It is important to put socialists on council because we have a very different perspective from other political parties. Our “people and planet before profit” philosophy guides our approach and, increasingly, councils are being relied on to lead key political debates — such as recognising Australia’s colonial past.
My experience on council is that most councillors regard the job as a process of negotiation between councillors and council directors, followed by a vote. Sometimes residents’ concerns are listened to, but usually other councillors see residents as people who get in the way of council decisions.
Many local council meetings take place behind closed doors. Such secret meetings reinforce the idea that the real decision making is between elected councillors and council directors without much input from residents.
This means that information often isn’t shared with residents, or is only shared to encourage a particular viewpoint.
Often, important proposals from council are only made public five days before they are voted on. This means that residents are often unaware that important decisions affecting their lives are about to be made. If they become aware, they only have five days to lobby councillors or mount a campaign to stop bad decisions from being made.
The important difference a socialist councillor can make is to regard local residents as the key people who should be involved in decision making. Important information and decisions should not be kept from the public.
Many people, especially in working-class areas, are not confident in taking on governments and corporations. An important role of a socialist councillor is to help organise the community to have a voice and to form campaigns to fight for their rights when there is a danger that their rights will be stripped away.
Sometimes vested interests have an impact on decisions. Sometimes there is bureaucratic obstruction in the form of not recognising the problems experienced by residents in an area, or the users of a space or service. The only way to counter these powerful forces is for residents to get organised and campaign for their rights.
Elected socialists can play an important role in backing up and helping facilitate these struggles. This stems from our socialist philosophy that the people affected by decisions should be the ones involved in making the decisions through direct democracy rather than being filtered through representative democracy.
[Sue Bolton was first elected to Moreland Council in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016. You can follow her work here.]