Young people can build another world

September 12, 2014
Hathway is standing for the seat of Geelong, a town besieged by job cuts and youth unemployment.

I am the Socialist Alliance candidate for Geelong in the upcoming state elections.

I am a 24-year-old Gordon TAFE student living on youth allowance and for that reason my candidacy may not be taken seriously by the media and the other candidates, but it is for that exact reason I am running in the state elections.

Young people do not have a voice in this country or in our state. We are one of the first groups to be targeted so that our government can “balance the budget” and one of the groups most affected by the cuts to welfare, education, health, and housing.

As things get more unbearable for young people to the point where we cannot take it, we get angry and we protest. For that we’re labelled thugs and troublemakers, and we’re told to sit down, shut up and let the adults run the country.

The fact is, I know 10-year-olds who have a better sense of social justice than our state and federal politicians. Locking up women and children, refusing them basic health care, and slowly destroying their mental state to the point where they want to go back to potential danger is abhorrent. The death of refugees who are under our protection, like Reza Berati who was killed on Manus Island earlier this year and Hamid Khazaei just this week, is a disgrace.

I was born in 1990, and I do not remember a time when “boat people” weren’t talked about on the six o’clock news. Since I started to pay more attention to these things, it seems every morning I wake up, as I look at the news my first thought is “what is the latest horrendous act our government has committed against refugees and asylum seekers?”

It is easier for the government to whip up fear about boats arriving with refugees than it is to address the appalling budget cuts it is raining down on workers, students and the unemployed.

This is why you’re more likely to hear about “boat people” in the news than the federal government’s plans to deregulate university fees, cut course funding by an average of 20% and increase the interest charged on student loans. This attack on universities will make it impossible for young people from low socio-economic backgrounds to attend university, and will now put student debt on par with a small mortgage loan.

The ongoing attacks on the TAFE sector by successive state governments have resulted in student fees increasing rapidly since 2008, with most fees more than tripling — especially for courses at the diploma level and higher. Student fees for apprentices have increased, often by more than 60%. More than 2500 qualified TAFE teachers have lost their jobs. Hundreds of courses have been cancelled across Victoria’s TAFE institutes. But meanwhile, the state government is claiming “record investment” in training and education.

The housing crisis has reached the point in Victoria where as of April this year the equivalent to the population of Bendigo — 105,000 people — were under stress due to lack of affordable housing.

The state government has been disposing of public housing, rather than increasing it, to fix the crisis. Our state government has being giving away public housing to non-government organisations who then rename it “social housing”, which a lot of people seem to think is the same thing. It’s not. The government then has no responsibility for the upkeep of “social housing” and the non-government organisations can sell it to private investors to raise revenue for other services.

Rather than increasing public housing to meet the growing demand of those under stress due to lack of affordable housing, the best the government is offering is investing $1.3 billion over five years to upgrade 9500 public housing properties. This is despite a report, titled Making Social Housing Work, claiming that the government would need to invest $200 million a year just to build new housing units to keep up with demand.

Youth unemployment has leapt to a 15-year high in Victoria, with south-west Geelong being identified as one of the most difficult areas to find work for 15-24 year olds.

The average youth unemployment rate in the state was 13.8% as of July. In Geelong we had a youth unemployment rate of 18%, yet the federal government is telling young people to “earn or learn”, to either study or work, or face being cut off from newstart benefits six months at a time.

But what if you cannot afford to study, or you are a young person in Geelong where there are no jobs? It’s not just young people, everyone is suffering, including all the workers who have recently been made redundant due to Alcoa closing its doors, or the workers who will lose their jobs in 2016 when Ford leaves the town.

The state government seems to think it can replace these jobs with an increase in dirty polluting coalmines or fracking for unconventional gas in our communities. Victoria needs jobs but not at the cost of polluting the air, the water and destroying our environment.

We need to move towards green jobs and a great place to start is the state government collaborating with unions, trades and labour councils, local governments and industry to formulate a sustainable jobs plan for Victoria.

What would a sustainable jobs plan look like? For a start we need a permanent statewide moratorium on fracking for unconventional gas and coalmining because there are no jobs on a dead planet. Second, our government keeps claiming, as a way to dodge criticisms on all the manufacturing job losses, that Victoria has a transitioning economy from manufacturing to a more service-based economy.

That might be the case, if only because the state and federal governments have made weak attempts to keep manufacturing jobs here. The Socialist Alliance does not support public funds being handed over to private business like the millions of dollars of subsidies the government handed over to Ford, who despite corporate welfare is closing its doors in 2016 anyway.

What the Socialist Alliance does support is reinvesting in the public sector. Take back the railways, take back the utilities, and take the factories. Invest in our public health and public education systems to create more jobs and invest in vocational training so that workers can easily and affordably re-skill to the service industry if they want to learn new trades.

Recently the youth wing of the Socialist Alliance adopted the new slogan of “Another World is Possible: Let’s Build it Now”. Another world isn’t just possible, it’s practical, logical and necessary. We have all the resources at our disposal.

What we need are people with the political will to make it happen. Not just with their vote on November 29 but with their time, energy and other resources at their disposal, and taking part in grassroots, mass action movements to make this idea of another world not just a possibility, but a reality.

The cuts to education, welfare and the lack of affordable housing affect all of us and as a state-wide community we need to stand up and be counted and say no more cuts to services. No more cuts to health and education.

We all need to get active, whether it’s in our unions, respective community collectives or the Socialist Alliance and say that we are not on Tony Abbott’s “Team Australia”. We are on the team for social justice and human rights.

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