BY COLIN HESSE
Since the inception of the Greens, the Labor Party has felt both angry and threatened; angry because some of the founding Greens were ex-Labor Party members, and threatened because the Labor machine felt “our” votes were being “stolen” by the new party.
In NSW, the centre of Labor’s opposition to the Greens has been in the inner west/inner city. Labor’s vote fragmented in the eighties partly due to significant criminal infiltration of Labor’s inner city branches, but also in response to the major demographic changes that saw the traditional industrial working classes leave the area.
Labor’s branches moved from control of often Catholic (right faction) working class members to a more affluent group of (left faction) members. As Labor adopted neo-liberal policies during its long period of office nationally from 1983 to 1996, inner-city residents, often well educated and socially progressive, became alienated from a Labor Party that was increasingly factionalised, where local branches were routinely ignored by head office, and the reign of Richardson and Obeid came to dominate NSW Labor politics.
The Greens, whose support included alienated former Labor voters, gained their first seats on Council in opposition to Federal Labor’s construction of the Third runway at Sydney Airport, and the long-term fallout from the massive increase in airport noise that resulted from the airport’s expansion.
Twenty-five years later, after several mayoralty deals between Labor and Liberal councillors on Leichhardt and Marrickville councils, the new Inner West Council has become the next battleground as Labor, with its Liberal and conservative allies, seeks to push through a Labor/Liberal/conservative platform and marginalise the Greens progressive agenda.
And, of all things, sport is where Labor wants to take on the Greens.
Much of Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne’s man of the people image is built around his media focus on sport, in particular his advocacy for the Balmain Leagues Club and the importance he places on the return of the club to its Balmain heartland.
But as sport is used to paint many a male politician as a man of people (hello Scott Morrison), it’s also used to distract us from the many important issues that are ignored by government.
In the case of the Labor/Liberal/conservative majority on the Inner West Council, those issues are the impact of WestConnex, Metrorail and the council amalgamation.
In each case, Labor opposes spending to support community opposition to the WestConnex and Metrorail, and refuses thus far to support a citizen referendum on the amalgamation. Despite the enormous impact of the WestConnex construction on residents in both St Peters and Haberfield, the Mayor has said and done very little. He’d rather talk sport.
Recent survey work calls into question the long-term damage of both WestConnex and Metrorail tunneling, and again Labor is quiet.
With forced Council amalgamations, Labor talked a good game, but when push came to shove Labor refused to take the legal action that even some Liberal-dominated councils took to successfully stop forced amalgamations.
Labor and its allies have already voted against a number of Greens motions calling for a referendum of the community on the issue. The gap between words and actions is large.
The new Council itself is struggling to meet the standards of the councils it replaced, and rather than connect with the community, Labor and its allies have chosen to hold meetings in Ashfield, the most remote and conservative part of the new LGA.
Community discussion restricted
Labor and the Liberals have aggressively wound back community input, restricting community discussion to the beginning of the meeting only, and the mayor then often encourages community members to go home without hearing the debate. Labor and Liberals have also resolutely opposed precinct committees for this now enormous LGA, and residents of many suburbs feel alienated and ignored.
The Labor/Liberal/conservative alliance has resulted in an elected body that is about exclusion, not inclusion; which wants power but uses it badly; which has failed to use its size and reach to pressure the NSW Government to ameliorate the worst abuses of the State Government’s projects in the inner west; and which has set up structures that effectively shut the community out of the decision-making processes of council.
When it comes to the culture wars, the Labor Party and its conservative allies know only one thing: total control. Local government Labor and Liberal style is definitely not a level playing field for the community.
* Colin Hesse is Greens Councillor for Marrickville Ward of Inner West Council