Inner City Politics

I was born and bred in the inner city and educated locally at Melbourne University. I take the view that for everything you could possibly want, by way of lifestyle, you don’t need to cross a river. No need to cross the Maribyrnong in the North West and no need to cross the Yarra in the South East. It’s all here and I think it’s a fantastic part of the world to live in.

The visual landscape of the inner city was shaped by the Slum Reclamation and Urban Renewal program which saw great swathes of the inner city wiped out, from Flemington right through to Richmond. While the motivation was noble, endeavouring to lift people out of very poor living conditions, it displaced a generation of Melbournians. That was in the 1950’s, my very early childhood, and I can just remember the construction of the first high rise public housing estates. Years later I was a social worker in those estates when they became the foundation stones of my political involvement. The government in the 1970’s had done nothing whatsoever to upgrade the facilities, with people still using tin boilers to wash their clothes by hand. My political activism was kickstarted by visiting families living in very poor conditions and led me to join the Labor Party in the early 1980’s.

The issues of the inner city at a macro level are similar to other parts of the State but they manifest themselves in different ways.

There are still significant issues in our public housing estates. We have unemployment there and we have to do more to help, particularly for those who are work-ready within our emerging African community. They desperately want to work. They desperately want to integrate and participating in the workforce is the best way to do that.

The issues of the inner city at a macro level are similar to other parts of the State but they manifest themselves in different ways. Public education is critical here as it is everywhere. As a member of Parliament there is nothing better you can do than invest in public education. However in the inner city it’s not a matter of refurbishing existing schools but rather it requires reopening schools or building new ones from scratch. Fitzroy High School is the only high school closed by the Kennett government ever to reopen. People said there would be no demand, yet now it’s thriving.

We’re also building a new, leading edge Richmond High School. It will be a bilingual school that provides a pathway for students from Richmond West and Abbotsford Primary Schools. The students in those schools start learning Chinese in Prep and by Grade 6 they’re fluent. Now they will be able to transition into a similar program at Richmond High which will set them up for a future on the doorstep of Asia!

My electoral office is on Smith St, Collingwood, which is a rich mix of everything that epitomises inner city living.

We’ve also made an investment into new basketball courts in Collingwood to support the Collingwood Basketball Association (CBA). In the eastern suburbs that would be valuable, no doubt, but in the inner city it’s a lot more than a sporting facility. There are twelve hundred families involved in the CBA. It crosses all spectrums of society from QC’s to Sudanese refugees. They come together as a community that is built on inclusiveness. The presentation day which I am fortunate to attend, is wild and goes for hours. This is an example of where a relatively modest investment by government keeps kids in sport and in school and it pays social dividends. It keeps a generation of young people from getting diverted into more dangerous activities.

My electoral office is on Smith St, Collingwood, which is a rich mix of everything that epitomises inner city living. It’s got new apartments, pubs, boutiques, discount stores, warehouses and fancy restaurants. There is a significant Aboriginal community that quite rightly sees Smith St as part of its world. There’s a constant stream of indigenous community members, from all over the city, that use Smith St as a central meeting point. It remains a significant touchstone for Aboriginal people in Melbourne.

One Smith St regular I got to know well had significant mental health issues. He came up to me one day, just near my office, and gave me an almighty serve while in the grips of a psychotic episode. Soon after, he was admitted to St Vincent’s for 12 weeks of treatment. As a local member I was able to eventually help him into the Common Ground supported housing facility at the Victoria Market end of Elizabeth St. Some time later he proudly told me:

“For the first time in my life I have security. I know where I live. I know I have resources around me and I can stay well. And, for the first time in my life, I have a bank account!”.

Following a confrontational intervention, a publicly funded facility helped him to another chance in life.

In the inner city, schools provide a pathway and the ultimate chance to step up. Basketball stadiums don’t just house courts, they bind a whole community together and keep it active and safe. Public housing is a launching pad for work and integration and shared housing is the only opportunity some people have for a renewed chance at life. That’s inner city politics and that’s what my game is all about.