Australia: Socialist Alliance wins seat in Melbourne municipal council

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By Chris Slee and Selena Black, Melbourne

November 3, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- Socialist Alliance candidate Sue Bolton (pictured above) was elected to Moreland City Council in Melbourne’s northern suburbs in the October 27 municipal government elections. Bolton received 9.5% of the first-preference votes in the council’s north-east ward, which covers Coburg, Fawkner and part of Brunswick. Twenty-four candidates contested the four available positions in the ward.

Bolton came third on primary votes, behind Greens candidate Lenka Thompson with 14.37% and Australian Labor Party (ALP) member Michael Teti with 10.42%. Bolton came in ahead of Liberal Party member Rob Thompson, who mangaed 9.39%, despite spending up big on his campaign.

Although the ALP candidates generally exchanged preferences, a large number of people who gave their first preference to an ALP candidate disregarded the how-to-vote cards and gave their second preference to Bolton. Bolton clearly campaigned as a Socialist Alliance candidate.

Socialist Alliance campaigned on the theme of “community need, not developer greed”. It called for a campaigning council that would fight for issues such as mandatory height limits on new developments, improved public transport in the area, opposition to the privatisation of public housing, an end to privatisation of council services such as rubbish collection, no increase in residential rates beyond the rate of inflation, while making gambling venues, developers and big business pay more rates.

While taking up a range of local issues, Socialist Alliance also called for council to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people by banning contracts with companies such as Veolia that support Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.

More than 70 people helped with the campaign. Bolton said the campaign had received support from activists in trade unions and a range of other groups campaigning around issues such as public housing, education, refugee rights, Aboriginal rights and others. It also attracted activists involved in international solidarity campaigns, such as those for the rights of Tamils, Kurds and other oppressed groups.

Bolton said that this support was a result of Socialist Alliance’s history of building such campaigns. She said, “I intend to be an activist councillor. I will work with community groups to fight for the rights of residents.”

Bolton noted that there had been a backlash against the Greens as well as Labor in Moreland, particularly in the southern ward, because they were seen as failing to stand up for residents against inappropriate development.

Pointing to the strong votes for the Socialist Party in Yarra council and for Socialist Alliance candidate Sue Bull in Geelong, Bolton said this shows that “people will support a socialist approach to issues facing working people”.

The Moreland election provided a shake-up with the ALP losing three councillors and its outright majority on council. The Greens retained two councillors although their vote dropped in all three wards. The Socialist Alliance gained its first councillor position in Victoria and a Liberal Party member was elected to Moreland Council for the first time. The Democratic Labor Party retained its councillor.

The Melbourne media ignored the raised vote for socialists in the October 27 Victorian local government elections.

The Socialist Party’s sitting councillor Steve Jolly increased his vote from 29.2% in 2008 to 34.24% in the inner-city City of Yarra council. In other wards of Yarra Council, the Socialist Party increased its vote but did not retain its other sitting councilor, Anthony Main, despite winning more than 11% of the vote.

Since Jolly was elected, his vote has continued to rise. This is because he and the Socialist Party have used the council position to build campaigns in the local area.

Sue Bull stood for the Socialist Alliance for Lord Mayor in Geelong, a regional city. She received 10,288 votes, 8.1% of the vote. In some of the more working-class booths in Corio, Bull won about 11% of the vote.

These results for the Socialist Alliance have built on strong results in the 2008 local government election when it won its highest vote in the Maribyrnong council. Candidates Stuart Martin and Margarita Windisch won 18.9% and 12.4% of the vote respectively.

Socialist Alliance also had a solid vote in local council elections in Moreland in 2008 and 2004.

Sue Bull, writing in Green Left Weekly, explained the significance of the Socialist Alliance vote in Geelong:

... when was the last time a socialist got more than 10,000 people voting for them at any level of government [in Australia] in recent years?

And there’s the rub. In this election there were no Green or Labor Party left candidates. In fact I was the only clearly progressive candidate, whose politics were put up front.

