New South Wales is weary from the neoliberal policies of successive Liberal Nationals governments, since 2011. But communities are also wondering if a future Labor government will bring the necessary changes. Rachel Evans, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Heffron, spoke to Sydney Criminal Lawyers (SCL) about her campaign.
A social justice activist, Evans has been a prominent voice in the campaigns for climate justice, police reform and for affordable, and more, public housing.
Evans believes the mounting crises expose the capitalist system and is behind the swing towards progressives shown in the federal and Victorian elections.
Why do you think the government is cracking down on the right to protest?
This started in Britain, but the United States and Canada have also introduced similar laws against courageous environmentalists taking decisive actions against governments’ pro-coal and pro-gas policies.
The NSW anti-protest laws are draconian: they are an attempt to scare people away from taking the action we need to stop runaway climate change.
We’ve got a multidimensional crisis. It is an economic crisis, as well as a cost-of-living crisis. We’ve got inflation and housing prices at record levels. People are saying they don’t like this capitalist system. They don’t think they have a future and they want something better.
Polls indicate that 50–60% of young people — millennials and Gen Z’s — prefer socialism over capitalism. That represents a crisis for our governments and their ability to rule for the billionaire class.
This is the context for the anti-protest laws. We support their repeal and a new law enshrining the right to protest.
You’ve been campaigning against the government sell-offs of public housing stock. Tell us what’s happening?
The housing crisis is extreme. In Sydney, rents have gone up between 19–23% over the past 12 months. The number of properties for rent is at an all-time low.
The government has also decided to try to sell off public housing. It wants to demolish Waterloo, two estates in Glebe, the Coffs Harbour public housing estate and one in Eveleigh.
Heffron is the electorate where a lot of the remaining public housing is — Waterloo and East Lakes — which the government wants to sell. Around 5000 to 6000 people will be evicted if their homes are demolished. They want to build high-rises that no one can afford to live in.
Another problem is the privatisation of the building regulator: new apartment blocks, including Mascot Towers, are turning out to be unsafe.
The origin of the housing crisis is the neoliberal concept that housing is not a human right. Negative gearing and capital gains tax have super-turbo charged the housing market over the last 30 years.
We have an extraordinary rate of property ownership as investment, as opposed to property ownership as a home or property ownership as a landlord with renters.
Of course, compounding this is the AirBnB market which, for places like the Blue Mountains and Byron Bay, is another reason why homelessness rates among 50 plus-year-old women, as well as young families is, so high.
Yet, 1 million properties lie empty every single night across the country. The argument that the crisis is due to a supply issue is a complete furphy.
We either need a vacancy tax or the government steps in and acquires those empty properties to accommodate the poor and vulnerable workers.
Socialist Alliance is campaigning to defend and extend public housing, and to build at least 100,000 public homes in the next five years across the state.
At the last NSW election there was a strong push for police reform, particularly strip searches and drug dogs. Is this still important?
I’ve been involved in the campaign to make strip searches illegal: they are basically sexual assaults by police officers. We need to outlaw this draconian practice.
The police strip searches have focused on music festivals, where a lot of young people hang out, as well as dance parties, where a lot of gays and queers go.
The police target young Aboriginal people. This is about traumatising vulnerable sections of the population.
Tell us about some of the other main policies Socialist Alliance is raising?
Real First Nations empowerment is critical, and we need to support communities’ organising efforts. We say the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody have to be implemented.
There has to be an end to the imprisonment of young Aboriginal people and women.
We want teachers and nurses’ pay rates increased.
We have to stop all coal and gas developments and turn to carbon sinking along with green jobs that are well-paid and secure.
We also pledge, if elected, to only take a regular worker’s wage and devote the rest to community campaigns.
[Paul Gregoire writes for Sydney Criminal Lawyers where a longer version was published.]