Last night saw the successful end of a five year community campaign to save St. Andrews Kindergarten in Melbourne’s inner northern suburb of Clifton Hill. Yarra Council voted 5-1 (ALP Cllr Annabel Barbara voted against saving the Kindy with Cllrs Morton, Sekhon and Meadows being absent) to move the Kindy from its current Gold St site to Walker St in east Clifton Hill next to the Scout Hall.
Council will contribute $200,000 to the Kindergarten to help with the move and refurbishment plus another $200,000 to help the Scouts refurbish their hall next door.
The Scout hall is also used by the Guides and by nearby Spensley St Primary School who don’t have a school hall themselves. It is also used for a range of other community activities such as yoga.
The combined $400,000 will see the Walker St site turn into a genuine community hub. It is better value and will be of more community use than white elephants like the proposed $1.4 million ‘dry development’ for child care due to the plonked onto of the swimming pool in Collingwood, surrounded by three main roads.
The ALP Councillors moved an amendment seeking $1.4 million to develop Mark St hall in North Fitzroy into a child care centre. This was a sad attempt to divert attention from the issue on hand. The ALP had argued that ‘due process’ was not met in the St. Andrews debate – yet then wanted $1.4 million for an idea never raised before on Council, let alone amongst the community.
I said that it may well be good to expand child care further in North Fitzroy, but lets have that debate properly – not tagged on as a tricky amendment to St. Andrews with the aim of sabotaging that campaign.
When the ALP lost their amendment 4-2 (me, Green Cllrs Farrar and Maltzhan, Independent Cllr Fristacky vs ALP Cllrs D’Agastino and Barbara), the debate then turned to the main recommendation from Council officers to support the Kindy on Walker St site with $200,000 each for St. Andrews and the Scouts as mentioned above.
At this stage the ALP was smoked out and had to put their real position on the table in the glare of the packed gallery made up of Kindy and Scout supporters plus the local media.
ALP Cllr Barbara tried to argue on social justice lines by claiming that Clifton Hill residents were too well off to get this support and money should be going to St Marys House of Welcome (who co-incidentally received $3 million last week from the Federal government!).
I patiently explained to this Councillor (who covers the same ward as me, ie including Clifton Hill) that not every resident in this suburb had a $2 million house, 3 cars and a job on Collins St. Clifton Hill has low rise public housing and many working families who are one pay cheque away from poverty.
Her cynical argument was also hypocritical. She and her party are nowhere to be seen when public housing tenants in Richmond, Fitzroy and Collingwood are out fighting for extra resources. She said nothing at the last budget when community grants from Council were not increased in line with inflation. She is in a party that introduced HECS, mass privatisations, Australia’s first detention centre, smashed the BLF and Pilots Federation etc etc etc. However, last night for one brief moment, we were asked to forget all that and listen to her wax lyrical about the poor of Fitzroy. It was like listening to billionaire Bono lecture on world poverty.
When the vote was taken, the gallery erupted into applause. This five year battle has been a victory for the people of Clifton Hill and the lesson is clear: the community when organised and active can win victories.
By Stephen Jolly