I was the only candidate who said that I was against corporate greed. As an openly socialist candidate, I said Geelong had to become more liveable in terms of public transport, sustainable housing and the development of alternative industries that create “green collar” jobs for workers sacked from local manufacturing industries. I even called for Geelong to become a refugee welcoming city, taking a stand against racism, and to support our local TAFE [Technical and Further Education college] against cuts to education and training.

All of these ideas, if you believe the mainstream media, are unpopular and potentially "unAustralian". Yet more than 10,000 people in a regional city in Australia didn’t think so.

So why did construction workers and metalworkers, a middle-class woman shopping in town and a young woman who works for a charity say they voted for a middle-aged, socialist, health and safety teacher?

Many said it was because I would only take the wage of an average worker rather than the CEO-style wages of $183,000 that were on offer. Others liked the pro-worker policies, the anti-big business policies or the proposals for environmental sustainability. Several even cheered when I acknowledged the traditional owners of the land, the Wathaurong, because nobody else remembered to previously during the campaign.

But what became overwhelmingly clear was that many of those 10,000 people just wanted something different. They didn’t want to hear any more hypocritical lies about putting the community first, while actually favouring development that destroys our town and our quality of life. They didn’t want some hogwash about caring for our future, while really supporting policies that cut services, jobs and wages. And they were sick and tired of promises about moving forward, seeking new opportunities or taking innovative approaches when the fact is that many people in this community have no work, can’t pay their rates or have been lied to for so long that my straightforward, unadulterated socialist policies sounded like a breath of fresh air.

I think this does show that the mood is changing out there. That working-class people are stirring, they want to hear fighting words and challenge the Lib/Lab consensus that always seems to favour big business and exploitation.

Well maybe you’re thinking — she’s dreaming — it was only 8.1% of the vote and the conservatives got an awful lot of votes. But consider this: Socialist Alliance won twice the number of votes that the candidate for the Chamber of Commerce received, and [successful candidate's] promise to halve the mayoral wage happened only after I challenged him to cut the wage. Surely that counts for something.

Sue Bolton: 'How a socialist councillor can make a difference'

By Sue Bolton

November 3, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- Since being elected to the Moreland council in Melbourne, I have been asked by several people whether I can make a difference since I will have only one vote on council.

My reply is that socialists on local council or in federal or state parliaments can achieve change only if they use the position to build and support local community and broader campaigns for people’s rights.

At the end of the day, an elected socialist won’t achieve much if they just rely on negotiations with other councillors or politicians.

Even if socialists had a majority on council or in state or federal parliament, they couldn’t make progressive change just by relying on the processes of council or parliament. This is because the large capitalists and business interests will fight to prevent socialists implementing any progressive agenda.

The only way that a progressive agenda can be won, regardless of whether socialists are in a minority or a majority position is if the community organises to fight for progressive change.

The challenge for me and for the Socialist Alliance is to use this position to support community campaigns against attacks, and also to initiate campaigns to improve the lives of working-class people.

In the north-east ward of Moreland, there has been the example of a very successful campaign to improve conditions — the High School for Coburg campaign.

After the Jeff Kennett Liberal Victorian government shut down all the local high schools in the mid-1990s, Coburg was left without a high school. This meant local kids made friends at primary school, but those friendship groups broke up when they had to leave the area to go to high school.

After several years of campaigning, the High School for Coburg campaign scored a victory when the state government caved in and agreed this year to re-establish a high school in Coburg.

This successful campaign needs to be replicated many times over.

It is important for the socialist movement to be involved in this sort of local campaigning around working-class issues.

At the moment in Australia, the socialist movement is mostly involved in campaigning around moral issues such as refugee rights, equal marriage rights and Aboriginal rights.

These are all important, but unless the left also campaigns for improving basic living conditions for working-class people, it is easier for the Labor and Liberal parties to divert attention from their poor records and blame refugees, for example, for people’s economic woes.

The Socialist Alliance is determined to try to build an activist, campaigning council in Moreland. Shortly, we will call a meeting of Moreland residents who want to take part in this project.

[The details will be published in Green Left Weekly. If you would like to take part in this project, contact the Socialist Alliance on (03) 9639 8622 or email, or Sue Bolton on 0413 377 978 or]

New councillor Sue Bolton: dedicated feminist, socialist activist

By Pip Hinman

November 2, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- Sue Bolton, the newly elected socialist councillor in Moreland, is a feminist and socialist fighter. She's been a tireless campaigner for working people’s rights since the late 1970s, when she first joined the anti-uranium campaign in Toowoomba, Queensland.

