torch winding its way around the country. There are excited countdowns of the number of "sleeps" before the Olympic Games begin. And there are endless TV specials and advertisements pushing the Olympics "spirit". Clearly, the federal Coalition and NSW Labor governments and the big business media want us to think that the Olympics coming to Sydney is a great thing.

Many people do not agree; a poll at the end of 1998 showed that, while 8% of Sydneysiders plan to attend an Olympic event, 39% plan to flee the city for the games' duration.

The fact that these are not "our" Olympics was exposed by the ticket scam. Originally, the general public had access to as few as 4% of tickets for some popular events. A-grade places were reserved for Olympic officials, VIPs, the media, national teams, corporate sponsors and "premium" ticket holders. It is now estimated that only 35% of the total tickets are available to the public (not the 52% promised), and these are for less popular events.

Meanwhile, the disadvantages are obvious: disruption of work hours, public transport and leisure time, increased aircraft noise, declining social services as resources are diverted to the games, and increased rents, repressive police powers, environmental destruction and privatisation of public space.

There is plenty of profit to be made by a few from Olympics-related development and construction, tourist spending, promotion and advertising. The massive amount of sponsorship money poured into the Olympics is not out of some philanthropic concern to promote the Olympics "spirit" but to increase corporate profits and control.

The idea that benefits will flow to ordinary people is questionable. Many of the jobs created by the Olympics will be voluntary, and disappear afterwards. The government is taking the opportunity to hassle people on the dole into taking such work.

While a massive public subsidy is being given to the Olympics, social services are being cut. The May 24 NSW budget estimated the cost of Olympics construction to be $2.4 billion. When Sydney made its bid for the games, the total cost was estimated to be $1.7 billion, with the expected revenue likely to deliver a lousy $6 million profit.

The Olympics budget has already been blown without including other costs (such as maintaining Olympics venues after the events and the extra infrastructure required to handle the Olympics). Meanwhile, housing, health, education and public transport suffer.

Since 1993, rents have increased by 40% in Sydney (only 9.6% in Melbourne). The Task Force on Affordable Housing's 1998 report showed that 94% of low-income renters were paying more than 30% of their income on rent. There are 97,000 people on the NSW housing department waiting list.

Meanwhile, homelessness is on the increase — estimated at around 40,000 in NSW. The Homeless Person Information Centre recorded a 33.9% increase in the number of people it helped between 1996-97 and 1997-98. There was no extra money provided in the state budget.

In last year's budget, the NSW government announced that it was cutting another 800 railway jobs (after cutting 24% of the work force in the last three years). Spending on public transport took a $122 million cut.

Meanwhile, fares are rising and services are being cut in the western suburbs to ensure that services for Olympics-goers take precedence. There are rumours that, during September, many services won't run at all if they do not benefit the Olympics.

There was no extra money provided in the state budget to reduce the public hospital waiting list of 51,000 people. The Department of Community Services missed out on an increase, despite having overspent its budget last year by $81 million to help those in desperate need. Education received only a 0.7% increase.

Much of the Olympics-related "development" is not benefiting the environment. There is a two-hectare toxic wasteland less than a kilometre from the games' Homebush Bay site. The waste has simply been concentrated in particular areas and covered over.

Dust from the construction of the Bankstown velodrome has been affecting local residents. Environmental and public safety concerns over the beach volleyball stadium on Bondi Beach have led to community protests.

There has already been heavy policing of anti-Olympics demonstrations. The NSW government's general "law and order" push has expanded police powers to search, move on and disperse people, and to demand identification. Police have also been equipped with more weapons — the Glock automatic 15-shot pistol, capsicum spray, metal detectors, surveillance cameras and database catalogues containing offenders' facial features and distinctive characteristics. Recent legislation has extended these powers to security guards and placed restrictions on banners, leaflets and political T-shirts near Olympic events.

The government's racist hypocrisy around the Olympics is stunning. It is pushing the idea of an Olympic "dream" that unites all Australians while at the same time it implements some of the harshest anti-refugee laws in the world and refuses to seriously address the disadvantages and oppression of Aboriginal people.

The Olympics presents an important opportunity to protest against racism and to campaign to win demands such as an end to mandatory sentencing. We encourage all Green Left Weekly readers to participate in the protests being planned for the Olympics period.

[Marina Carman is secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party's eastern suburbs branch in Sydney.]

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