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Q&A with Heffron’s state election candidates (Part 1)

Candidates from The Greens, Socialist Alliance and Animal Justice Party make their pitch

From left: Philipa Veitch (Greens), Rachel Evans (Socialist Alliance), Linda Paull (Animal Justice Party). Images supplied

Quotations have been lightly edited for concision and readability.

Philipa Veitch

What would you say are the Heffron electorate’s biggest issues right now?

Heffron is a big, diverse electorate. It's cut through by some big main roads, such as Gardeners Road, Botany Road, and so on. That separates the area into quite distinct neighbourhoods which have their own issues.

There's a lot of public housing residents. In Waterloo, for example, the issues are obviously the imminent eviction and the redevelopment of that as private housing and a small amount of affordable housing. So the eviction of those residents is a massive issue, as is just the lack of maintenance and so on for the public housing residents in other areas.

Terrible traffic congestion has been coming up. Housing affordability, or just access to housing full stop, is a huge issue. For most people I've been speaking to, the cost of buying a house, or actually just renting or finding a place to rent is a key issue for people. Climate change and access to affordable power with power bills rising are some of the big issues that I believe we have to tackle. And the effects of privatisation on our key public services, public transport, public schools and hospitals.

What are some concrete ideas that you have for improving those issues?

In terms of housing, we obviously need to completely reverse that decision to privatise and redevelop our public housing estates. First off the Waterloo one, but any others that are on the table. Close by in Daceyville is another. We need to invest in public and affordable housing. The Greens are mandating a 30% long-term affordable housing component in any new private developments. And an increase in public housing across the board. We're also pushing for a rent freeze and strengthening renters rights, which are very much skewed towards private land owners and landlords at the moment.

In terms of climate change, obviously a big general issue, is putting public renewable energy back on the table, no new coal and gas. And also a big issue is affordable, renewable energy for people who rent and live in apartments. At the moment, it's really only if you own your own standalone home that you're able to make that investment in solar panels or batteries, and cut your power bills. It's almost impossible if you live in an apartment and you cannot do it if you rent, so you are stuck paying massive power bills.

And also public transport. We would basically reverse the Region 9 bus privatisation and get that back into public hands. Reintroduce all of those bus routes which have been cut, which have really badly impacted people. And introduce nurse to patient ratios in our hospitals and increase funding for public schools, hospitals and transport.

What have you learned about the Heffron electorate during this campaign period since you decided to run?

We've obviously been out door knocking, doing stalls, talking to people. I’m a councillor on Randwick Council for West Ward so I’m out in the community a lot as it is. Look, some people are doing really tough. The other day, we were door knocking and there was a very elderly couple, and it was pretty clear that they were just on their own really struggling to get by. Just to actually get out and catch a bus to a hospital, access medical care, or do the shopping was just a challenge. It was really sad.

There are public housing tenants who are just battling to get plumbing things fixed, get stuff cleaned, get rubbish taken away. There's a lot of people who've really been forgotten and left out in the cold by this government. Young women who aren't able to catch a bus home at night. They just don't have a bus that goes near their home or they don't feel safe. The streets aren't lit properly.

So there's a lot of people out there who are really doing it very tough. And again, traffic comes up for a lot of people, as well, just the terrible traffic congestion. That's really as a result of policies that have favoured spending billions on new motorways, many of which are spewing into the Heffron electorate via WestConnex and pulling money out of our public transport system.

What’s something you can bring to the table that other candidates can’t?

I've got the experience now a local councillor since 2017. But I've maintained my roots as a community and social activist. I will be going out to rallies. I support local activists. For example, at UNSW, which is just outside the electorate but used to be in Heffron, at the housing rallies and the school strike for climate. And so I'm talking to people and meeting people who are actually so worried about and being impacted by these different issues, that they go out to these events.

But I also work on council as an elected councillor who's trying to progress issues on that front, through local government. And also just meeting lots of residents on all sorts of different issues, whether it's a parking issue in their street, people who are getting evicted. There's a bunch of different things that you can do very effectively on council and change policies to benefit the community. So it's that combination of experience in government experience working within the community, that is a strength I would like to bring if selected as an MP for Heffron.

