Last week The Age reported that vacant housing owned by the state government in Bendigo Street, Collingwood, “could be used to help family violence victims”. Emphasis added.
The State government and others are touting the story in The Age in an attempt to convince homelessness activists to end their occupation of the vacant houses that were compulsorily acquired by the state government for the failed East West Link project.
The article in The Age contains no definite information about the government’s plans, it merely states that when asked “if the government would use the available properties to help domestic violence victims, Housing Minister Martin Foley did not rule it out”.
All of the information that activists have seen indicates that if the government has definite plans to use the vacant properties (which is not clear), they do not have comprehensive plans to utilize all of the houses, and they do not intend to convert them into public housing. At best, government officials have indicated they have plans to lease certain East West Link houses to a “community housing” project.
“The 6 unused houses on Bendigo St to be made into genuine public housing … [and that] All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West Link that are still in the government’s possession to be added to the public housing register … [and that] The Andrews government to say how they intend to provide housing for 25,000 homeless people”
The focus on Public housing is a deliberate part of their demands. “Community” housing is not public housing, although the distinction is lost on many.
“Social” or “Community” housing projects are administered by social service or religious NGOs and charities. These projects do not offer the long term security of tenure or guaranteed affordability of the public housing system. For LGBTQI+ homeless people community houses offers the additional awkwardness and likely discrimination associated with potentially homophobic religious groups such as the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army has been forced to make a public apology after one of its majors stated that the Salvation Army believes gay people should die.
The wider community should not be fooled by the FUD being spread by the state government. The state government continues to hold houses empty, and they failed to announce any credible plan for the houses in Bendigo Street, Collingwood. The occupation initiated by the HPUV continues; if you have half an hour free, come down to 2 Bendigo Street and get involved.
There is no denying that Marxism is the most significant political conference on the far-left in Australia. Socialist Alternative claims to have sold 1,253 tickets to this Easter’s conference, which seems broadly plausible. There were several hundred people actively participating across three days, with up to seven concurrent sessions at any given time. Socialist Alternative presented a range of international speakers, as well as streams on workers’ organizing, Indigenous struggles, current political debates, ‘Marxism 101’, and more.
For all anyone might like to criticize Socialist Alternative’s conference, no one is putting on anything better.
Yes, their conference is geared towards recruiting new members to Socialist Alternative. There is no great debate or diversity of opinion in the material presented (that is not to say that the material itself is not diverse, but the political perspective is largely uniform); Socialist Alternative has their line and they advance it. As an organisation they know what they are doing with Marxism, and they do it well.
I say this as someone who wishes there was something better. I am not a member of Socialist Alternative; I am an unapologetic and unrepentant anarchist. I sincerely wish that anarchists in Australia were prepared and willing to undertake the work to put on an explicitly anarchist political conference that could rival Marxism.
No, scratch that, I wish we would put on a conference better than Marxism. I wish we could put on something with greater depth, better debate, and more diversity of opinion. I wish we would put on an event that gets people excited about politics!
Socialist Alternative should rightly be proud of the work they’ve put into Marxism. Anarchists and others should rise to the challenge that it presents.
Odds and Ends and Gossip
Members of the Spartacist League attended the conference on the first day (they even purchased a ticket!) but it seems their welcome was conditional and they were soon ejected. Socialist Alternative members inform me the Spartacist League were ejected for disrupting a ‘Marxism 101’ session. Others claim that the Spartacists were informed they could attend a ‘101’ session but they would not be permitted to participate in the usual Q&A/Discussion these involve; it seems they decided to participate nonetheless.
For all their rhetoric about fighting “left wing treason” and “communism”, the sewer dwellers of the United Patriots Front were nowhere to be seen all weekend.
Housing that was compulsorily acquired as part of the failed East-West Link project is STILL empty six months after it was handed over to a homelessness charity.
