The launch of Sarah Hathway’s campaign for Windermere Ward in the Greater Geelong City Council on August 30 shone a light on inequality and disadvantage in the northern suburbs.
Hathway is running for the Socialist Alliance. The launch was attended by Socialist Alliance and Greens members, as well as local independent climate and union activists.
Angela Carr, a member of the Australian Services Union (ASU) and housing and homelessness Case Manager, spoke about the lack of affordable public housing and difficulties with community housing managed by not-for-profit organisations.
She criticised the state government for talking big and not delivering. “We hear a lot [from it] about opening up opportunities, creating more social housing, but public housing has reduced over the years and social housing is being given over to community housing providers.”
Carr said that community housing providers operate like private real estate agents: they look for tenants with higher incomes so they can charge higher rent. “They don’t want tenants with complex social issues and they will readily try to evict tenants who fall behind in rent.”
There are about 900 homeless people in Geelong and 1800 households on the “priority housing wait list”, she said. Another 1000 households are on the non-priority wait list. In Windermere, many people are at risk of homelessness.
Andrew Hewat, Assistant Secretary of the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association, said it was important to support candidates who will commit to putting people’s needs ahead of profit. He said Hathway’s campaign would help people understand the problems disadvantaged communities face.
He presented an overview of the region’s health services, saying that while council does not have governance over health “it still has a role to play”. He described how Barwon North, a large health facility that missed out on an emergency department, means that those living in the Northern suburbs have missed out again on life saving services.
“There is still an empty shell at Barwon North where there should be a magnetic resonance imaging machine servicing the public. Instead, the license for that machine went to the private hospital on the other side of Geelong.”
Long-term ASU member Adele Welsh commended Hathway for taking the union’s pledge to act with integrity and to stand up for public services, secure jobs and good wages. She talked about the challenges council employees have and still are facing, lack of proper governance and bullying, recalling the state government’s sacking of the mayor and all 13 elected councillors in 2016.
Welsh criticised Geelong City Council for standing down nearly 600 council workers in leisure, tourism and libraries during the first coronavirus lockdown. “The ASU ran a successful campaign against workers being stood down during the second wave. However, it should not have to take a union campaign to get council to the right thing. That’s what we elected them to do.”
Hathway spoke last, giving more detail of her campaign. “Norlane and Corio are underserviced and we are often ignored,” she said. “In stark contrast to Armstrong Creek, there are new developments at the top end of Corio where private developers are so desperate to maximise plots of land they have not planned for nature strips and footpaths.
“Where there are communal green spaces, there has been little done to develop paths, benches, trees and play equipment. Instead, council is identifying plots of land to sell off.”
Hathway also criticised the council’s Sustainability Framework which recognises that there is a climate emergency, but does not present an emergency plan.
“There are no targets for the uptake of renewable energy, or to reduce emissions. The framework fails to recognise the links between people’s health, well-being and climate change. If we acknowledge there is an emergency, incremental change and zero targets are not good enough.”
[To get involved or find out more go to Sarah Hathway’s Facebook page.]