What’s your favourite hidden gem in the area?

Bogota Coffee down there on Maloney Street in Eastlakes is a bit of a hidden gem. It's a family-run business with great coffee from all over the world. It's completely tucked away, but those who enjoy coffee know that's where you can go and have one at the cafe or just get your favourite beans to take home. So that would be my pick out of the many ones that are out there.

Rachel Evans, Socialist Alliance

What would you say are the Heffron electorate’s biggest issues right now?

The Socialist Alliance and myself are very involved in the campaign to save Waterloo. I am a housing activist and I’m living in a housing co-op and I'm only spending 25% of my income on rent. I think that's also what public housing tenants are paying. This is a dignified amount of money to pay on one's lodgings, and we need to defend this amount, and public housing, and housing co-ops and extend them. So we're running in the seat of Heffron to raise the housing issue, defend and extend public housing.

What are some concrete ideas that you have for improving the housing situation?

We have a policy of fighting to build 100,000 new public housing dwellings in the next five years. We're also fighting to stop the demolition of Waterloo and other estates. Glebe and South Eveleigh are also under threat. And we are campaigning also for a rent freeze and to decrease rents. And this will go some way in dealing with the cost of living crisis and the rise in poverty in the seat of Heffron, Sydney, and NSW. And we’re indefeasible campaigners on this front, having organised rallies, protests, barbecues and picnics with housing tenants and renters. So for these reasons and more, we’re saying vote Socialists in the seat of Heffron and in the Upper House.

What are some of the other key issues?

The Socialist Alliance is also campaigning against coal and gas expansion. We know that 80% of the population across Australia, but even more so in the inner cities, are worried about climate catastrophe. So we're campaigning to immediately phase out coal and gas and for a green transition.

We also know that Tempe and other suburbs in Heffron are very loud and car-dominated, so we're calling for a massive expansion of public transport. Livable cities include much better cycleways and walkways, and that public transport should be free. And any public transport services be put back in public hands. So we want a massive expansion.

We're also cognitive of the fact that Mascot Towers is highlighting to a lot of private apartment owners in the inner city, the issues of cracks and defaults. So we're campaigning to have building regulators placed back in public hands, and for much more stringent building regulations to come back into developing apartments and properties in Heffron and all over Sydney.

What have you learned about the Heffron electorate and the voters during this campaign period since you decided to run?

People are very worried about the cost of living. There's an increase in poverty in Heffron amongst residents because of the rising electricity and gas prices, interest rates and rents. Rents are a massive issue. A friend of mine had an increase in rents. Now she's paying $1,000 for a place in Rosebery, a two bedroom, very small house in Rosebery. And this is an issue across the board across all suburbs, the rent hikes.

And people really do want more significant action on the climate. There's a lot of support for the student strikers who protested recently against the Federal Government and the State Government’s serious inaction on climate. We're really talking to residents about how to get more involved in resident action groups and the environment movement to increase our movement strength against the mining, development companies, and big business as a whole.

These are some of the issues that people are raising and the housing one is absolutely top notch in our discussions with people. So we've got to get this right. The Labor Party aren't offering anything substantial in NSW. The Labor Party federally are also not offering anything substantial. 30,000 homes offered by Anthony Albanese is definitely not enough social homes. The state ALP haven't promised to save Waterloo from the bulldozers and developers. The only thing they have promised of any substantial weight is the merging of three government departments in the housing sector, but that's not building any more public housing and they’re not standing up against the privatisation of public homes.

What is something that you can bring to the table that other candidates can’t?

I can bring a lot of experience in campaigning and grassroots organising. I was very involved in the marriage equality campaign, which we won in 2017. I'm also very connected with resident action groups throughout the city and very involved in the right to protest movement and the environment movement. So I can bring those networks and alliances.

Socialist Alliance is very much imploring the communities to organise in a more ongoing way to make sure that the developers and councils and governments can't get away with doing what they want in the inner city, which is to buy up public lands, build high-rise apartment blocks, take away green spaces. The only thing to stop those developers in their tracks and their political allies in parliament is organised communities.

What’s your favourite hidden gem in the area?

