Socialist candidate: ‘Organised people are a force for change’

Socialist Alliance candidate for Parramatta Susan Price

Susan Price is the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Parramatta in the March 23 NSW state election. She has been an active unionist and socialist for more than 20 years. She was branch president of the UNSW branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) in 2006 and 2010, and a member of the NTEU national executive from 2010 to 2012.

She is an activist in the refugee rights movement; a campaigner for women's rights; and is national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance. Price spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Jim McIlroy about the Socialist Alliance election campaign, its aims and policies.

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Why is the Socialist Alliance contesting the NSW state elections?

Our aim is to put forward socialist solutions to problems of the cost of living, environmental crisis and corporate power and influence in decision-making. As an activist party, we’re running in the election with the message that organised ordinary people can be a powerful force for change and can defend their rights under attack.

We are running to fight against the pro-big business policies of the New South Wales Coalition government, and the neoliberal policies of both major parties — Liberal and Labor.

What response have you had to your campaign in the Parramatta area?

Overall, it has been generally positive. People seem curious to know what we stand for. At campaign stalls outside the Parramatta shopping centre, while doorknocking, letterboxing, leafleting railway stations, the responses are often, “Good that someone’s running against the two major parties for the interests of ordinary people”.

There is curiosity about what socialists stand for and identification with the issues in our platform. Our policies deal with issues that are especially concerning for people in Western Sydney.

What are some of the local issues people are concerned about?

Housing is a major concern. Our plan is to heavily invest in public housing, in order to counter a real estate-driven market in which 80% of housing is private. Public housing tenants have told us public housing generally has dwindled to a small minority of homes.

The overall waiting time for public and social housing in Australia is now 10 years. Homelessness has shot up, with Western Sydney now the worst area in NSW. Insecure housing and the privatisation of public housing is symptomatic of a system in crisis.

The issues of over-development and protection of heritage are also major concerns. Parramatta is rapidly becoming a skyscraper city, with high-rise offices and apartments covering the entire CBD and beyond, which comes at the price of losing local heritage and public space.

With recent severe storms in the area, the failure of local infrastructure to cope with extreme weather has also been highlighted. The ageing sewerage and drainage systems have been allowed to run down, with maintenance neglected because of privatisation, cost-cutting and outsourcing.

Parramatta is a flood-prone city, with much of it being built on a flood plain. A recent study warned that residents would have only nine minutes to evacuate in a heavy flood.

The loss of community facilities is another problem. Western Sydney Stadium, a $360 million project, has meant the loss of parkland and the Parramatta public swimming pool. In summer this is a big issue, because Parramatta averages temperatures 6° above the Sydney coast. Meanwhile, there is no sign of the construction of a new pool.

The other key issue is transport. In Sydney’s west commuters have two choices: either pay exorbitant tolls on the M4 or rely on overcrowded passenger trains and buses. The NSW government’s “solution” is to build more toll roads and construct a Metro line and Light Rail that are backdoor ways to further privatise transport services.

How can the campaign be used to help put socialism back on the mainstream agenda, as British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders and others in the US have done?

Private profits are the guiding principle of everything in this society. We need to change to putting people and the environment at the centre of government, with a focus on public education, public transport and the environment.

One inspiring aspect of Corbyn’s approach was that, in responding to the tragic Grenfell fire in London, he called for an audit of vacant apartments and other dwellings, with any empty homes to be made available to those made homeless by the fire and generally. No such calls have come from Labor leaders here.

The biggest barrier to getting out the socialist message is the mainstream media blackout. But in the US, we have seen US President Donald Trump target the perceived threat of socialism from Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and others.

Capitalism has failed to deliver, and now threatens the very existence of humanity and the planet. Trump and others now see "socialism" as a threat to their power and privilege.

In Socialist Alliance, we would like socialism to be promoted as a serious alternative in Australia; we want it back on the mainstream agenda. The aim of our slogan, “Put a socialist into Parliament” is to give that process a big boost.

How can people who want to help your campaign (and the campaign for the upper house as well) become involved?

We are calling for volunteers to help on the pre-poll and election day booths. Donations to the Socialist Alliance campaign are also very welcome.

Socialist Alliance is a party of activists. All our candidates pledge to take no more than an average workers’ wage, and donate the rest to movements for change.

We want to use the election campaign and any parliamentary position if we were elected, to promote a socialist alternative. We also aim to use any positions gained to help organise with the social movements for lasting change.