Blacktown shows how to beat Liberals’ privatisation plans

Up to 200 unionists and members of the Blacktown community attended a town hall meeting hosted by the United Services Union on December 2 to protest cutbacks and closures to services by Blacktown City Council.

The meeting came after a victory in November, where plans to sell off Blacktown City Council’s 24 child care centres were derailed, following a campaign of protest by parents and child care workers. Three Liberal councillors crossed the floor to support a motion to continue providing the services.

Council sittings in the week following the December protest meeting saw it slash the number of houses proposed for acquisition from 488 to 27.

But members of the community remain concerned. The Liberal Mayor, Len Robinson, has commissioned a report into the “viability” of council-run child care centres and the closure of centres could be revisited as early as February.

In addition the mayor has closed Mt Druitt Swimming Pool, axed a pensioner rebate on council rates and plans to “rezone” private homes for future parkland, while selling existing parks to developers.

Residents’ anger is palpable—with one woman at the meeting demanding, “Blacktown council is the richest in NSW and the fifth richest in Australia, it is sitting on a $137 million surplus, so what’s your excuse?” People called for the budget surplus to be used to expand council services, rather than cutting them back.

The Mayor received a petition with 2200 Blacktown residents’ signatures urging him to attend the December 2 meeting to hear their concerns. He refused. Only one Liberal councillor turned up.

The meeting heard from United Services Union (USU) officials, Labor councillors, Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon, NSW Opposition Leader and Member for Blacktown John Robertson, representatives from various community groups and Liberal councillor Walter Smith.

Unionists and community members spoke passionately of the high regard they have for the council-run child care alongside a deep distrust of plans for privatisation.

Raffaele Catanzariti, a USU delegate, told the crowd that, “when you privatise social services everybody knows the quality deteriorates … Our children shouldn’t be seen as a commodity”.

One woman described how important childcare was to her being able to work, and worried that a privatised service would reduce services for infants and children with disabilities, and mean shorter hours. “The child care workers are wonderful, they raised my children with me,” she explained.

The sudden closure of Mount Druitt Swimming Pool has been met with disbelief and outrage. The pool provided one of the only ways for people to escape the heat in summer and hosted all the local school swimming carnivals. In winter, it was filled with trout for “Family Fish-In” events. “It was an important activity, especially for the kids,” said one resident. A former pool worker passionately described the importance of the free learn-to-swim classes the pool provided.

In 2012 the Liberals won control of the council for the first time since 1989, in what is a traditional Labor heartland.

Labor councilors spoke of the Liberals’ “radical agenda for privatisation” and repeated, to hearty applause, that it would take “people power” to stop them.

“The Liberals are only looking after the big end of town and their capitalist mates”, said one Labor councillor.

The fight to reopen Mt Druit Swimming Pool also received a boost at Wednesday night’s Council meeting with Labor councillors winning a motion “to stop the rezoning process, keep the land for recreation and engage the University of Western Sydney to develop plans and options to make Mount Druitt swimming pool viable and able to be re-opened for the 2014/2015 summer”.

The campaign of demonstrations and meetings is having an impact. Blacktown is showing how to fight the Liberals’ cuts and privatisation agenda—and the kind of action needed to stop Tony Abbott.

By Matt Meagher

Magazine

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