Students must organise and fight for our futures

August 10, 2023
Students protest against Labor's misdirected funds to war. Photo: Rachel Evans

The situation for students and workers in Australia is dire. Inflation, driven by corporate profits, sits at 7%, and our Higher Education Contribution Scheme’s debts received a massive indexation this past July.

Rents have soared 24% over the past 12 months. Wage growth remains stagnant, while the weekly grocery shop soars.

I want to focus on the dire state of housing. Public housing wait lists are through the roof, with more than 55,000 people in New South Wales alone waiting for a public home.

Yet the government continues with its demolitions in Glebe, Mascot and Arncliffe. Federal Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund would not guarantee a cent for public housing; it gambles public money on the stock market, capping the returns to invest into faux public housing.

The situation for renters is equally dire. Landlords are more powerful than ever, enabled by policies such as the Stage 3 tax cut and negative gearing, to acquire more and more land and to hike up rents by hundreds of dollars without restraint.

Getting a rental is an almost impossible feat, as landlords and real estate companies permit rent bidding: to get a home anywhere across Sydney you are required to fork out a couple hundred to beat the other 50 people applying.

The quality of the homes renters apply for are disastrous, mould-ridden, decorated with fake powerpoints, bathrooms without fans, and sport an attic marketed as a bedroom. But you can bet Raine and Horne or Ray White will make you pay more than 2000 a fortnight for such a “modern” property.

Student Accommodation owned by this university or the third-party corporations it has sold accommodation too — Scape, Iglu, and UniLodge — milk its students of every cent. In UniLodge at Broadway, students can be expected to pay $360 for a shoebox, on top of a myriad of arbitrary service fees. 

Despite the 640,000 people experiencing rental stress across this country, what has the government done? Invested $368 billion into nuclear-powered submarines, allying themselves with Britain and the United States in a drive to war with China.

While thousands of people are couch-surfing, working overtime to pay their rent, dropping out of university because they are unable to take up paid work during placements, the Anthony Albanese’s Labor is funding war efforts and topping up the coffers of weapons manufacturers, such as Thales.

Labor is not increasing social security payments, such as Youth Allowance, which are far below the poverty line. Labor is not defending and extending public housing nationwide amid the worst housing crisis in history. Labor is not helping renters by implementing rent freezes or increasing rent assistance payments and expanding access. Instead, it hides behind the argument that “it’s a problem for the states”.

In signing onto the AUKUS deal, the Labor has shown that it is not on the side of constituents, students or the working class. Albanese’s Labor is on the side of the US, weapons manufacturers, the Australian capitalist class who seek to benefit from a war with China.

But the $368 billion on nuclear-powered submarines is only the beginning. More and more money will be siphoned away from health, education and public housing, and invested into expanding Australia’s military capabilities.

To challenge its drive to war and to force the government to invest in its people, students need to organise. We need to build from the grassroots level, with students, renters and public housing tenants, and community organisations like Action 4 Public Housing. That change starts with us and the groups here today.

[Harrison Brennan is the University of Sydney’s Student Representative Council’s Welfare Officer. This is the text of a speech he delivered to the Welfare not Warfare protest in Gadi/Sydney on August 9.]

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