Viv Miley, Sydney
A Marrickville council sponsored forum on September 7 attracted 180 people to hear from the candidates contesting the September 17 by-election. Only six of the nine contestants showed, and Labor and the Greens came under the most scrutiny.
Labor's Carmel Tebbutt talked up her record as a councillor, arguing that her "experience in local politics" and her "strong commitment to social justice" meant that people should not lodge a protest vote. Tebbutt is currently education minister, but has taken leave of her upper house position to contest the seat.
"Labor governments get things done. We have made mistakes, but we do care", she said. During question time, she rejected outright the proposition that Labor had cut funding to school programs for children with special needs. Tebbut said the ALP government had "massively" boosted funding for such programs and provided more teacher aides. She also said that funding for the TAFE sector had been increased, but that the federal government was withholding funding because of the NSW government's refusal to introduce individual contracts.
Sam Byrne, Marrickville deputy mayor and the Greens' candidate, urged people to "send a message to government". He said the Greens are a "fresh force with energy", talked up greater funding for public transport and education and accused the ALP of "taking Marrickville for granted".
Socialist Alliance candidate Pip Hinman highlighted the alliance's open letter to the NSW premier, calling on the state government not to cooperate with the new federal industrial relations laws, saying, "If these laws smash the trade union movement, every progressive campaign and movement in Australia is going to be weakened". She also challenged Labor to undertake a public inquiry into the costs associated with free, or near free, public transport. The Socialist Alliance is giving its second preference to the Greens.
Alasdair Macdonald, a member of the Communist League who is running as an independent, Michelle Bleicher from the Democrats and Lorraine Johnston from Save our Suburbs also spoke. Macdonald and the Democrats are not allocating preferences.
The questions and applause made clear that local residents are very concerned about the federal government's industrial relations agenda and the state government's response. Also worrying people are the funding cuts to TAFE, cuts to special school assistance programs, and Tebbutt's censorship of anti-homophobic education material in schools.
From Green Left Weekly, September 14, 2005.
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