The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) is continuing its election campaign in Australia’s three east coast states – New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland – where it is fielding candidates for the Senate. Last weekend, Peter Byrne, the SEP candidate for Victoria’s Senate, and a campaign team visited the rural town of Shepparton on the Goulburn River 180 kilometers north of Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria. .
Shepparton has a predominantly working-class multicultural population of nearly 70,000 people and is a center of fruit and dairy farming. One of the main industries is the SPC cannery, which is now very small. The SEP campaign team met with workers from Vanuatu who are in Shepparton on nine-month contracts to pick fruit below minimum wage.
In 2016, according to the National Census, the median weekly household income was 82% of the Victoria state average, resulting in a 13% higher rate of homelessness.
Last week the Shepparton News published an article reporting that 90% of homes in Shepparton would be uninsurable by 2030 due to the risk of catastrophic river flooding due to climate change. Shepparton and its sister city, Mooroopna, are located on a floodplain formed by the junction of the Goulburn River with the Broken River and Seven Creeks.
Many recent residents are refugees from war-torn countries devastated by 30 years of US-led imperialist wars in the Middle East. In 2017, 34.4% of adults in the Greater Shepparton area were diagnosed by a doctor with anxiety or depression, compared to a state average of 27.4%.
Members of the SEP campaign team focused on opposing and explaining the war in Ukraine and the growing danger of war with China. The team also spoke to residents about the worsening COVID-19 pandemic and declining living standards for workers across the country.
Ricky, a teenager, expressed his opposition to the war. “The war in Ukraine is terrible. They should have learned from the first two world wars,” he said. Asked what was behind the war, he replied: “Land and money. ‘We have more money than you, we should take this land.’ Nope! Everyone should be equal.
Luke, 17, had just finished his shift as a casual retail worker. He approached the SEP campaign table. When asked if he follows the political situation, he replied: “I try to be as involved as possible for my age. I try to read as much as I can. I haven’t read any great socialist books, but I would prefer socialism to capitalism because you know capitalism doesn’t work.
“Just look here. There are so many homeless people and there is a huge drug problem and obviously nothing is being done about it. The root cause is capitalism. It all comes down to capitalism and how it only overthrows the proletariat.
Tide takes care of her two mentally handicapped children and works part-time in a fast food restaurant. “My [welfare] payments are reduced but I only work 25 hours a week. I work trying to make sure my kids have a better position in this,” she said.
Maree was unable to work during the COVID-19 pandemic due to her own health risks, but was unable to obtain necessary medical attention.
“I don’t have access to a rheumatologist in this town. They don’t even want to take me and there’s not even a waiting list. I’m lucky I got a triple dose, but obviously I can’t afford private insurance,” she said.
“I pay $275 a week in private rent. I was not in social housing because there were not enough places for me to get what I needed. I was also quarantined for welfare [which blocks cash access to the majority of an individual’s welfare payments, requiring their purchases be made with an “Indue” card at participating stores].
“I left because Centrelink [government welfare agency] didn’t pay my rent properly and almost got evicted. They mismanaged it. How is that fair? ” she says.
“Don’t get me started on schooling,” she continued, referring to Shepparton’s public education facilities.
SEP activists have explained that the so-called Greater Shepparton Secondary College was a business-driven experiment of the Education Department (see: ‘The Australian State Labor Government’s disastrous Shepparton superschool plan’ ). The new facility, which was created by closing and merging four existing schools into one with more than 2,000 students, is now plagued by chronic staff shortages and student problems.
“I’m not even worried about high school,” Maree said. “My son is not even qualified for Verney Road, the special school. He can barely structure a sentence and yet he is pushed into a regular school where he does not make it. The only assistance it has is the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] and it’s shocking. I almost went through a nervous breakdown because of it, fighting for my daughter and now my son.
Referring to the US Supreme Court’s attack on abortion rights, Maree said, “I’m scared. You see what is happening in the United States. I lived that. What you have seen around the world, I have experienced. I’m one of the strongest people in Shepparton. Putting it out there, people who are strong are also fighting the toughest battles every day.
cherry, a longtime resident of Shepparton, has denounced anti-democratic election laws passed last year by the Australian parliament, with the support of the Labor Party. These measures led to the deregistration of the SEP and 13 previously registered parties.
“The introduction of these undemocratic laws by both parties joining together and pushing them through overnight is so undemocratic it’s ridiculous. The fact is that they have blocked many parties from participating in elections by forcing them to get more members than they could get during a COVID pandemic,” she said.
“We are being forced into things that shouldn’t be forced into us, including the Indue card [cashless welfare quarantining card]. There’s no way in the world I’m going to accept that.
Referring to the ongoing COVID pandemic, Cherrill said, “I have vulnerable family members and I am terrified for them. No one is talking about COVID but there were 153 cases in Shepparton yesterday and yet they shut us down when we had 60 at the start of the pandemic. The virus is still just as deadly. The SEP is the only party to say, “We will mitigate and help protect, and try to eliminate the virus” and so I go for the Socialist Equality Party.
“The Greens actually offered good policies, but they are still a capitalist party and there is no way I will vote for another capitalist government in my lifetime. There is no one you can vote for who will be compassionate, caring about the electorate. Everything is designed for the money and we don’t care about people at all,” she said.
On Monday morning, SEP candidate Peter Byrne was interviewed by Peter Dunbain on One FM 98.5, the town’s community radio station.
The eight-minute interview reviews the party’s program of action for the working class and its four main socialist and internationalist axes. The SEP candidate explained the party’s anti-war opposition to the US-NATO led war against Russia in Ukraine, the fight to eliminate COVID-19 and the need for a socialist program and internationalist to address climate change and to defend living standards, jobs and basic democratic rights.
Authorized by Cheryl Crisp for the Socialist Equality Party, Suite 906, 185 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000.