I really love TJ Hickey Park actually in Waterloo. It's renamed TJ Hickey, after the young Aboriginal man who was chased to death by police in 2004. It's a beautiful park. It's very green. It's got Turanga and Matavai towers within it. Solanda and Marton tower. But it's got fantastic old trees and we have lots of excellent seats that people come and sit and talk to each other. So that's my most favourite of parks. And then there's an excellent cheap bakery and fish and chip shop in George Street, just up the top up from Waterloo, and they've still got $6 rolls at that bakery. It hasn't been gentrified in the way that other spots in Redfern has.

Linda Paull

What would you say are the Heffron electorate’s biggest issues right now?

Interesting question because Heffron is a very, very diverse electorate. The issue that seems to be coming up a lot is around housing, and around green space. I've actually had four people email me yesterday, they still care about things like endangered species. So from the interactions I've had the people, they really care about these things.

I actually work for the St Vincent De Paul Society and we have a lot to do with homelessness and housing. And I know, for example, that there are within the electorate, about 9,000 households suffering from housing stress, that's the estimate. I mean, from the really pointy end of the housing stress. And there are at least another 1,000 on the waiting list for social housing. In certain areas of Heffron, it’s worse than others.

Green spaces is another one. It's a very built up area, people are really concerned about things like whether it's too overcrowded, do we have enough outdoor areas? People do actually ask me, maybe because I'm an Animal Justice Party person, about native birds and wildlife. So people do care about the overpopulation and the housing, and public transport.

What are some concrete ideas that you have for improving on those issues?

With the housing I firmly believe that what what we're experiencing at the moment is a manifestation of inaction by major parties for the last 30 years. I'm going to be really honest, I don’t think there is a quick solution. We are going to become a city that relies on social housing a lot more. Again, through my work with the Society, I understand how important social housing is. We support increasing the amount of social housing that is built.

One of the biggest problems for people who are vulnerable is the inability to find a place to live that allows them to keep their animals. The St Vincent De Paul Society identified having not being able to have your pet live with you in your rental apartment is one of the top three issues. And vulnerable people are often the people that have animals because they are the people that turn to animals for comfort and support. So for the Animal Justice Party, an obvious thing for us to focus on that helps both animals and people, particularly people suffering from housing stress, is we will be introducing a bill in Parliament to change no blanket clauses around having animals in rental properties. We had a lot of success last year changing the laws around strata and our MP Emma Hurst is planning to change the laws around general rentals as well that don't fall under a strata scheme.

What have you learned about the Heffron electorate during this campaign period since you decided to run?

Just how diverse it is. There's a diversity of people from different kinds of backgrounds. There's a diverse a huge diversity in wealth levels. There's a bit of a have and have-not situation here. So we've got people from old school, eastern suburbs like the Kensington area, but then we've also got social housing in Waterloo. We've also got a big indigenous population around the Waterloo area. A lot of people are sort of temporary. Around Zetland, you've got a lot of people there who are recent arrivals, who are waiting for their residency to come through.

I think despite the fact that it's a diverse area, there are lots of really strong communities. Funnily enough, given there's a fairly big disparity in terms of socioeconomic background, everyone seems to care about animals, which is really good for us, because it's one of the issues that spans all sides of Australian culture. One of the things that everyone has in common, is everyone pretty much likes animals. So that's one thing that appeals to everybody which I think is probably lucky for us.

Let’s finish off with your favourite hidden gem in the area.

I really enjoy the Carriageworks Markets. Being a fruit and veg kind of farmer's markets is a little bit up our alley. I also am a big fan of a lady in St Peters that runs a business called Sanga Vegan. Just outside of the train station. So if you don't know about it, get on down there. She does really lovely things. And it's all cruelty free. I'm not going to say it's all the healthiest stuff because she's got lots cakes, doughnuts and stuff like that. There's so much around the place but they're my two favourites.

Francis Devine (Liberal), Sarina Kilham (Independent), Ron Hoenig (Labor) and Ann Godfrey (Sustainable Australia Party) were not available for an interview before our deadline. We’ll publish a Part 2 when they are available.

Update 15/3/23: Two candidates have since provided their answers for Part 2.

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