Socialist Party member Anthony Main on January 11 became the second socialist elected to the City of Yarra council.
The Labor mayor for Yarra, Jane Garrett, resigned after she was elected to state parliament in November. This left a vacancy on the council, which Main has filled.
He was elected after a count back of votes tallied at the last council election.
Main told Green Left Weekly that of the nine councillors, three are Greens, two are Labor, two are right-wing independents and, now, two are socialists.
“There has been a defacto Greens-Labor coalition operating in the Council for some time,” he said.
“Historically, this was a wall-to-wall Labor council. The Greens began winning positions in 2001. They’ve taken between three, four or five councillors for the most part of this decade.
“They’ve been cooperating with the Labor Party for most of that time.
“Both parties support implementing a right-wing, neoliberal budget, which cranks up rates and which raises fees over inflation.
“A whole number of cuts have been implemented that have been supported by both these parties and right-wing independents over the course of the last seven or eight years.
“The only opposition to those right-wing budgets and those cuts has been Steven Jolly from the Socialist Party who was first elected in 2004. Every year since, we’ve opposed those right-wing budgets, and that will continue to be our position going into the future.”
“Now we have three Greens and two socialists on council. But we don’t think that the Greens want to break their cosy relationship with Labor to work more cooperatively with us.
“We’ve got major differences with the Greens but we’re more than happy to help them implement parts of their program, especially the parts that grant reform to ordinary people.
“But I think it’s highly unlikely that the Greens are going to move in that direction. Their program on paper and what they do on council is fairly different to what you hear from Greens MPs at a state and federal level.”
Main told GLW he was confident the two socialist councillors will be more effective in the council chamber.
“It means that you can move and second resolutions and you can be more bold and more proactive in putting forward a socialist alternative to the types of rotten policies that the Greens and Labor are pushing at a council level,” he said.
“But more importantly, we can expand our work in the community and our participation in community campaigns.
“We’ve had one out of nine councillors since 2004. It hasn’t been our weight of numbers on the council that has helped us to win a whole lot of reforms for the community. It’s been our method of mobilising people to effect change that has helped us push through some of those reforms.”
Main outlined the main issues the Socialist Party will focus on in Yarra.
“The issues vary across the municipality. We’ve got a lot of problems in the area, with inappropriate development.
“The Socialist Party isn’t opposed to development in general, but we are opposed to the idea of reckless big business-led development that is designed to rake in as much profit as possible without providing people with the services that are required.
“We support the idea of building more housing, building more hospitals and building more schools in the municipality. But especially when you’re building more homes, those homes need to be matched with more public transport, more services for ordinary people.
“We’ve got a push on against over-the-top development, but also in particular for more services to match those developments.
“One of the key problem areas in Yarra is childcare. There are hundreds of kids on the waiting list and we need to have a push for more childcare places in the area and that’s something we’ll be focusing on.
“There’s a whole number of other issues where council can be more effective,” Main said.
“For example, the council has a business support unit of six or seven people. This is a unit that services a very thin minority of people in Yarra, ie the employers.
We think there’s a whole lot more that the council could do, for example, making young workers more aware of their rights and giving them some assistance to make sure that they’re not being underpaid and ripped off by dodgy bosses in the municipality.
“There’s a whole number of things that we think the council can do and we’re going to push ahead with some of these types of campaigns.”
Asked what impact he thought the Socialist Party councillors could have on Victorian politics, Main said: “The view of the Socialist Party is that we’re in very uncertain economic times. Economic developments in Australia are lagging behind the rest of the world and it means that, so far, we haven’t seen the types of severe cuts in Australia that you’ve seen in the United States and Europe.
“But we think that the cuts and the austerity measures that have been introduced elsewhere are the music for the future here in Australia. We want to prepare people for that.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that the new state Liberal government will be looking to make cuts in the not-too-distant future.
“The floods are starting to have an impact. We’ve got people like [Prime Minister Julia] Gillard and [Victorian Premier Ted] Baillieu saying that cuts have to be made in order to bring the budget back into surplus in 2012/2013.
“The only way they can do that is by cutting billions of dollars in other areas. We’re predicting that will be from services that are provided to ordinary people and possibly even jobs in the public sector.
“We want to be in the front line of fighting against that in Yarra and putting forward an alternative strategy. And we think that having a few socialists in the council and having a base in the area and having a proud record of struggle, then perhaps we can provide a bit of an example of how struggles can be conducted.
“The broader point we want to make is that we’ve got a situation in Australia where the bosses have two parties and workers don’t have a mass party of their own. We look forward to the day that unions and community groups break with the Labor Party and set up a new mass workers party in Australia.
“If we can win a few small reforms and set an example of how struggle is conducted and how socialists in office should conduct themselves in one small municipality, then imagine what a new workers’ party could do with the financial resources of the union and the social weight of community groups behind them.
“We think that in a small way the Socialist Party is trying to set an example.”