The Victorian election on November 26 takes place amid the biggest housing crisis since the 1930s, a worsening cost-of-living crisis and an overloaded health system.
Long-term Moreland Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton, who is running for the seat of Pascoe Vale, told Green Left that solutions exist, but that there’s no political will to tackle them.
“There needs to be a huge injection of funding into public and affordable housing and action needs to be taken against land speculators and greedy developers,” Bolton said.
A Moreland councillor for more than nine years, Bolton has seen how developers land bank to push up the cost of land and housing. “The whole ‘development’ process is in the hands of private developers. That’s the problem: developers can manipulate the market.
“For most people, their house or unit is where they live. For developers, it’s a commodity from which they want to make a profit by driving up prices.”
Bolton said the government could mandate developers to ensure there is at last 20% affordable housing in all new developments. Currently, developers bargain with councils to build above the height limit in return for a tiny amount of affordable housing.
“Tens of thousands of people are either struggling to keep a roof over their head or losing their homes altogether. This has be declared an emergency and the funding allocated to fix it,” Bolton said.
Among the many community campaigns she takes an active role in, Bolton played a key role last year in saving Fawkner’s outdoor pool and to ensure Moreland maintained its council-run home care.
Arie Huybregts, a warehouse worker and a community radio presenter, is Socialist Alliance’s candidate in Broadmeadows. They rely on public transport and know how important a boosted public system is both for commuters and the environment.
“The totally unreliable Upfield train line service means that deadlines — work, job interviews, medical appointments and exams — are impossible to keep,” Huybregts told Green Left.
“This, combined with the infrequent bus services that are not even scheduled on weekends or at night, it means people in the north are being penalised for not having a car.
Bolton and Huybregts support the Australian Education Union’s campaign for greater public school funding and resources in the Broadmeadows region, including for Glenroy Secondary College and John Fawkner College.
“In the Broadmeadows region, every public school student is underfunded by $1971 each person each year,” Huybregts said. “Glenroy College is therefore missing out on a million dollars in funding each year.”
Bolton said the number of students at Coburg High School has outgrown its facilities, but the government has not promised to address its needs.
By contrast, Crown Casino has gotten away with “not paying gambling tax for nine years”, Huybregts said, and has only recently been forced to cough up a miniscule $61 million.
Turning to the cost-of-living crisis, Bolton said affordable housing would help. “But there is an income crisis too,” she said, “made worse because of the unjust 1.5% cap on public sector wage rises”.
That means that the 180,000 public sector workers “who bust a gut” to provide services — health workers, teachers, firefighters, paramedics, railway workers and many others — are denied real pay rises, while inflation rises.
“The wage cap encourages private sector bosses to suppress wages while prices rise and contribute to inflation,” Bolton said.
Angela Carr is standing for Socialist Alliance in Geelong and Sarah Hathway is standing in Lara.
Carr is a community services worker, union delegate, convenor of Geelong Housing Action and a mother of three. She told Green Left that governments have no excuse for not addressing the housing crisis.
“Australia is a wealthy country: we can prioritise an emergency plan to build housing for everyone on the public housing wait list,” Carr said.
“It’s criminal that 10% of dwellings are left vacant by landlord speculators, while homelessness is at crisis levels.”
Hathway told Green Left that people were doing it tough in Lara even before the pandemic hit. More than 20% of Norlane live in poverty, according to the 2018 Victorian Council of Social Services Poverty Atlas.
“Norlane has been forgotten by all levels of government,” Hathway said. “Facilities taken for granted in other suburbs don’t exist in parts of Lara.”
Hathway, a health union organiser, mother and a part of the Geelong Renewables Not Gas campaign, sees first-hand the extra pressure on the health sector generated by the pandemic. “From the Triple 000 call centre, the ambulance system, through to emergency departments, hospital wards and allied health, every sector is overloaded.”
Not only does health need urgent extra funding, Hathway said, the privatisation of the testing laboratories and radiology needs to be reversed because it “has taken valuable resources away from the public sector”.
[For more information and to help the Socialist Alliance state election campaign, call Jacob Andrewartha on 0458 958 385.]