On a day of political turmoil for the Victorian Labor government yesterday over 400 people attended a rally on a cold winters night outside Safeway supermarket at Smith Street, Collingwood calling for State government funding for a cultural centre, sobering-up facility and 24-hour indigenous run bus.
Whilst most of the press was covering the resignation of both Premier Steve Bracks and deputy leader John Thwaites, for alleged ‘family reasons’, the local community of Fitzroy and Collingwood was on the streets calling for a non-racist solution to public drinking and behaviour problems.
Because of the lack of State government support for a plan devised by the Yarra Council and local indigenous groups the problems that exist are not going away. In recent weeks some local traders have been pushing for a racist law and order ‘solution’ to public drinking on the street. They have been backed up by sections of the capitalist press including 3AW and the Herald Sun.
In response to this push and in an attempt to put the debate back on track the Socialist Party organised the rally at short notice. Local singer song writer Jayden Lillyst kicked off the event with a couple of songs. He was followed by local SP member Anthony Main who chaired the rally.
The first speaker was Robbie Thorpe who is a life-long Aboriginal activist. He was made famous in 2006 when he led the protests that accompanied the Commonwealth Games and the subsequent occupation of Kings Domain. Robbie spoke about the broader attacks that indigenous people in Australia face.
The next speaker was Stephen Jolly from the Socialist Party who is a local councillor in the area. Stephen deconstructed the racist arguments of the traders and the press. He slammed the State government for their unwillingness to join with the local Council and fund the 24-hour bus, cultural centre and sobering-up facility. “They say sorry for past sins to Aboriginal Australia, which is good, but they refuse to deal with current sins…they give $1.2 billion in subsidies to private operators to mismanage the public transport system, yet baulk at $250,000 for the bus.” Stephen said.
Stephen also blasted local police for making political comments to the media in support of a local law – “this exposes the sham of the separation of powers”. He pointed out that even if a local law banning public drinking was passed, the overstretched police would not be able to implement it 24/7 – as is the case in Melbourne’s city centre where similar laws are on the books but routinely ignored.
Stephen linked this battle to similar issues in the area like the fight to save St. Andrews Kindergarten, the public housing tenant campaigns, and the successful campaign to save St. Vinnes food depot in Collingwood – “the common denominator is governments and agencies and bosses putting the almighty dollar before need. Only the community uniting and organising and resisting leads to success for ordinary people.”
Kevin Bracken State Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia spoke next and gave greetings from the trade union movement. He also pledged on going moral and financial support to the local Aboriginal community. He pointed out the caring approach of Aboriginal people towards each other and their unwillingness to get caught up in the capitalist treadmill of work, work, work was something to learn from. “The system wants workers, to work, shop and sleep – what type of life is that.” he said.
The rally then moved onto the road and marched down Smith Street stopping all traffic and trams. The march finished at the office of state ALP member Richard Wynne. Denise Lovitt who is a local Aboriginal activist and highly respected in the area spoke there about some of the problems faced by local Aboriginal people. She delivered a letter to Wynne’s office calling on the state government to fund the cultural centre, sobering up facility and bus.
The rally finished on a high note with local activists even more determined to push ahead with the campaign. The heat is now on the State government to release the funding. If it is not done soon there is a real possibility that someone could be killed or seriously injured on the street.