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Issue #1616      October 30, 2013

12 National Congress CPA

Community campaigning

In last week’s Guardian we published several contributions from delegates at the 12th National Congress of the CPA who spoke about their activities and experiences as political activists in the community. This week we publish two more contributions. The first of these is community activist Dean Turner who is a member of the Melbourne Branch:

In the northern suburbs of Melbourne where I live, the manufacturing industry which was the lifeblood of the area for many years has been decimated, leading to high levels of unemployment. Along with this, the tendency of various state and federal governments to slash funding for education programs and for subsidised TAFE places has led to certain pockets of my Council ward becoming quite marginalised.

Dean Turner.

Some years ago I volunteered at a local agency that distributed food vouchers and welfare assistance to people for essential utility bills; the queues were always long and booked out more than a week in advance, and the amount that was available to be given was a paltry sum. From memory it was a measly $25 per household every three months. It’s a lot worse now that rental housing costs have gone through the roof, and there is a lack of affordable housing throughout the city for those that need it most.

This lack of government responsiveness led to a rise in collective action by the local residents of my community. The locals were sick and tired of being subjected to ugly, inappropriate developments packing people in like sardines, without providing adequate space for parking, congestion and rat-racing on local streets due to drivers trying to avoid toll-roads, and other negatives due to inaction by the elected representatives simply because it’s a safe seat.

One recent example of such community anger is when a known developer tried to erect a multi-story apartment block with no on-site parking next to a local park. The community that lived near the park packed the council meeting in protest; there were so many attending that the council officers had to open a separate room with a video feed of the proceedings for the extra people, and even that filled up to capacity! By the next local government election, all the Labor Unity councillors were gone except for one, and currently the Ombudsman is looking into allegations of corruption within the previous term of the council.

The fight to save that area near the park hasn’t ended yet either, recent updates had the developer appealing to VCAT [Victorian and Civil and Administrative Tribunal], with VCAT allowing the development to go ahead with reduced height allowances even though the new council opposed it. More ongoing action to fight this decision is planned soon. This travesty shows how important it is for local councils to be recognised in the Constitution in their own right so that state government planning ministers can’t influence VCAT to allow developments to go ahead against the wishes of the people it will directly adversely affect.

This example highlights what people can do in their community when they know about political processes, but what about those that have a limited education and don’t know how to “fight the power”? In my area, due to the ongoing struggle by communists and other social activists over the last 50 years, we have two vital and well-respected community groups that exist for that purpose; the Darebin Progress Association (DPA) and the Reservoir Tenants and Residents Association (RTRA), both of which I am a member and one of which I’m the recently re-elected chairperson.

The DPA serves the community as an effective progressive lobby group, whereas the RTRA is the local public housing and private renters’ support organisation. Among some of the campaigns that have been fought recently by the DPA is one to re-instate the 561 bus route which was removed by the state Minister for Transport because the Department of Transport wanted to streamline community bus services and move them onto the main transport corridors, allowing them to cut some services due to overlap and inefficient use of resources – which were working fine before they were moved!

This has adversely affected many older people and people with mobility issues in the community because they used to use the bus to buy their groceries, attend doctors’ appointments and local social services such as the Senior Citizens Centre, the Leisure Centre and the recently built Neighbourhood House.

This campaign to reinstate the 561 has been going on for a few years now and it will continue until after the current state government is removed, if need be. The key point we remind our members is that government exists to serve the needs of the population, and our taxes and rates are collected to pay for such essential services; government is NOT meant to be an entity that serves itself and its own needs. When they forget that simple guiding principle, we’re there to remind them of their obligations.

My last point will focus on the dire necessity that having affordable housing available to all those who need it is finally understood by our Party leadership and the wider community in general; it is THE key determinant in laying the foundations for a person to gain the resources and abilities needed to improve their life, and strive for better. In this Congress’s Political Resolution for example, sections are written regarding the “major issues” – workers’ rights, environment, peace, etc. I personally would question the choice to make these the priority issues.

Homelessness a priority issue

To explain further – a person needs a stable place to live before he/she can concern themselves with looking for a job, and if they have a job but lose their home, they won’t keep their job for long if they don’t find somewhere else to live quickly seeing as their pay and conditions won’t matter to them much when they lose their job!

The same reasoning applies to health and education as well; the healthiest person will suffer reduced health outcomes if they are homeless, and they have no hope of starting to get a better education or of maintaining whatever course they may be doing at the time if they find themselves homeless.

Also, it’s pretty hard to struggle to improve an environmental outcome or lobby your government to have a better foreign policy if your main concern is where you’re going to be sleeping that night. Housing is more important to an individual finding themselves in dire straits than any of these other issues, and our Party’s policy documents ought to reflect our understanding of this concept.

I’ve been homeless before, while I’ve been a member of this Party, and my comrades can attest to it that I was useless as a Party member until I got my living arrangements sorted out. Only then was I able to start contributing to the Party, look for work, further my education, become involved in community groups, etc. To conclude, thank you all for your time listening to this contribution, and for allowing me to address you all here today.

Next article – Importance of secure employment

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