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Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Living in a safe Labor seat

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The Federal election is just around the corner and in the press this week there is ripe speculation that John Howard might lose his own seat. As a previous Labor supporter news like this would make my day. As a current Socialist Party member I listen to this speculation with passing curiosity. My sentiments regarding who will win the federal seat I live in are the same. I don’t care who wins the election. Labor almost equals Liberal.

Let me explain. I live in Melbourne’s western suburbs, in a safe Labor seat, both federally and on the state level. The westerns suburbs are a mix of residential and industrial areas intersected with couple of highways and train lines.

The area is as flat as a pancake. There are almost more power lines than trees. The population is largely second or third generation European migrants with recent arrivals from the Horn of Africa. The South East Asian community is quite sizable as well. All this is mixed in with the working class Anglo Australian families. The majority are in low paid, no skills needed jobs, with unemployment higher than the state average.

I arrived in Australia in the early 1990s from Eastern Europe at the height of Keating years and immediately landed a job vacuuming the halls of a five star hotel and turning the beds for the wealthy.

Two years after my arrival I proudly held a piece of paper declaring me a ‘true blue’ Aussie. In the federal election that shortly followed Keating’s Labor lost, but the Labor won the seat I lived in with an increased margin. I voted Labor as I loathed (and still do) the other party. With the charismatic Keating gone, Labor lost but I was still proud to say that I lived in a safe Labor seat. On a state level it was the same story. Regardless of who was in charge Kennet or ‘Bracksie’ my state seat was always Labor.

My reasoning at the time was simple. I am working class and it is my duty and to my benefit to vote Labor as this is the party that represents my class interests. After all, even though Australian Labor Party used American spelling for labor instead of traditional labour the meaning was still the same. Labor or labour means work. I am a worker so I voted for them.

Years passed and the western suburbs boomed. New areas are being developed constantly. House and land prices are sky rocketing as developers trying to keep up with our insatiable thirst for property. The housing boom didn’t follow with infrastructure development.

Public transport is in total disarray and working families need to have 2 (sometimes 3 cars) in order to get to work. Petrol prices are high and taking a considerable amount off weekly budget in average working class family.

Successive state Labor governments kept ignoring the west. Roads are not being developed, growing concerns over public transport and an increase in traffic are being ignored. People are literally fed up with Labor and their inactivity in taking this large area for granted.

Living in a safe labor seat means that every morning you are squashed like a sardine in the train on you way to work. That is if the train arrives. Buses are not much better. Traffic is unbearable, vehicle congestion increasing.

And you better think twice when crossing the level crossing. Chances are somebody will be smashed by a train. Here in the West, every year, we have 2-3 deaths because of unsafe crossings. The whole area is divided by train tracks, the favourite topic of conversation between residents is not the weather, but the different ways to avoid the train tracks, and what is the best time to cross them.

About eight years ago local Victoria University students came up with a low cost solution to fix two of the deadliest crossings in the area at Furlong Road and at the intersection of Main road East and Main Road West. At the time this was hailed by local councillors as visionary and a financially viable solution. Politicians paraded in local papers hugging the students in the photos. The only thing needed was the funding from the government, the state Labor Government. We’re still waiting for that funding.

We all know how bad the education system is at a national and state level. In the western suburbs it is even worse. Old buildings, large classes, lack of funding, high rate of school drop-outs. The years of decline in government investment in schools, training programs and infrastructure is being felt.

Local councillors, all elected on a Labor ticket, have been arguing for months whether to install public toilets in the busy shopping strip in St Albans. If they ever agree to that we’ll wait another few years before they agree where to put them. In the meantime the alley at the back of the shops will have to suffice.

The councillors have become a self-serving entity. They’re there to protect their own privileges, much like a Stalinist bureaucracy.

There’s a fair bit of voter apathy and hopelessness especially amongst the youth. The level of consciousness that something can be done is not there yet but there’s a strong feeling that the current situation is not right.

Labor does not represent the working class anymore. In my view they betrayed the Australian trade union movement of the late 19th century who fought hard to get their voice heard by establishing the Labor Party.

The Labor Party has become just another capitalist party not representing interests of the working class. Change is needed. Major parties are complacent and only make promises in marginal seats to benefit them, while the rest of us (former) supporters and voters in safe seats are left to rot and suffer. This is why I joined the Socialist Party. My hope is that one day I will help in backing a Socialist Party member in my council and in my seat. I know that day is not far.

By Fikret Pajalic

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