Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Local law discriminates against Indigenous people

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The October Yarra Council meeting in Melbourne was the best attended and most dramatic for years. The vast bulk of the residents who turned up were there to discuss the proposed local law to ban public drinking in Yarra.

Some Collingwood traders, and a few wealthy residents, pretend that the local law is aimed at dealing with anti-social behaviour, but this is a lie.

The Socialist Party does not condone anti-social behaviour from any section of the community and there are already many laws on the statute books to deal with it. The real motive behind the local law is to ‘cleanse’ Smith Street of Aboriginal people in the belief that this will help the traders’ business.

Those opposed to the local law explained that most of the drunkenness and resulting violence in the City of Yarra was centred around the night club strips like Brunswick Street, where irresponsible licensees sold copious amounts of alcohol without any concern of how their customers would carry on when they left the venue.

In other words anti-social behaviour was mainly emanating from people who weren’t drinking on the street. In regards to these problems a local law will change absolutely nothing.

Thanks to 200 years of dispossession, Aboriginal people face many social problems. This community, which the Socialist Party believes enriches the City of Yarra, needs greater support to deal with these issues – not another local law which inevitably leads to fines and arrests.

The often passionate contributions from the floor continued until almost midnight, when the debate returned to the Councillors for the vote. The Greens moved a compromise resolution calling for a local law from 7pm until 10am.

As the Socialist Party has only member on Council, we had no support for opposition to the local law. Therefore we supported the Greens’ motion as a lesser evil to a 24 hour ban. Although we disagreed with the proposal, if we had of abstained or voted against there was a chance the even worse proposal of a 24 hour ban would have got up.

In the end the Greens motion was defeated four votes (3 Greens and 1 Socialist) to five (3 ALP and 2 Independents). Immediately afterwards, the ALP moved their alternative motion, calling for a local law banning drinking 24/7 throughout Yarra.

Socialist Party Councillor Stephen Jolly spoke against this motion. The Green Mayor Amanda Stone then asked for further speakers in support of the ALP’s draconian motion. When fellow Green Sam Gaylard put up his hand to speak everyone was shocked. ALP Cllr Jane Garret who was sitting next to him whispered, “The Mayor is calling for support of the motion, not opposition.” But Cllr Gaylard kept his hand up and got the call.

When he explained to the audience that it was with “deepest reluctance” that he and his fellow Greens were going to support the ALP’s 24/7 local law motion, the room erupted. “Shame on the Greens!” … “How can the ALP and Greens unite against Aboriginal people?” … “Racist scum!”.

What followed was a stunned silence in the room as the ALP motion was passed eight to one (The Socialist Party being the sole opposition).

Federally, the Greens criticise the Northern Territory Intervention, introduced by the previous Howard government and now continued by the Rudd Government. Yet locally they have begun their own mini-intervention with the ALP and Independents on Smith Street.

The Socialist Party agreed with one of the Aboriginal speakers who said that her people considered Fitzroy and Collingwood their home for many, many decades, and that people were dreaming if they thought that this local law would push them out of the area. She told Council to expect a political response including demonstrations from the Indigenous community and their supporters.

By Socialist Party reporters


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