Given its historic majority on the Newcastle Council, the Labor Party has wasted an opportunity to deliver a more socially just and sustainable city, according to the Socialist Alliance’s Steve O’Brien. O’Brien is the lead candidate for Socialist Alliance for Ward 1 and Lord Mayor in the December 4 council elections.
Labor unexpectedly won six councillors and the Newcastle Lord Mayor in 2017, with the Greens and Liberals winning a councillor each and the pro-business Newcastle Independents gaining four.
O’Brien said Labor had failed to significantly address the housing crisis and climate emergency, and that Socialist Alliance will campaign strongly for action at a local level on both.
“A construction boom over several years has led to high-rise apartments mushrooming across Newcastle. Meanwhile, the shortage of affordable and accessible housing has reached crisis point”, O’Brien told Green Left.
The SA plan to address the housing crisis includes: support for a tax on vacant accommodation to fund affordable housing; rent controls; that 30% of major construction developments must be affordable housing; and the repurposing of vacant sites, such as the Stockton Centre.
While Newcastle Council recognises that urgent climate action needs to be taken, its commitment to net zero emissions by 2030 ignores the 2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions generated each year by coal exports through Newcastle Harbour.
“We support a faster transition away from fossil fuels”, said O’Brien. “Newcastle’s well-attended climate protests and a recent poll showing that 71% want more action show this is now the majority view.”
O’Brien said that the council has “instead been focused on vanity projects”, including corporate rebadging and “adopting a tick and flick approach to community consultation”.
Residents have had to rely on Freedom of Information requests to unearth the cost of projects, including council’s subsidy to the SuperCars race — more than $30 million — and the cost blowout associated with the sale of the council office building and move to a newly constructed rental — $10 million. “That’s up to $40 million out of the council’s $330 million annual budget that could have been better spent”, O'Brien said.
In addition, a controversial proposal to redevelop the iconic Newcastle Ocean Baths has generated widespread concern about overdevelopment and privatisation by stealth.
When challenged on these issues, Labor has invoked “commercial in confidence” placations and attempted to shut down attempts at scrutiny. This allows the Newcastle Independents to pose as the champions of transparency, which is ironic given that the previous Independent Lord Mayor resigned over allegations about brown paper bag donations.
“Councils that act like corporations lose their connection with residents”, O’Brien said. “By contrast, we want to encourage residents to play a more active role in decision making, including on housing and climate change.”
[Steve O’Brien, a TAFE worker, will head the ticket with Samantha Ashby, an Associate Professor in Occupational Therapy, and Darcy Lemmich, an aged care nurse and union activist. Visit the election page for more information, to get in touch and to help out.]