Shattering the status quo: Could Victoria be about to elect its first socialist MP?

Victorian Socialists’ lead candidate for the upper house Northern Metropolitan seat Stephen Jolly and Sue Bolton, who is second on the ticket.

Socialist groups and community activists of different stripes have come together under the banner of Victorian Socialists in one of the most ambitious bids in decades to get a socialist elected to state parliament.

Green Left Weekly’s Jacob Andrewartha spoke to Stephen Jolly, Victorian Socialists’ lead candidate for the upper house Northern Metropolitan seat, about this initiative.

Victorian Socialists is launching its election manifesto on August 24. What are the key issues facing communities in Victoria leading up to the election, and how are Victorian Socialists responding to them?

The main two issues we're running on are housing and transport.

We have a housing boom that's building units, but we've still got homelessness, we've still got couch surfing, we've still got people suffering from high rents and we've still got 85,000 people on the public housing waiting list.

It's housing for investors and the rich, not housing for ordinary people. We want to turn all that around.

We want to have 50,000 new homes built by the state government in the next five years. We've got that costed in our manifesto.

We want inclusionary zoning at 20% so that all new developments must have 20% low-cost housing.

We want rent caps to limit rent rises and a rent freeze for the next five years.

We are putting these forward together with some more minor changes to have housing built for people, for young people in particular, and not just for investors and the rich. 

In terms of public transport, we're moving in the direction of Los Angeles — it's just roads, roads and more roads.

Transurban are making so much money from private roads in Melbourne that they're financing their interstate projects and even US projects from this.

We need an expansion of public transport. Seventy percent of Melbourne can only be accessed by bus. That has to change.

We've got a very extensive public transport policy. 

The key aim of the campaign is to get the first socialist elected to parliament since the 1940s, but what are the other aims of the campaign?

If we get a socialist elected, that means there'll be a socialist voice in the mainstream, in the media, reaching out to millions of Victorians, millions of Australians, on the issues of the day, which doesn't happen at the moment.

All the voices today represent one or another form of neoliberalism. Or the far right.

We'll be able to use that position to help mobilise and organise the community so that they can fight back better.

The reason that there’s greater community activism in areas like Moreland and Yarra is because they've got two socialist councillors there — Sue Bolton in Moreland and me in Yarra.

We would be able to step that up to the state level if we had someone elected to state parliament. It would take socialism to a different level in this country — something that is long overdue. 

How do you respond to those who argue for supporting Labor or the Greens to not split the progressive vote?

I understand that argument but if we accepted that argument we would never do anything.

That argument goes back to the 1890's, when people were trying to set up the Labor Party. People then argued against them saying: "We've got to support the Protectionists against the Free Traders, they're the best of a bad bunch."

The fact is you will never get anywhere with that position.

There's no argument for that in this country because you've got preferential voting. So you can vote for a socialist and then put Greens or Labor or whatever you like after that.

The actual fact of the matter is that both the Greens and Labor support capitalism.

Every time they come to power, as we saw in Tasmania, when they jointly came to power in the 1990's, they have ripped into public services and trade unions.

We need a total break with neoliberal policies, even the neoliberalism of Labor and the Greens.

We fight for socialism, and we make absolutely no bones about that.

What do the Victorian Socialists offer that is different from the Greens, who are generally viewed as a progressive party?

There are two issues here.

First of all, they are socially progressive on social issues; there's no question about that. But economically, they're the party of the inner-city elite.

And when they've come to power at the state level, as junior coalition partners in Tasmania for example, or at the council level such as here in Yarra, they have sometimes been even more neoliberal than Labor in terms of cutting services and privatisation.

So if you think they're a left party, you need to do some research into their record. 

The other issue is that they say: "Vote for us and we'll solve all your problems."

We don't believe that any serious social change has come without the mobilisation of people. So whether it's throwing out the bin tax in Yarra, whether it's overthrowing Apartheid, and anything in between, we see our role as advocating for socialism and mobilising people on the ground.

It's not a question of "vote for us and we'll solve all your problems" — that's a fundamental difference between us and the Greens.