Australia: Fighting record puts Socialist on the council

The Socialist Party is proud to announce that Stephen Jolly won a seat in Langridge Ward in the Yarra City Council elections on Saturday.

This is the first electoral victory for the socialist movement in Australia for many years.

The Council for the next four years is now made up of 3 ALP, 3 Green, 1 SP, 1 ALP-aligned independent and 1 right-wing independent.

Langridge Ward, with 19,000 voters, incorporates the Melbourne inner-northern suburbs of Collingwood, Fitzroy, Abbotsford, Clifton Hill and Aplington.

11 candidates (including 2 Green, 2 ALP and 3 SP – Stephen, Erinn Sales and Zac Wright) stood for the seat. The Greens lead candidate came first, and the ALP lead candidate came second, with both candidates getting over the quota.

Stephen got the 3rd highest first preference vote ahead of the 2nd Green and 2nd ALP candidates.

In most of the 8 polling booths we got about 12% first preference (out of 11 candidates, and more if you put the three SP candidates’ vote together). However, in the big Collingwood Town Hall booth opposite the massive Collingwood public housing estate, Stephen got 17.5% (20% when Erinn and Zac’s vote are included).We scored a postal and pre-poll vote of over 10%.

Many voters who voted Green or ALP number 1 candidate, broke with the how-to-vote card to put SP second.

On the day we had a big crew of comrades and supporters, easily as much as the Greens and ALP. In the two weeks before polling day, we staffed the two pre-polling booths in the Ward 100% of the time. We distributed about 5,000 applications for postal vote forms.

There were two letterbox drops and over 3000 homes were canvassed. On top of this we ran stalls and participated in 3 debates throughout the Ward with the other candidates in which we felt we won strongly.

Why we won

In 2002 90% of voters in Yarra voted either Green or ALP in the hope of getting a progressive Council. In 2003, Yarra had Australia’s first Green Mayor.

However on core economic issues the Council has undertaken a neo-liberal agenda, with asset management and debt reduction the major priority.

On the Collingwood housing estate, the youth centre has only one youth worker meaning the centre is closed at nights and weekends. Yet the Council found $250,000 to spend on a fence around Burnley Golf Course. We pledged to immediately readjust Council expenditure towards the needs of housing commission residents, on child care and social services in general.

The old Council did little to oppose the impending extension of the Eastern Freeway which will suck in more cars to the area with resulting air pollution and accidents. They did not support residents strongly enough in opposing inappropriate development and have not clearly opposed the State Labor Government’s 2030 plan. We pledged to change all this.

The big issue however is the ongoing financial bleeding of Councils by State and Federal Government. We said it was wrong for Council not to campaign with other Councils, trade unions, and the community to change this. Instead they have passed the problem onto property owners and small businesses with regular rate rises as well as steady rises in fines and fees. This was most clearly shown by the huge 150% rise in the cost of using the creche at the Council-owned leisure centres.

In general the our candidates took up the basic concerns of the local community who are suffering from the neo-liberal agenda of Council. We successfully put ourselves forward as the left opposition to the joint ALP/Green-run Council.

However there were other opposition candidates who did not get anywhere near our result and in the neighbouring ward of Nicholls, the Socialist Alliance candidate came last with 302 votes (3.17%).

It must be said the other reason we won this seat was as a result of a decade of hard work in the area. A significant number of local people knew of our work in saving Richmond Secondary College, on the urban environment, on heroin reform, for casual workers’ rights and trusted us enough to vote socialist.

Now we have an immense sense of responsibility to the people who voted for us, as well as to every trade unionist, activist and socialist whose morale has been boosted by this victory. We aim as soon as possible to get real runs on the board in terms of improvements in the lives of ordinary people in the area.

This is more important than grandstanding – with one SP Councillor we want to get extra youth workers and better child care, for example, rather than the red flag on the Town Hall. If we win peoples’ trust in the next four years on the basis of concrete victories, we will open the door to even more significant breakthroughs for the socialist movement in the years ahead.

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November 2004