Today the Homeless Persons’ Union has occupied several vacant houses on Bendigo Street in Collingwood. Approximately thirty activists are camped out at Bendigo Street demanding to know why housing owned by the Andrews state government sits empty whilst thousands of people sleep rough on the streets of Melbourne.
EAST WEST LINK HOMES LANGUISH AMIDST HOMELESSNESS CRISIS
Early this morning a coalition comprising members of the Homeless Persons Union Victoria and Melbourne’s homeless community began demonstrating at a number of empty properties on Bendigo St, Collingwood. The properties are among those that were compulsorily acquired by the former Napthine government for the now defunct East West link.
The demonstration seeks clarification on issues surrounding the ownership, management and occupancy of these empty, publicly-owned properties. The lack of transparency has led to confusion within the homeless community.
Six months ago there were media reports that 20 properties were transferred to the Collingwood Football Club’s ‘Magpie Nest’ program, a partnership with The Salvation Army, to house the homeless. A spokesman from Magpie Nest claims that all properties transferred to their management have been filled.
In light of this, the demonstrators call on those responsible to immediately provide clarification on who owns and manages the remaining empty properties. It is unjustifiable that these dwellings remain unoccupied with a Victorian winter approaching.
There are 35,000+ Victorians on the public housing waiting list, growing at 100 per month. This is while the Andrews government neglects, demolishes and privatises public housing.
Each and every Victorian has a human right to safe, secure and affordable housing.People lose their lives due to medical conditions acquired through being exposed to the elements whilst living rough.
We ask the Andrews government and the Victorian public- is this good enough?
As of midday the action is ongoing, demonstrators are discussing the possibility of an ongoing occupation of the vacant homes.
Today’s action has ended with something of a win for demonstrators. Police responded to the demonstration Bendigo street this afternoon and demanded that homelessness activists vacate the occupied homes. After a prolonged standoff, police relented and departed.
Activists have announced that a mass meeting will be held tomorrow at 6:30pm and are encouraging all supporters to attend.
Homelessness activists invite all supporters to mass meet, 6:30pm tomorrow, Bendigo St, #Collingwood. #EWLink houses should not stand empty!
There is coverage of today’s action on The Age website:
Occupiers are staging a sit in, as part of an organised protest against the waste of much needed inner-city housing.
About 50 homeless people and members of the Homeless Persons Union Victoria are protesting at several of the empty homes that are now publicly owned. They have moved into the street, bringing couches, gas cooking burners and placards with them.
The Herald Scum also have a brief article up that’s so bad it’s not even worth linking too.
I’m posting periodic updates on twitter using the hashtag #EWLinkHouses.
Update 1 April 2016:
The #EWLinkHouses occupation on Bendigo Street Collingwood is ongoing! Demonstrators have occupied 2 Bendigo Street, and setup a protest media hub.
BENDIGO STREET OCCUPATION TO CONTINUE UNTIL DEMANDS ARE MET – PUBLIC HOUSING NOW
A group of housing activists and homeless people have occupied properties in Bendigo Street, Collingwood.
These 6 government-owned houses were pledged to be used to address homelessness by the Andrews government, but many have been sitting empty for over a year.
The occupiers of the properties have made the following demands and refuse to leave until they are met.
• Immediate release of all information relating to the current ownership of all
properties acquired for the East-West Link, with full transparency about all
acquired land and no more dishonesty.
•The 6 unused houses on Bendigo St to be made into genuine public housing
and allocated to some of the 35,000 people on the public housing waiting list.
Occupation will continue until the first keys are handed over.
• All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West Link that are still in the
government’s possession to be added to the public housing register.
• Minister Martin Foley to come to Bendigo St and be interviewed by people
with experience of homelessness.
• The Andrews government to say how they intend to provide housing for 25,000
homeless people while there are 80,000 unoccupied dwellings in Melbourne.
Given the importance placed on addressing housing issues by the report
of the recent Royal Commission on Family Violence, the occupiers believe taking
action on public housing should be an immediate priority of all levels of government.