So incensed was she by the reactionary Joh Bjelke-Petersen Queensland government’s ban on street marches, she joined local activists from the anti-uranium campaign to support freedom of speech and assembly. The civil rights movement in Queensland brought a lot of young activists into the social movements, many becoming socialists.

She finished a three-year psychology degree in Toowoomba, but decided, "it was the system that caused the problems so many people faced ... and I wanted to fight for a better one.” She never pursued a career in psychology.

After a stint fruit picking, Sue moved back to Brisbane and worked at Australia Post. She was “razor ganged” out of the public service by Liberal Prime Minister Malcom Fraser’s huge cuts in 1981.

Sue joined the then Socialist Workers Party in 1982 after having met several socialists while working in Whitco — a metal factory producing window winders and locks. She joined the union (at that time the Amalgamated Metals Foundry and Shipwrights' Union — a predecessor of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union) that had been waging a 35-hour week campaign. She was later sacked from that metal shop.

Undeterred from demanding her place in a male-dominated industry, this feminist signed up to become a bus driver.

The 1980s in Queensland were heady days for socialists. The campaign for a shorter work week included many impromptu strikes. When Bjelke-Petersen decided to sack 3000 railway workers — including those on holiday — it sparked a general strike across Queensland.

The 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane became the focus for the movement for Aboriginal rights. The large protests and huge numbers of arrests put the spotlight on the oppression of Aboriginal people. In a symbol of the struggle for their rights, Murri people and their supporters renamed Musgrave Park, in south Brisbane, Murri Park.

During her six years “on the buses”, Sue was active in the Tramway, Motor Omnibus Employees Union and, alongside other militants, worked hard to influence that union to campaign to improve conditions on the job as well as support civil rights and other progressive movements.

She was highly regarded in the trade union support committee for the SEQEB electricity workers who waged a concerted battle against Bjelke-Petersen’s attempt to cut their jobs and incomes and deregulate the industry. SEQEB workers were locked out of their jobs, but the industrial action, supported by large sections of the population, paved the way for the Nationals’ defeat and some civil rights victories.

In 1987, Sue moved to Queanbeyan and worked variously as a truck driver, a hospital bus driver and cleaner, and a public servant. As the branch secretary for the then Democratic Socialist Party, she was also very involved in building the 1991 protest against the arms exhibition, AIDEX, and the movement opposing the first Gulf War.

In 1993, Sue moved to Melbourne. She became a regular at many protests and picket lines and encouraged many others to also get involved.

During the 1990s in Melbourne there were many struggles against the Jeff Kennett Liberal government’s attacks on workers, widespread privatisations and the closure of more than 200 schools. Sue was active in many of these campaigns, including the campaign to defend the Richmond Secondary College.

In the late '90s, Sue moved to Sydney, where she worked as a journalist for Green Left Weekly before moving back to Melbourne in the early 2000s.

Sue is now the Victorian convener of Socialist Alliance and a member of the party’s national executive.

She has also been a national convener of the party’s trade union work, during which time she helped coordinate the Free Craig Johnson campaign (jailed because of his union militancy, on trumped-up charges) and the party's work as part of the campaign against John Howard's Work Choices. She was involved in the Northern Communities and Union Solidarity Group in Melbourne at that time.

More recently, Sue helped the campaign to stop the closure of the Ballerrt Mooroop College — the only Aboriginal college in Victoria. At a Palestinian rights protest last year, Bolton was among those arrested and charged for "besetting" a Max Brenner outlet. The court later threw out the charges against Sue and the other activists in the “Boycott Israel 19” in favour of freedom of speech.

Sue has been very active in the refugee rights campaign in Victoria, which recently helped stop the deportation of a Tamil asylum seeker to Sri Lanka, where it was likely he faced harm or even death.

Sue is widely respected among the left for her inclusiveness and persistence. She has an enormous heart and will stop at nothing to ensure that justice and solidarity prevail.

