A campaign by unionists and the Blacktown community has scored a victory. Plans to sell off Blacktown City Council’s 24 child care centres were derailed, following protests by parents and child care workers, when three Liberal Councillors crossed the floor to support a motion to continue providing the services late last year.
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 further cutbacks and closures to services by Blacktown City Council.
Council sittings in the week following the December protest meeting slashed the number of houses the Council had proposed to acquire for development 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. One woman in the meeting demanded to know, “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?”
The Mayor had 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 ability 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. 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 councillors spoke of the Liberals’ “radical agenda for privatisation” and repeated, to hearty applause, that it would take “people power” to stop them.
Labor Councillors have since won a motion in Council that could help save the pool. The motion called on the Council “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”.
Blacktown is showing how to fight the Liberals’ cuts and privatisation agenda—and the kind of action needed to stop Tony Abbott.
By Matthew Meagher