In last month’s Victorian local council elections, the Socialist Alliance’s Sue Bolton was elected to Moreland City Council in Melbourne’s north. Green Left Weekly’s Susan Price asked Bolton about the significance of the result for the Socialist Alliance and her goals as a socialist councillor.
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I think the significance is that it shows people can be attracted towards socialist ideas and people not in the organised left are prepared to accept a socialist platform in elections. And, of course, they want to see what socialists can do if people are actually elected.
I think some people were attracted by some of our slogans, which were related to some very important issues in the Moreland area. One of those was “community need, not developer greed”. And that’s partly because developers have been running amok in the Moreland area.
The developers have been able to get away with a whole lot of developments that communities have been very unhappy with. While there are meant to be height limits on new developments in the Moreland area, the developers have been able to get away with flexible implementation of those height limits.
For instance, a developer could be allowed to add in a tiny energy saving measure in order to get an extra two or three levels above the height limit. That has really angered a lot of residents and that was one of the key issues in the campaign.
We also took up issues such as cost-of-living pressures on people and the fact that councils need to try to develop a [better] approach with things like council rates, which are very inequitable form of funding for local government.
Someone who is really rich, and someone who might be living on a pension or the Newstart allowance and might have bought a house years ago, they pay the same rates if those properties are next door to each other. Clearly, one can afford to pay much higher rates and the other cannot afford very high rates at all.
So you have ordinary working class people, pensioners and people on unemployment benefits pushed out of areas that they have established themselves in.
Another issue we took up was that Moreland Council needs to be a campaigning council. There are some issues that affect working class people very deeply that are not traditionally the province of local council. But we see them as being quite critical and we think council should have a campaigning approach toward — campaigning for residents’ rights against the state government
One issue would be the issue of public housing. We see that as being central. So many people — tens of thousands across the city — are struggling to pay rent and struggling to pay mortgages. In the Moreland area, the number of public housing dwellings has been declining by 25 dwellings per year.
We’ve also got a state government that is trying to sell off public housing. Some of it is being directly sold off, some of it is being transferred from the state government to housing associations under the fluffy term “social housing”.
But “social housing” gives [residents] no guarantees: it’s basically the privatisation of public housing.
That is destroying people’s ability to get public housing, to get housing security at any kind of affordable level. So we would like to see the council campaign for more public housing in Moreland and across the city.
The other issue is public transport, especially in the northern part of the Moreland council area, in the ward I stood in, the suburb called Fawkner. It’s a working class, poor and mostly migrant suburb.
Fawkner was put into the Moreland Council area as a result of council amalgamations — forced amalgamations by the Kennett government in the 1990s. Initially, Moreland Council paid no attention to the northern suburbs of Fawkner and Glenroy. All the attention was focused on the more inner-city suburbs of Brunswick and Coburg.
But there is a crying need for more public transport in the Fawkner area. If you are in the eastern side of Fawkner you are a long way from the train line and ... it means lots of families will be forced to have two or more cars.
From the point of view of climate change, but also from the point of view of accessibility to transport, there is a desperate need for the council to take up this issue and fight for more public transport in the area.
We want to work closely with groups like Friends of Public Housing and the Upgrade Upfield Line campaign to actually build community activism in the Moreland area.
There is no guarantee that the council will be at all responsive to what we put forward. The make-up of the council will be two Greens, five or six Labor Party, one Democratic Labor Party and a Liberal Party person for the first time on that council, as well as myself.
So there is no guarantee Socialist Alliance will be able to get any of the issues we want to campaign around, and that the community wants to campaign around, up on the council agenda.
But even if it is put on the council agenda, there may not be a commitment by council. On issues like public housing, where it is a state government issue, they might pass a nice motherhood statement, but not do anything about it.
We’re determined to try to enact some campaigns around these issues.