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VictoriaDepartment of Human Services attempt to ban public meetings and political activity in public housing estates


making waves

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VictoriaDepartment of Human Services attempt to ban public meetings and political activity in public housing estates

Last month the Victoria Department of Human Services issued an order banning political activity and public meetings in publicly owned housing estates. The ban has particularly affected inner-city housing estates that are suffering severe deprivation as a result of austerity policies being imposed by the Australian government. Local management were forced to cancel several planned political meetings in a number of areas, while the Department of Human Services has also attempted to prevent political activists from putting posters up on community noticeboards, dropping leaflets and knocking on doors in public housing estates. Among those who had a meeting cancelled in Fitzroy was State Opposition LP Leader Daniel Andrews. Opposition Housing spokesman and former housing minister Richard Wynne fell foul of the crackdown last month, when he was banned from door-knocking an estate in Richmond. The ban was imposed as part of a strategy to sell off public parks and open areas in the inner-city to property developers.

There is growing opposition to the atempted ban on political activity. A city-wide opposition movement in Melbourne has been developed under the leadership of the Socialist Party of Australia (Sister Party of the Socialist Party) with Socialist Party Yarra councillor, Steve Jolly, holding a series of large public meetings in local public housing estates in defiance of the ban. Cllr Jolly described the ban as "Stalinist", saying the Office of Housing was acting "more like prison warders than landlords...Why should public housing tenants have fewer rights than the rest of us?" he said. "It's like North Korea - it's restricted democracy. Where is it going to end? Are they going to tell them what TV stations they are going to watch?"

In an effort to cut across the campaign the Office of Housing and the Housing Minister, Wendy Lovell, organised a series of sham consultation meetings. Howver, barely a handful of people (mostly Liberal party hacks, turned up to the meetings.

Hundreds of people attended a rally on March 24 at the Atherton Gardens public housing estate in Fitzroy where Steve Jolly called a legal challange and a mass campaign of opposition to the ban. The Human Rights Law Centre is considering mounting a legal challange to the State government. Following the protest the state government partially climbed down on their plan for the land sell-off.

More recently a number of trade unions have also come out in support of the campaign. Most significantly the Building Industry Group (BIG) met on Thursday and decided to offer their support. The group called on the government to not build on the open space but instead to consider other sites in the area.

Socialist Party Councillor at Yarra said “This back down shows that no government is unbeatable in the face of organised opposition from the people...This victory is a major blow to the government and to their rich developer mates who were set to pocket millions at the expense of ordinary people and the local environment...Its no coincidence that they have retreated at Fitzroy and Richmond, where the campaign is strongest, but are still trying to go ahead at Prahran where residents are less organised.

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