Homeless women ‘told they had 10 minutes to leave’ East West Link home
On Thursday Roads Minister Luke Donnellan said the nine vacant properties in Bendigo Street were empty because they were awaiting a tenant or needed more work to prepare them for occupation.
He said if the squatters at Bendigo Street were homeless they should join the public housing list – which stands at more than 30,000 people across Victoria and 1204 in Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond.
In a sit-in protest on Bendigo Street on Thursday, about a dozen people hung banners and set up couches and cooking facilities on the footpath.
The Green’s Ellen Sandell was among a number of supporters to pop down on Day 3 and offer support to the occupation:
Richard di Natale has a simple pitch to the bourgeoisie, “You can trust us, we’ll play by the rules”.
In a puff piece in this weeks’ Australian Financial Review, di Natale and Peter Whish-Wilson are keen to highlight just how trustworthy they really are.
First, they’re keen to point out that as a parliamentary party, they are no longer beholden to Greens members and internal democratic processes:
Greens finance spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson, a former investment banker, has also revealed how the party’s newly operational “lightning” decision group has helped them seal deals with the Turnbull government, some of which one senior Greens source said “would never have happened under [former leader] Christine Milne”.
They are a “new generation of Greens parliamentarians”, who understand and will respect the rules of Australia’s political class:
The first Greens leader not to have spent time in jail for environmental activism, Senator Di Natale said 2015 has seen “a significant transition” for the party since he took over in May. “People have described it as a new generation of Greens parliamentarians,” he said.
They are prepared to work with, rather than against, the established forces of the political class, they are prepared to be “pragmatic”:
After coming under heavy attack from Labor at the end of the year after clinching two major deals over multinational tax transparency and foreign investment in agricultural land, Senator Di Natale said he wants this sort of pragmatism to define his leadership.
Pragmatic is important. The Greens leadership will argue about the merits of this or that compromise from a policy perspective, but what it demonstrates to both the ruling class and Greens supporters is that the inherently anti-environment, anti-worker and anti-social justice forces of the right are no longer beyond the pale as far as the parliamentary Greens party is concerned.
Importantly for a pitch to the ruling class, the Greens are keen to highlight that they are bankable:
Senator Di Natale said he is confident the party can make progress on his aim of two senators in every state this year.
He says the party’s internal figures have shown a 30 per cent rise in membership from the 2013-14 to 2014-15 financial year, from around 10,000 to 13,400 members nationally, and said he believed they had “significant success” in state elections.
2016 is an important year for the Greens.
The Greens have been searching for mainstream acceptability since at least 2004. At the Greens national conference that year Bob Brown finally won the argument for a stronger federal parliamentary party room and a formal party leadership.
The campaign for respectability has reached remarkable depths since 2004. People and policies that might offend bourgeoisie acceptability have been progressively jettisoned. Redistributive justice went by the wayside in 2012, check out Hall Greenland’s account of the Greens 2012 policy conference for some idea of what that involved:
The “party room” (as the federal MPs are called) moved for the deletion of the plank in an abbreviated debate – about ten minutes – in which Bob Brown seized the mike to spell out the reason for the elimination: it was electoral poison and costing us one or two percent of the vote. That was it. Truly.
A few hours earlier in a special plenary session called to farewell Bob Brown, both he and his successor, Senator Christine Milne, laid out the strategy of an alliance with what might be dubbed “the green bourgeoisie”, but which is usually referred to as Green businesses. The thinking is that there are firms out there with a real interest in an ecologically sustainable economy and that they can be split away from the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group to form a capitalist base for the Greens. As one of the leaders said – I think it was Bob Brown – this new alliance will also “afford us new funding opportunities”.
For ten years many in the Greens have assumed that the next ten percent is out there, they’re just being scared off by this or that non-core promise, person or practice (or mainstream media misrepresentation of the latter!). In 2016 the Greens are expecting a payoff for work towards political respectability.
