By Scott Warnwood
MELBOURNE — About 70 people braved a wintry Melbourne night on July 29 to hear left independent Phil Cleary's first public report since he was elected to federal parliament for the seat of Wills on April 11. He promised this would be the first of a series of regular meetings with his constituency.
Since the elections, Cleary said, many people had come to his office with problems such as unemployment, air pollution, funding cuts to the Northwest Onestop Welfare Centre (NOW) and other local issues.
He felt Labor parliamentarians were split on the issue of unemployment, and said some, such as Barry Jones, Clyde Holding and Gerry Hand, didn't agree with the government's employment strategy.
He argued that since the Wills electorate is one of the hardest hit by recession, regionally focused funding for community infrastructure is needed immediately. While the Keating government is talking about spending $1 billion nationally to create some jobs, he said, unemployment is costing taxpayers $10 to $18 billion a year in forgone revenue and social security payments.
In a paper, entitled "Regional Employment Projects — A crisis approach to unemployment in Wills", distributed at the meeting, Cleary proposed job-creation projects such as home maintenance, amenity improvements, restoration, kindergarten assistance, waste management and energy conservation.
He outlined several strategies:
- Housing. This would include restoration and recycling of existing housing as well as new housing construction on suitable sites in Brunswick, Coburg and Essendon.
- Industry. A rethink on tariffs, a "Sydney Road" fashion label to promote the local textile industry, support for small firms or cooperatives to produce speciality goods such as ethnic foods, crafts, local music collection and production, and catering and mobile food services.
- Taking advantage of the northern suburbs' ethnic mix, and location near the city, airport and education centres, to promote tourism, translation facilities and art and music ventures, as well as cooperative ventures with universities for student housing, research programs, conferences and clerical support work.
There will be further meetings to draw up a full document and plan a campaign for action on unemployment leading up to the federal budget in mid-August.