"All those who want to live in a healthy, equal society should vote for the Socialist Alliance", Soubhi Iskander, one of three candidates to contest ward 3 of the Blacktown City Council elections for Socialist Alliance on September 13, told Green Left Weekly.
Iskander, a 70-year-old political refugee from the Sudan, has lived in Blacktown since coming to Australia in 1995. He is standing with fellow Sudanese refugee Hassan Aboelnor Abaid and refugee and queer-rights activist Rachel Evans.
"The Socialist Alliance shares the ideology for which I fought all my life — people before profit and for people's right to have a better future", Iskander said. "By standing, we are going to open the door for other political refugees to participate fully in political life as Australian citizens."
Racism is the most important issue facing Blacktown residents, Iskander said. "As a migrant, or as a refugee from the so-called 'Third World' we can feel the heavy hand of racism in Blacktown, especially from the police and from those who still live in the era of the White Australia policy."
He said all peoples from the Third World, "whether from India, Sudan, Egypt or whatever", should be "treated equally" and "have the same rights as we do obligations".
He said the discrimination extends to the government's refusal to recognise overseas qualifications. "We have some very highly qualified people from overseas in Blacktown working as security guards and cleaners. Meanwhile Australia is importing people from Britain, or the US, to work here as nurses or doctors. We have to establish a way that these people's qualifications will be recognised."
"The competition for work is very high," Iskander said. "There are very few jobs, and the jobs that are available are very marginal ones. Instead of studying to get better qualifications, people are forced to work in jobs which are not going to give Blacktown a very bright future."
The high cost of rents, particularly for those dependent on social security, is another key issue. "The government is doing nothing to provide lower cost housing", Iskander stressed. "The average price of a two-bedroom flat is around $220 and this is really very high if somebody has only $300 each fortnight, particularly for pensioners and single parents."
English language classes for new migrants were also too limited and often badly pitched, Iskander said. "They teach them how to act in Australia, but they don't teach them the language they will need to work with", he said.
Iskander, a parent, is also campaigning for much more publicly-run childcare. "There are many young families in Blacktown and there are not enough places in public or community childcare. This forces families to search of private childcare, which is very expensive. Centrelink is helping, but the lack of childcare places is still a major barrier for the families.
"We also need more after-school care for children", Iskander said. "We have to create places where they can enjoy themselves by learning and playing at the same time."
Iskander called for the greater decentralisation of the shopping precinct so that those from outlying suburbs are not forced to get to central Blacktown to buy their necessities.
He also said that small businesses deserve a better deal. "Over the last year, many small businesses have been bankrupted because they cannot compete with the Westpoint shopping centre", Iskander explained. "Instead of concentrating all the shops in the one place — Westpoint and Main Street — we need more shops in the suburbs, such as Doonside and Rooty Hill."
The Socialist Alliance is also calling on Blacktown Council to fund a free community transport service for pensioners, and to demand upgraded public transport from the NSW government to reduce car dependence. Socialist Alliance is also campaigning for popular referendums to be put on any issue facing council, where 10% of residents can call for a vote by petition.
[Soubhi Iskander is the editor of The Flame, an occasional insert in Green Left Weekly. For more information on the Blacktown campaign, and to help out visit http://www.socialist-alliance.org.]