If the leadership of the Greens seriously believe their bullshit (and there is every reason to suspect they do), the 2016 federal election will be a disappointment for The Greens. A “me-to” minor party cannot substantially change Australian politics. There is little reason for people who accept the logic of ‘lesser-evilism’ to vote Greens, and there is no reason for people who do not accept that logic to do so.
Their search for respectability has made it clear, The Greens are no alternative for any person who wants real change, real economic and social justice, and a real shot at ecological sustainability.
Most Australians no longer think it matters which major party is in government according to new research, which also reveals a significant decline in support for democracy over the past seven years.
The number of Australians who believed it made a difference which party was in power plunged from 68 per cent to 43 per cent in the same period.
Nearly 20 per cent of eligible voters, about 3 million Australians, effectively opted out of the last federal election by either failing to enrol to vote, not showing up to vote or voting informally.
They tend to be younger, poorer, outer-metropolitan and rural, according to Dr Tim Battin from the University of New England.
He says most of them are not apathetic but they believe the political system excludes them.
No person, party, movement or ideology will successfully speak to the disillusioned by playing by the established rules of the Australian political system.
[Di Natale] said the Greens’ goal to expand its voter base to 20 per cent within a decade also involved connecting more with rural and regional communities where they’ve experienced recent success through hard-nosed policies on land use and mining.
But its opposition to GMs has continually frustrated farming groups.
Changes to GM policy are part of a wider push to “mainstream” the party in the lead up to this years federal election. Earlier in 2015 Di Natale sidelined the Greens’ most prominently left wing senator, Lee Rhiannon, in a portfolio reshuffle.
The sidelining of Rhiannon was a blow to the party’s NSW based left. A move on GM policy would be a blow to the remnants of the Green’s enviro-hippy roots.
Considered in isolation, an attack on the Greens current GM policy is hardly a bad thing. The policy is stupid.
Defenders of the Greens’ GMO policy will claim that it merely adopts the precautionary principle. In reality it wholesale condemns an entire branch of useful technological development on the basis of paranoid fantasies.
The Australian Greens believe that:
Genetically manipulated organisms (GMOs), their products, and the chemicals used to manage them pose significant risks to natural and agricultural ecosystems and human health.
Don’t be manipulating the genetics, you gotta keep it all natural man!
The important questions that arise from the development and use of biotechnology are not the existence of mythical “frankenfoods”, but rather its interaction with capitalist property relations. Who gets to ‘own’ this technology, who gets to use it, and for whose benefit is it deployed? These aren’t problems peculiar to GMOs, they’re the same questions relevant to all technological development under capitalism.
Anyway. Back from the tangent.
In isolation, the erosion of a bad GM policy might seem like good news. If the Greens were a healthy democratic organization, a bad GM policy could be debated and reconsidered. Left elements within the Greens could make the case for being critical of capitalist property rights in technology, rather than simply luddite.
But that is not what is happening. This change is not being led by the grass-roots, this is a change being imposed from above. The Greens are “mainstreaming”, there is an ongoing process of sidelining or jettisoning policy practice and people that are outside the bounds of what Australian capitalist democracy deems acceptable.
The quest for twenty percent is not about convincing another ten percent of the Australian population of the merits of Green ideas. It’s not about campaigns that will reach a wider layer of people, or building links with the working class. The Greens’ push for “the next ten percent” has always been about moderating policy and people; conforming to a more right-ward position in order to appear more ‘acceptable’.
The Greens leadership are wrong. Pushing right-ward until a wider layer of people feel it is ‘acceptable’ to vote Green will not deliver electoral success. Even if it would, the process of mainstreaming will (and in my opinion already has) destroy what few green social democratic aspirations those involved in the party might have had.
I know far too many comrades who identify as anarchist, anti-capitalist or socialist who still hold illusions in The Greens. You are not changing the Greens, you are being changed. Your efforts, however you direct them, are being channeled into the development and election of an increasingly right-wing bourgeoisie political party. If you stick around too much longer, you’ll wake up one day and realize you’ve become little more than blue-green shells of your former selves.
Federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale has partially broken with his party’s policy, saying that he does not believe genetically modified crops pose a significant risk to human health.
The Australian has more detail, here are some interesting snippets with emphasis added:
The views of the moderate Greens leader, who is trying to broaden community support for his left-wing party, contradict longstanding Greens’ party policy that calls for a moratorium on growing any crops and organisms that have been genetically modified.
High praise from The Australian… Fools within the Greens will see growing mainstream media praise as evidence that a shift right-ward is worthwhile.
At the very end of the article:
Foodsafe Foundation director Scott Kinnear, a close friend of Senator Di Natale, was horrified at his decision to make his personal beliefs public without party consultation. [emphasis added]
An apt point from the defenders of the existing Greens GM policy, but with a fair dose of hilarious utter nonsense thrown in to boot:
“Richard might be coming from a medical position, but there is vast difference between the use of GM technology in medicine and in agriculture and Richard doesn’t seem to get that.”
“Welfare notes” is an irregular update on unemployment and fight for livable welfare in Australia.
1. Cashless Welfare Card
The federal government has embarked on yet another iteration of income management. The initial income management program was introduced by the Howard government as part of it’s appallingly racist “Norther Territory Intervention”, ostensibly aimed at stopping child abuse. In reality the scheme was an arbitrary array of racist and paternalistic measures that increased indigenous poverty and wrought destruction on indigenous communities.
The new income management trial has been dubbed the “Cashless Welfare Debit Card” and is due to be inflicted on the South Australian community of Ceduna. A twelve month trial of the new welfare card is expected to be expanded in the new year, and will likely affect the Western Australian towns of Kununurra and Halls Creek.
Unlike the Basics Card, which controversially required merchants to sign up to accept the card (basically restricting indigenous people to shopping at major chain outlets), the new “cashless welfare card” is expected to function as a debit card and will presumably be accepted anywhere that has EFTPOS access. According to the DSS website:
The cashless debit card will look and operate like a normal bank card, except it cannot be used to buy alcohol, to gamble or withdraw cash.
Public demonstrations against the Ceduna trial were held in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Ceduna on 21 Nov. Photo by Kerry Davies.
The kicker is how they intend to achieve this. Detail is thin on the ground, but at community information sessions in Ceduna activists were basically told that the Department of Social Servicess is relying on merchants in the town to discriminate against people utilizing the new welfare card.
This Amendment allows for a trial on an aspect of income management that has failed in the past … On the evidence to date, involuntary income management has not been successful in reducing the habitual abuse and associated harm resulting from alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs. …
The technology of the proposed debit card is unproven …
A considerable number of people who do not need income management will be affected by this proposed Amendment … Within the trial sites there will be a large number of welfare recipients who manage their scarce resources well and who do not have a problem with alcohol, illegal drugs or gambling. Their normal patterns of financial management will be disrupted yet they will gain nothing from the trial. The Evaluation New Income Management in the Northern Territory: Final Evaluation Report highlighted a number of such instances. …
This Bill foreshadows a movement toward a more intrusive and disrespectful welfare system that would be rejected by the majority of Australians as paternalistic.
The AASW and others (eg. Eva Cox in this article for the conversation) argue that the government’s Ceduna trial wont even give them the information on income management that they claim to be seeking. The trial wont distinguish between the impact of income management and other new policy changes targeted at Ceduna, a twelve month trial is decidedly short for its stated aims.
The Ceduna trial is not a test of the effectiveness of income management to combat substance misuse. We already know that conditional welfare is disastrous upon the lives of welfare claimants and utterly ineffective in preventing substance misuse.
The cashless welfare card is a trial in politics. It will test whether this level of pervasive control over the lives of welfare claimants can be effectively implemented, it will test the technology, and it will test the politics.
