In the dying days of the scandal-plagued federal government, dissatisfied voters are seeking alternatives to the two major parties.
The Greens, independents and several other parties, including Socialist Alliance (SA), are fielding record numbers of candidates. Sam Wainwright, a former wharfie and Fremantle City Councillor and now a disability support worker, is SA’s candidate for the seat of Fremantle in Western Australia.
In a state that is notorious for over policing and incarceration of First Nations communities, Wainwright told told Green Left he is proud to have supported Fremantle’s contribution to the debate around January 26. Fremantle City Council decided to cancel the ratepayer-funded fireworks in 2017 and find a culturally sensitive alternative: it sparked a long overdue national conversation.
Wainwright said it opened a discussion about January 26, highlighting how modern Australia was founded on violence and dispossession. Finding more appropriate ways to mark January 26 is the least we can do, he said. “It’s time for us to become a republic based on a treaty with Indigenous Australians, with a Bill of Rights and a Constitution that enshrines the protection of nature.”
Wainwright is passionate about sustainable transport and helped found the Fremantle Bicycle User Group and Fremantle Road to Rail campaign. He said a lack of funding for sustainable public transport is both a failure of leadership and a betrayal of the community.
“Neither the federal or WA governments have serious plans for expanding public transport anywhere south of the river or west of the Kwinana Freeway,” he said. “Labor and Liberal have poured hundreds of millions into a freeway expansion, which only makes congestion worse.”
When the rest of the world is fast-tracking renewables and investing in carbon-neutral transport systems “it’s time for us also to break away from freeway madness and invest in liveable cities”.
Wainwright is critical of the McGowan government’s decision to spend billions on a port intended for long-term private lease. He said the project is based on unsustainable and unrealistic container traffic projections and fails to address the city’s urgent public transport needs. “We need funding for both Fremantle to Murdoch light rail and transit connecting Fremantle to Cockburn Central.”
It’s a common story: mega-buck taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects, brokered by ministers and gleefully announced by premiers, with the public way down the list of priorities. When it comes to government infrastructure contracts, “end user” and “primary beneficiary” are not necessarily the same thing.
Wainwright said that growing wealth inequality will be the Morrison government’s terrible legacy: “Have you ever wondered why, despite all the advances in labour-saving technologies, people are working harder than ever and have less time for themselves and their families?”
He pointed out that wages have stagnated while corporate profits have grown exponentially, and billionaires have made enormous profits during the pandemic.
“It’s time to stop this rampant inequality. SA’s policy framework includes an immediate rise in the minimum wage to $25 per hour and a restoration of penalty rates.”
The over-worked and underpaid workforce needs to be reformed. “We’re campaigning for a 30-hour week with no loss in pay from the reduced hours.”
SA wants work shared in a way that maintains productivity, but allows workers time for their families and communities. “It’s time workers got the benefit of new technology as well, instead of bosses and corporations using it solely to increase profits.”
Wainwright said the economic and political system fails to support people to live with dignity and is incapable of co-existing with the natural environment.
Even Forbes Magazine acknowledged, as mangled as the market is from COVID-19 and other global market contagions, “the greatest issue facing humanity is certainly climate change”.
Wainwright agrees: “It’s not enough just to kick Morrison and his ‘can-do capitalism’ government out. Ultimately, we will have to restructure the economy to serve our social and ecological well-being, not only commercial outfits.”
Wainwright knows this will require a daunting number of big-ticket changes as well as a complete rethink about how we live and work. SA believes a cornerstone of this must be to return privatised essential service monopolies back into public hands.
“[The required changes] cannot be achieved without strategically bringing significant sections of the economy back into public ownership — as difficult as that will be.”
Once these were notional objectives of Labor, but that party has “long since buried” any real aspirations to see at least some key monopoly assets, such as telecommunications, brought back into public ownership.
“Only SA is arguing that the corporatisation and privatisation of key national assets was a big mistake and also very damaging to democracy in the longer term.”
Wainwright knows all big things start with small changes. In this election, a vote for SA will be “signaling your support for helping to build the grassroots movements for change — the only force capable of getting what we need.”
It may be a big ask, but 2022 is one very big election year.