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You are here: Home / Our Community / Elections / State Election – March 24th 2007 / The State seat of Marrickville / INDEPENDENT (Socialist Equality) - Patrick O’Connor / Socialist Equality Party - Marrickville - Response to REDWatch Questionnaire

Socialist Equality Party - Marrickville - Response to REDWatch Questionnaire

The following was prepared by the Socialist Equality Party candidates for the Legislative Assembly seats covering Redfern-Waterloo: Patrick O’Connor for Marrickville and James Cogan for Heffron.

The Redfern Waterloo Authority and The Minister for Redfern Waterloo (Q1 to 8)

The Socialist Equality Party opposes the Labor government’s Redfern-Waterloo redevelopment plan and its establishment of the Ministry for Redfern-Waterloo. The plan is not aimed at revitalising the area in the interests of the working class across Sydney, but at transforming Redfern to the benefit of commercial developers, corporate investors and residents of higher income brackets.

The plans of the RWA will exacerbate social inequality in Sydney. The city is polarising into “global” inner Sydney, inhabited primarily by the better-off and out of reach of ordinary working people. The majority of the working class has been pushed further and further to the west, where residents endure inadequate public transport, overstretched health and education services, and a general lack of cultural and social infrastructure while at the same time confronting financially crippling mortgages or excessive rents.

The RWA redevelopment epitomises processes taking place internationally. The competition between local, regional and national governments for investment capital has led to the massive erosion of working class living standards in order to finance concessions and hand-outs for a wealthy elite—from lower company and income taxes, public-private partnerships, or, as in the case of Redfern, opportunities to purchase and develop prime inner-city real estate.

The latest Business Review Weekly 2006 survey, for example, found that the wealthiest 200 individuals in Australia now have a combined wealth of $101 billion, up an extraordinary 22 percent from 2005. These fortunes have become increasingly detached from any connection to the development of productive capacity and are instead bound up with speculation, government largesse, and other forms of parasitism. More than a quarter of those who made the 200 rich list amassed their wealth through property speculation.

At the other end of the scale, in excess of 3.5 million Australians live in households earning a combined income of less than $400 a week. A 2004 federal senate report found that as many as 4.1 million people—22.6 percent of the population—lives in poverty.

A sustained assault on working conditions and wages over the past three decades has produced a new and vast category of “working poor”—into which many residents of Redfern-Waterloo fall. More than 57 percent of households in the Heffron electorate earn less than $500 per week, with the average being just $407. In the Marrickville electorate, 51.8 percent of households earn less than $500 per week.

There cannot be genuine democracy or a broad participation in planning decisions under conditions of such extremes of social inequality. The manner in which the Labor government has concentrated all decision-making power in the hands of a Minister for Redfern-Waterloo flows logically from the interests it serves: those of a small ruling elite. The concerns and long-term interests of ordinary working people are being ignored.

The key lesson from the past two decades that working people must draw is that community pressure and protest cannot force the existing political and legal setup  to defend their needs. Behind the Labor government stands a corporate establishment, which holds the levers of financial and economic power in its hands and which is motivated solely by the accumulation of profit.

Opposition to the RWA must merge with the broader struggle to build an independent political movement of the working class that will end the power of the corporate and financial oligarchy. 

The SEP advocates the establishment of a workers’ government based on socialist policies, which will put the major corporations under public ownership and democratic control. Massive inroads into the vast reserves of wealth that are held in private hands are a vital prerequisite for a major program of public works. The socialist reorganisation of the economy would create the conditions to address the needs of all, regardless of wealth and background, for quality living standards, housing, education, health, public services, transport and infrastructure.

The SEP makes a particular appeal to Aboriginal workers and youth in Redfern-Waterloo, and across the country, to draw the necessary conclusions from their past experiences.

Every indicator—from health, housing, unemployment rates, life expectancy, rates of imprisonment and deaths in custody—demonstrates that the land rights perspective and the “engagement” of Lands Councils and other state-funded Aboriginal bodies with various levels of government have done nothing to improve the conditions of the Aboriginal working class.

Instead, a privileged minority has benefited from the establishment of a legal mechanism, through lands rights legislation, for the corporate exploitation of disputed lands for mining and other purposes, such as real estate development in Redfern. The vast majority of Aborigines have not benefited in the slightest. The way forward against the ongoing oppression experienced by Aboriginal communities is as part of a unified movement of the working class fighting for socialism.

