Those who believe empowered communities are the best defence to politics-as-usual are celebrating the re-election of two hard-working socialist councillors in Victoria’s local council elections held on October 22. The results were announced on October 28.
The Socialist Alliance's candidate Sue Bolton, standing in the North-East Ward of Moreland City Council, was re-elected with the second-highest primary vote (3249 votes, 13.03%) in the ward, behind the Green’s Natalie Abboud (5640, 22.62%).
In Yarra City Council, The Socialist’s Stephen Jolly came first in the Landridge Ward (3884 votes, 31%) and was re-elected to a fourth term on council.
Bolton told Green Left Weekly that without the high level of local support she has received during her time on council, she would not have re-contested nor been re-elected.
The high number of candidates — 20 candidates for four positions (including 7 Labor candidates, 3 Greens and 4 right-wing independents who swapped preferences) — as well as a concerted campaign against her by the conservative right and local traders, meant that Bolton's re-election was always going to be tough.
Confusion around the compulsory preferential system was also an issue. “Many people didn’t follow the various how-to-vote cards”, Bolton said. “It came down to preferences as I was not getting direct preferences from anyone.”
The Victorian Electoral Commission figures show Bolton received second preferences from across the board, but with the largest number coming from Greens (38%) and Labor voters (29%).
Bolton’s primary vote rose in comparison to the 9.5% she won when first elected in October 2012. She puts that down to community support for “getting things done”.
Certainly, her tiny campaign budget was no match to that of her competitors: her support was won the old-fashioned way — community engagement and winning reforms at council level that have a real impact on people’s lives.
Bolton said, “We had a great experience doorknocking and must have met around 1000 people that way. We were able to answer people’s direct questions, and meet many potential supporters for the first time.”
“Most people don’t think councillors, or any elected official, do very much”, Bolton said. “So they only really get involved when they see someone prepared to go all out.
“But it wasn’t just those things. I was and am prepared to talk about the broader political landscape which has a bearing on what council can and should be doing.”
Bolton said she had been overwhelmed with the broad support for her campaign, including from the Fawkner Muslim community. “It is very humbling for a community that is so under attack to campaign so strongly for my re-election,” she said.
Given the establishment media campaign against her for organising an anti-racist rally, and the threats from far-right groups, the police and others, her victory is all the sweeter.
“It shows that the racists and the Herald Sun don’t win all of the time.
“The racists wanted to make me pay for organising the rally [in June] and they campaigned to get me off council. They systematically defaced and ripped down my posters around the centre of Coburg.
“But they didn’t win. I make no apology for standing up against racism. We need to make a stand against racism wherever we are.”
Messages on her Facebook page are testament to the broad support she has won for standing up to the racists, and forcing council to, in some cases, make U-turns in their policy.
“Good luck Sue — always good to have a fighter on side!”, was one of the many messages posted on her page.
It seems that the work Bolton and her “army” (as one supporter put it) put in has been rewarded with another four-year term.
The Socialist’s Stephen Jolly was returned to Yarra Council with the highest number of first preference votes for any candidate across the council’s three wards.
His support has risen at each election for similar reasons — he gets things done.
Mel Gregson and Nyadan Gai, the two other Socialist candidates running on the same ticket as Jolly in the Landridge Ward, won a further combined 2.45% of the vote.
The Socialist's candidates in the two other wards of Yarra Council also received a strong level of support. In Melba Ward, Toby Dite won 6.39% of the vote and Stephanie Putker won 4.53%. In Nicholls Ward, Chris Dite won 8.95% while Bridget O'Brien won 4.07%.
Overall, Jolly calculates that one in five voters in Yarra voted socialist.
The Greens won four councillors in Yarra, meaning that together with Jolly they could form a majority on the 9-person council. Jolly said he is keen to work with the Greens on council and is asking for suggestions on what sorts of policy changes they should be working on straight away.
“We'll have public discussions with Greens on a common programme”, he said on Facebook. “Without a majority of socialists on Council, we Socialists are not interested in the Mayor position — the Greens can have it. However we do want serious policy changes. Watch this space for details.”