Sue is indeed a defender of the people. Her campaign slogan for the Moreland council election was: “Community need, not corporate greed.”

Moreland Council, watch out.

Sue Bolton: Make Moreland a campaigning council

Moreland city councillor and Socialist Alliance activist Sue Bolton. Photo by Aneleh Bulle.

November 10, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- In last month’s Victorian local council elections, the Socialist Alliance’s Sue Bolton was elected to Moreland City Council in Melbourne’s north. Green Left Weekly’s Susan Price asked Bolton about the significance of the result for the Socialist Alliance and her goals as a socialist councillor.

* * *

I think the significance is that it shows people can be attracted towards socialist ideas and people not in the organised left are prepared to accept a socialist platform in elections. And, of course, they want to see what socialists can do if people are actually elected.

I think some people were attracted by some of our slogans, which were related to some very important issues in the Moreland area. One of those was “community need, not developer greed”. And that’s partly because developers have been running amok in the Moreland area.

The developers have been able to get away with a whole lot of developments that communities have been very unhappy with. While there are meant to be height limits on new developments in the Moreland area, the developers have been able to get away with flexible implementation of those height limits.

For instance, a developer could be allowed to add in a tiny energy saving measure in order to get an extra two or three levels above the height limit. That has really angered a lot of residents and that was one of the key issues in the campaign.

We also took up issues such as cost-of-living pressures on people and the fact that councils need to try to develop a [better] approach with things like council rates, which are very inequitable form of funding for local government.

Someone who is really rich, and someone who might be living on a pension or the Newstart allowance and might have bought a house years ago, they pay the same rates if those properties are next door to each other. Clearly, one can afford to pay much higher rates and the other cannot afford very high rates at all.

So you have ordinary working class people, pensioners and people on unemployment benefits pushed out of areas that they have established themselves in.

Another issue we took up was that Moreland Council needs to be a campaigning council. There are some issues that affect working class people very deeply that are not traditionally the province of local council. But we see them as being quite critical and we think council should have a campaigning approach toward — campaigning for residents’ rights against the state government

One issue would be the issue of public housing. We see that as being central. So many people — tens of thousands across the city — are struggling to pay rent and struggling to pay mortgages. In the Moreland area, the number of public housing dwellings has been declining by 25 dwellings per year.

We’ve also got a state government that is trying to sell off public housing. Some of it is being directly sold off, some of it is being transferred from the state government to housing associations under the fluffy term “social housing”.

But “social housing” gives [residents] no guarantees: it’s basically the privatisation of public housing.

That is destroying people’s ability to get public housing, to get housing security at any kind of affordable level. So we would like to see the council campaign for more public housing in Moreland and across the city.

The other issue is public transport, especially in the northern part of the Moreland council area, in the ward I stood in, the suburb called Fawkner. It’s a working class, poor and mostly migrant suburb.

Fawkner was put into the Moreland Council area as a result of council amalgamations — forced amalgamations by the Kennett government in the 1990s. Initially, Moreland Council paid no attention to the northern suburbs of Fawkner and Glenroy. All the attention was focused on the more inner-city suburbs of Brunswick and Coburg.

But there is a crying need for more public transport in the Fawkner area. If you are in the eastern side of Fawkner you are a long way from the train line and ... it means lots of families will be forced to have two or more cars.

From the point of view of climate change, but also from the point of view of accessibility to transport, there is a desperate need for the council to take up this issue and fight for more public transport in the area.

We want to work closely with groups like Friends of Public Housing and the Upgrade Upfield Line campaign to actually build community activism in the Moreland area.

There is no guarantee that the council will be at all responsive to what we put forward. The make-up of the council will be two Greens, five or six Labor Party, one Democratic Labor Party and a Liberal Party person for the first time on that council, as well as myself.

So there is no guarantee Socialist Alliance will be able to get any of the issues we want to campaign around, and that the community wants to campaign around, up on the council agenda.

But even if it is put on the council agenda, there may not be a commitment by council. On issues like public housing, where it is a state government issue, they might pass a nice motherhood statement, but not do anything about it.

We’re determined to try to enact some campaigns around these issues.

From GLW issue 944