Funding for Redfern Waterloo (Q9 to 14)

The Socialist Equality Party does not support the sale of state-owned land to fund the plans of the RWA.

The Labor government’s claim that no additional funding is required for human services in RW serves only to highlight that it has no intention of doing anything to seriously address the long-standing poverty, lack of employment opportunities and inadequate health, education and infrastructure that have been endured by significant sections of the community.

Despite the various guarantees about maintaining affordable housing ratios in the area, the Labor government is calculating that the RW redevelopment will lead to gentrification and increased housing and living costs. The long-term consequences will be intensified financial and social pressures on lower-income earners to move out.

Government law-and-order campaigns have already led to a massive increase in police harassment of working class youth in the area. The death of TJ Hickey following an unnecessary police chase in February 2004 was one of the consequences. Public housing tenants whose circumstances mildly improve face having their leases terminated and being unable to afford private rental accommodation in the area.

The Labor government is also calculating that the value of state-owned real estate will rise substantially. Under conditions of federal government cutbacks to funding and state budget deficits, there are clear financial incentives for the state government to continue to sell-off public housing stock to private interests, as it attempted to do in Erskineville and is doing in Minto.

Transparency and Community Engagement (Q15 to 21)

A genuinely democratic plan for the development of the CBD and Redfern-Waterloo can only be developed by elected working class representatives from across the city, operating with the fullest transparency and the involvement and input from qualified experts.

This would necessarily include a publicly released study of the education, health, aged care and other services that would be needed for the residential and working population of the CBD and surrounding areas.

What exists in the form of the RWA is a corporatist plan for the development of the city. The central question facing working people in Redfern-Waterloo, as with their counterparts worldwide, is not what we or any other candidate promises to do, but rather how the working class itself can begin to collectively fight for its own class interests.

This requires abandoning the illusion that Labor or some other capitalist party, like the Democrats or Greens, can be pressured to advance the interests of working people through lobbying, protest, or any other means. The working class must establish its political independence from the entire official political establishment.

Built Environment Plan (Q22 to 33)

The SEP does not oppose development. The over-riding issue is in whose interests the development is being carried out.

Under conditions where the living standards of working people are being eroded, where poverty is increasing and where large parts of the city suffer from a lack of adequate, let alone quality, infrastructure, the RWA plan will ultimately benefit only a wealthier minority of Sydney’s residents.

For this reason, no aspect of the Labor government’s RWA plan should be supported. It is a redevelopment that will exacerbate the social divide within the city. In the long-term, the working class faces being excluded from the area.

The fate of the Block epitomises this process. Whatever commercial arrangement the Aboriginal Housing Company finally negotiates with the RWA over how many houses will be built and how the land it owns will be developed, the impact has already been to pressure some of the most vulnerable members of the Aboriginal community to move away.

Redwatch asks whether the SEP supports protecting heritage sites associated with the former railway workshops, underground cabling, the provision of infrastructure for high-speed internet access, the provision of greater public open space and building codes that compel developers to construct quality buildings and infrastructure that takes into account environmental considerations.

The answer is an emphatic yes. These are socially necessary and socially beneficial initiatives. The task at hand, however, is the construction of a mass political movement of the working class that can fundamentally reorganise economic life and place such initiatives at the centre of planning decisions. There is simply no other way they will ever be implemented.

In regards to public transport, the Socialist Equality Party advocates the creation of a comprehensive and publicly owned public transport network that provides accessible train and bus services free of charge. Access to free public transport must be considered a social right that is essential for the full participation of all people in social, cultural, and political life.

The development of such a system must form part of a comprehensive urban development plan that addresses every aspect of Sydney’s rapidly deteriorating social infrastructure. That infrastructure—including roads and transport, water and sewerage, power and electricity—must be publicly provided and properly funded. All Public Private Partnerships signed by the state government must either be repudiated or renegotiated with full public participation.

Public Housing (Q34 to 41)

The systematic narrowing of access to public housing has been among the most destructive of the policies that have been pursued by successive Liberal and Labor governments. This has been a significant factor in the huge increases in house prices and rents, as well as causing incalculable hardship for thousands of financially stressed families, who have not been able to access public housing when they need it.