The government has been steadily moving “toward a more intrusive and disrespectful welfare system” for more than a decade. In 2014 significant measures towards a harsher welfare system were rejected by the majority of Australians (although the expanded Work for the Dole program remains). The Ceduna trial is a subtler approach, an experiment upon a largely indigenous community that can be slowly extended and expanded with minimal resistance.
Meanwhile, the failed ‘Basics Card’ continues to operate across the Northern Territory.
A study commissioned by the Federal Government has found its work for the dole trial led to just a 2 per cent increase in job placements.
The evaluation was undertaken by the Social Research Centre and probably warrants a longer read by those of us campaigning on the issue of Work for the Dole. The whole thing is online here.
When the government announced the policy I was hopeful that sufficient pressure placed upon potential hosts could prevent the policy’s successful implementation. The evaluation notes:
At up to 15 hours per week per participant, the number of available work experience activities has been sufficient to meet demand – although initially a slow start, once the coordinators and providers were on board with the programme there appeared to be little difficulty in sourcing activities (although there were some exceptions in some of the more regional locations) through host organisations. … However, the suitability of activities has not necessarily aligned with what job seekers are able to do (or want to do).
In some cases, it was reported that activities were created by coordinators (as expected) but then providers were unable to provide suitable job seekers to fill those places because, for example, they had criminal records so could not be placed in that activity, they had transport/access difficulties, or became ineligible for WfD. Some providers and job seekers expressed a concern that too many activities were of the same type (charity shop work and environmental/gardening were cited, for example) that did not always provide sufficient work-like experience or choice.
Work for the Dole participants contacting the Dole Action Group have pointed to the creation of a veritable industry of pseudo-charities that exist solely to churn work for the dole placements.
The best I heard recently was from a person who did a Work for the Dole placement at a charity that (among other things) distributed food parcels on behalf of other charities:
Which is basically they give us food parcels as we have healthcare cards and they are seen to be doing this service.
3. myGov problems
Who needs the Australia Card when we’re all progressively forced into using myGov! From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Mrs Smith, who lives in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn East, has been unable to access online services through myGov for three months thanks to an “error” which nobody seems to know how to fix.
Oh fun and games, good thing it’s never happened to anyone else, right?
DHS was unable to comment on whether the problem was widespread. However Centrelink’s Facebook page is littered with daily complaints from customers including images of call wait times on mobile phones of over an hour, and complaints of being locked out of myGov accounts. Fairfax Media has also received correspondence from frustrated users unable to access their myGov accounts on an ongoing basis due to unresolved errors.
4. Centrelink industrial dispute ongoing
The enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) covering Centrelink staff expired 30 June 2014. When I last posted an update, Centrelink staff had just engaged in a series of short stop-works… There has been little progress since then.
The Department of Human Services has cancelled a staff vote on a new enterprise agreement before Christmas.
The Community and Public Sector Union said it was a “tacit acknowledgement” workers were fundamentally opposed to losing rights under the government’s “failed bargaining policy” but Human Services has rejected this assertion as a misrepresentation.
The enterprise agreement ballot of all DHS staff would have closed on December 22 but had now been delayed until February next year, the CPSU said in a statement.
In September 83 per cent of DHS staff voted ‘no’ to their agreement offers.
As I said back in May, government cut backs and under staffing at Centrelink is making life unbearable for Centrelink workers and welfare claimants alike.
5. Unemployment Rate
ABS Labour force statistics for November report that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has fallen by 0.1 percentage points to 5.8%. According to the ABS there are currently 752,300 people unemployed in Australia.
The labour underutilization rate (definition) has also fallen, to 14.3%. Approximately 1,797,600 people are looking for (more) work.
The most recent stats on job vacancies (August 2015) reported approximately 160,200 positions. The next series (November 2015) is not due out until January 2016.
There remain approximately 11.2 people seeking (more) work for every advertised job in Australia.