Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Another neo-liberal budget at Yarra

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Tuesday night Yarra Council voted 8-1 in favour of this year’s budget. As a Socialist Party Councillor I was the only one who voted against. Despite describing the financial state as ‘strong’, the budget added extra pain on the backs of local residents and community groups.

Rates will rise by 5.9%-plus for over half of residents – some by more than double that amount. The Council has now increased rates by 22% over the past four years, while inflation has risen by 12% over the same period. Many pensioners on fixed incomes live in small homes in now gentrified areas. Their rates have gone up but they are cash-poor. Unless they sell or get into debt can’t access their property value and therefore some are in dire financial straits.

There are also over-inflation rises to the cost of Yarra Council’s child care and kindergarten services and indeed many other Council fees and fines.

Almost all the community groups and individuals who attended last months meeting to seek some support in this budget were refused help. The Athol Gill Centre in Clifton Hill asked for support a redevelopment into a much needed community centre for the area. They were knocked back, despite getting support from other levels of government.

Also knocked back to the dim and distant future were the 55+ Senior Citizen’s Club in Carlton who are in dire financial straits as their funding from Council hasn’t increased in years.

Residents of South Fitzroy failed in their request for a much needed public toilet in Gertrude St, due to the number of mentally sick people defecating in their area. The big brand stores in north Smith St got their flash public toilet, but not ordinary people in Gertrude St.

One group that was looked after was ‘Business On Smith St’ (BOSS), the Smith St bosses’ organisation that has led the charge against Aboriginal people in the area. They got $6,000 for a web site, and God only knows what vile will come out on that site.

SP thinks that whole areas of Council spending needs to be investigated and possibly readjusted. We have too many senior management positions, compared to neighbouring Councils. The budget proposes a massive $4 million for IT, is this all necessary? It may well be, but Councillors do not really know the answer. The 8 pro-budget Councillors (3 Green, 3 Labor and 2 independents) basically trust the advice dished up to them every year.

SP also thinks we need to launch a real fight against chronic under funding of local Councils. Ian Quick (from Save Our Suburbs) made a budget submission to Council that pointed out the level of cost shifting from other levels of Government onto Yarra Council.

“Family and Children Services income this year is projected to be $5.4 million. Expenditure is $9.5 million i.e. for something that the old ‘accepted’ funding ratio was 80% is now down to 57%! And the gap is growing each year!” He showed how the same cost shifting occurred in Aged and Disability Services and in Library funding and asked: “Why is the Council calmly accepting this? Why isn’t it yelling from the roof tops about the other levels of Government that are financially abusing it?”

Obviously the ALP Councillors see their job as to protect their party colleagues in State and Federal government, but many residents are asking why are the Greens so meekly accepting all this?

The budget was overseen by this years Chair of the Finance Committee, Green Cllr Kathleen Maltzahn, who is leaving Yarra Council in November to stand as deputy Mayor in the Melbourne City Council election. She was fully supported in this year’s budget by the votes of her fellow Greens, Jenny Farrar and Gurm Sekhon, the two independents and not surprisingly the three ALP Councillors.

Kathleen is an advocate of ‘Participatory Budgeting’, which is defined as ‘the participation of citizens in the decision-making process of budget allocation and monitoring public spending.’

The Socialist Party fully supports greater public participation and in fact (through democratic structures) control over the budget process. However, where the participation is all talk and no result it means absolutely nothing and in fact just demoralises those who take advantage of the limited opportunities to ‘be heard’.

That was definitely the feeling of those who attended last months Council meeting to comment and lobby on the proposed budget and were listened to, smiled at, purred at, but ultimately ignored or fobbed off.

For example, the advocates for the community centre at Clifton Hill were told they would get nothing this year, but not to worry as “Council (will) defer any decision to provide funding until a full report is presented to Council detailing discussion of providing capital funding – outside of Community Grants process – rationale for providing capital funding (for such groups) how such grants/funding could be administered and assessed (invitation process/selection criteria) and recommendation for Council consideration” i.e. go away.

If residents had been told early on to just ‘bugger off’ and leave the budget to the bureaucrats (a la Kennett), they would be forced to mobilise to effect change. It is precisely this reason why the ruling class today in most parts of the western world, as well as in countries like Brazil and South Africa, prefer to coat their neo-liberalism in consultative committees, ‘participatory budgeting’, neighbourhood renewal committees, and other mechanisms to make ordinary people falsely think they have some say in developments.

I was proud to vote against this neo-liberal budget. The Socialist Party could never be a party to a budget that is against the interests of ordinary people. It is these differences that set SP apart from the Greens and the ALP. Those who supported this budget will be forced to explain themselves to residents and community groups in the lead up to the November Council election.

By Stephen Jolly


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