Australia: Making socialism relevant

Campaigning work of a Socialist Party councillor in Melbourne

Steve Jolly was elected to Yarra City Council, Langridge Ward (Melbourne), in November 2004, for the Socialist Party (CWI in Australia). Since his election to the 9-seat council, Steve Jolly has received widespread press attention, both locally and across Melbourne, for his campaigning work and socialist policies.

Below, Steve briefly describes his council work and the role of a socialist representative.

Making socialism relevant

I was asked recently by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Mayor of Yarra City Council, Kay Meadows, how our party views the role of a councillor: “Are you still an activist or are you now part of governing Yarra?”

The Socialist Party in Australia, and councillors and members of parliament in our sister parties across the world in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), discuss how we best make use of publicly elected positions to advance workers’ interests. We believe that the job of a Socialist Party councillor is to be the voice of working people, raising their concerns on a bigger stage than would be normally available; to use the position to help mobilise the community to get real change; and to raise the socialist alternative to the neo-liberal mantra of the major parties.

The Socialist Party is starting this process in Yarra City Council but obviously the same kind of response would apply in other councils and in other government levels throughout Australia. Where I (as one socialist councillor amongst nine other councillors from the ALP, Greens and independents) can affect change directly I will obviously do so. We are very proud of the many small victories we have won since the 27 November election (see web site details below) – however big victories will only come as a result of community mobilisation. A SP councillor can fast-track such mobilisation (be a catalyst even), but they cannot replace it.

The number one task for me, at the moment, is reflecting the needs of the public housing tenants (there are over 94% people unemployed on the Collingwood estate, in Yarra, alone!). I chair a new Youth Advisory Committee that intends to present to Yarra Council, in April, a series of actions to help find jobs and training for working class youth, to boost youth programmes and services, and, most importantly, to involve young people in the provision of services.

Another huge issue is child care. There are over 600 families on the waiting list for a child care place in Yarra. The local community is beginning to organise a campaign to get more places and the SP has been part of this struggle. I will fight for big improvements to child care in this year’s council budget.

Yarra Council held a big public meeting on the ‘Banco development’, in the Collingwood area, on 23 March. At this meeting planning department officers presented their alternative for the area. This meeting came about because of pressure from the SP demanding public accountability. We supported the resolution that was moved from the floor, and passed on the night, which rejected the top-down approach of the council and demanded community control of the ‘development’ process (a nine person committee was elected to this effect). We intend to work with the local community, and the Collingwood Action Group, in particular, to ensure the council’s alternative plan is bound by strict legally-enforceable limits and that there are strong guidelines in favour of low cost housing and big developer contributions to social services in the area.

Taking up bread and butter issues

Most of my time is taken up with the ‘bread and butter issues’ of planning, parking, and noise pollution and traffic issues. By responding to these issues, I can build up the credibility for socialism and our way of campaigning. However, I also get requests for help on issues as diverse as apprentices, Aboriginal rights, and even on what Yarra Council intended to do to stop China invading Taiwan!

The Socialist Party is rooted in working class communities. We hold weekly street stalls in Yarra constituency where I discuss issues effecting local working people. These stalls get a better response each week.

What’s clear is this: we have done some good work, but we need more socialist councillors and more community action to take things to the next level.

For more information, visit our SP council web site:

This article is the first in a regular column by Councillor Steve Jolly for The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI Australia).

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April 2005