Between 2005 and 2006, the NSW waiting list for public housing was cut by 20 percent, not because the government provided more people with accommodation, but because it is now almost impossible for anyone except the permanently disabled to qualify. In the last 12 months, Labor has hit existing public housing residents with increased rents and charges, expected to bring in an additional $64 million per year.

The SEP advocates an immediate step to alleviate the stress on working class families caused by housing costs. Mortgage repayments and rent should be capped at no more than 20 percent of a residents’ income. 

As part of a public works program, the SEP advocates large-scale state investment to renovate existing public housing and to purchase or construct tens of thousands of new homes. Affordable, quality, and secure public housing should be available to all those who want it. At the same time, public housing maintenance must be dramatically improved. The substandard high-rises that exist in areas like Redfern-Waterloo must be replaced with quality buildings.

These demands can only be realised through the development of a mass movement of working people directed against the private profit system itself.

Human Services (Q42 to 45)

The hardship that is endured by elderly people of working class backgrounds is among the greatest indictments of the profit system and the political parties that defend it. Men and women who have laboured for decades are literally cast aside, denied the adequate income that would enable them to live out their retirement in dignity, security and comfort.

The SEP proposes to address the unmet needs of the working class elderly by developing a political movement that will implement the necessary socialist policies. These include a state-funded pension system in which all retirees receive the average wage; free specialised health clinics that cater to the requirements of the elderly; the design of all transport services so the elderly and disabled can use them; adequate resources for the full-time care of all those who need it.  

The finances for such policies would come from a radical redistribution of social wealth. The conversion of all major corporations into publicly-owned enterprises, combined with a progressive taxation system that targets the assets of the financial aristocracy, would provide the vast resources necessary.

Eliminating the unprecedented social gulf that separates rich and poor in Australia is the solution to social problems such as crime and substance abuse. They will not be solved by policing measures or imprisoning ever greater numbers of people who really require treatment and assistance. The SEP opposes the law-and-order campaigns of the Iemma government and the claims that the state is fighting a “war on drugs”. Only the systematic raising of the material and cultural conditions of millions of people will address the real causes, which are economic, social and cultural deprivation.

The SEP advocates immediate measures such as a dramatic increase in funding for mental health services and drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation facilities. We support the establishment of facilities that are specifically resourced to cater for the needs of Aboriginal patients and immigrant communities, including full translation services. In the final analysis, however, the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction can only be overcome by transforming the economic and social conditions and pressures that have given rise to it   

Employment and Enterprise Plan (Q46 to 47)

The SEP proposes the following policies to address unemployment. To create additional employment, and to allow all workers to fully participate in political, social and cultural life, the working week should be reduced to 30 hours, with no loss of pay. All workers should receive five weeks’ annual paid leave, maternity and paternity leave, sick leave and rigorously enforced health and safety standards. All working people whose skills need upgrading should have access to re-training at quality, free education facilities, during which time they should be paid the average wage.

Question 48—Issues not addressed by Redwatch’s questions

Like all Socialist Equality Party (SEP) candidates in the NSW state election, we are standing in order to provide an independent political voice for the working class and to advance a socialist and internationalist program against war, inequality and the destruction of democratic rights. We stand in complete opposition to the Iraq war, Washington’s preparations for a military attack on Iran, and the aggressive militarism of the Howard government.

We reject the attempt by the media and political establishment to censor and suppress all mention in this election of the Iraq war, the preparations for another war against Iran and the neo-colonial interventions by the Howard government in the South Pacific on the grounds that only “local” or “state” issues should be discussed.  

The eruption of militarism and war is the sharpest reflection of the destructive impact of the capitalist profit system, which is responsible for all the pressing problems affecting ordinary people—from the impact of the corporatist development in RW, to declining working and living conditions, deteriorating public services, the degradation of the environment, escalating social inequality, to the destruction of basic rights.

The failure of the 2003 antiwar protests to stop the invasion of Iraq graphically demonstrated the futility of appealing to, or seeking to pressure, the existing parties and institutions. A new political movement of the working class, based upon a socialist and internationalist perspective, must be urgently built.

We urge all working people in Redfern-Waterloo to support a socialist perspective, vote SEP in Marrickville and Heffron and, above all, to contact our party and join our efforts to build a new international revolutionary movement of the working class.

Patrick O’Connor
James Cogan
March 13, 2007