The following is a speech delivered on Dharawal land outside the Wollongong Centrelink, before a march to meet with Member for Cunningham Sharon Bird, as a part of the Tomorrow Movement #NoTurningBack day of action on 19 September 2020.
In 1982, after years of being ignored, abused or written off as lazy dole bludgers, a group of young punks and communists, many involved in the social collective Young and Pissed Off, formed the Wollongong Out of Workers Union.
This was around the time BHP started mass layoffs as vast numbers of manual labour jobs were replaced by new technology.
Within a few years the unemployment rate in the region peaked above 20%, as some 40,000 workers were left without a job.
In response to this, the Hawke/Keating government implemented a number of strategies to force people to find jobs, suddenly Australia had work for the dole and activities tests, and those who failed to meet these requirements could face further punitive measures.
At the same time, Bob Hawke was busy promising that by 1990 no Australian child would be living in poverty.
Then in 1992 Paul Keating froze the rate of newstart/jobseeker in response to the early 90s recession, and that’s the same rate it is at today.
Poverty is a choice governments make. It’s not an accident we wind up below the breadline, it’s not a result of moral failings or our laziness. It is policy designed to hurt those least able to defend themselves.
When John Howard was elected in 1996 he began the process of privatising the role of government, suddenly there were independent for-profit agencies being paid millions to abuse and attack the unemployed.
Private for-profit job agencies like Ingeus, owned by Therese Rein, wife of PM Kevin Rudd, until 2012.
Today, the Wollongong Out of Workers exists as the Wollongong/Illawarra branch of AUWU.
It has been almost 40 years of the unemployed in this region being ignored, abused or written off as lazy dole bludgers
This region has not been developed since the 1980s. Instead, we saw commodities shift from the sale of coal and steel to tourism; housing; and education.
And now with closed international borders that commodity market has dried up.
So we’re facing a housing crisis, a massive unemployment crisis, the university is being shut down because it’s not profitable anymore. All because nothing has been done in our community to prepare us for this future we knew was coming.
The reason I bring all this up is simple: Labor will not help us, they are a part of the grift. They are directly involved in the system that has been punishing and abusing us for years.
We can’t ask for change, we have to demand it.
If our local member Sharon Bird won’t step up then she must step aside.
With the steelworks, the ports, and a fairly concentrated population, our community can begin the necessary work of building towards tomorrow.
- A clean green future with jobs for those who want to work: jobs that contribute to the betterment of society instead of the profit sheets of a handful of billionaires;
- safe and free housing capable of withstanding the climate devastation we know to be coming across this decade;
- accessible and sustainable local food production;
- public services that meet the needs of the population.
Our greatest challenge, there’s no way to get rich in doing this.
As such, we cannot appeal to the parties whose corporate structures and corporate donors prevent any massive transformative policy that would help the people.
We must do the work in the community, to grow our movement beyond the two-party system that seeks to crush us underfoot while claiming that nothing can be done to address market forces.
We must unite against the idle rich whose puppets in parliament would see us starve for having the temerity to demand an end to this abuse.
We must work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, anyone who has spent any amount of time looking at the history of this land can see how the nations that existed before 1788 understood all of this.
Community, sustainable food production, the importance of safe and secure homes, making sure no one is left behind, respect for the land, respect for one another, education, arts, science, engineering.
All of it for the people, not profit.
We are ruled by an unaccountable class of middle managers and colonisers with no idea how to lead and no plans to address the cascading failures of the last few years.
This will not be easy, this will not be pleasant. But this is the only chance we have.
If nothing changes, we’re all going to die.
Power to the people.