Workers, students, trade union leaders, community campaign activists and journalists crammed into Brunswick Town Hall on Friday 24 August to hear about the Victorian Socialists’ campaign to put a socialist into state parliament. 

The more than 450 attendees were there to launch the party’s manifesto, an 80-page plan to address the state’s chronic public housing shortage, inadequate public transport and divisive law and order regime. 

If elected to parliament, Victorian Socialists will fight for a rent freeze, for a massive expansion in public housing and to reverse the decades of privatisation that have wrecked services and syphoned billions of public dollars into the hands of big corporations.

The motivations of those attending were wide-ranging, but a common thread ran through them: the need for a real alternative to the wretched circus that is Australian parliamentary politics. This sentiment was only strengthened by the elevation of Scott Morrison to the prime ministership hours before the event. 

One long term leftist attendee, Gary, told Red Flag why he decided to get involved: “The disintegration of the centre, not just in Australia but around the world is leading to the growth of the far right. The only way to combat this is to offer an alternative from the left”. 

Another, union organiser Tim Nelthorpe, said, “We need a party that opposes privatisation. We need a party that works for people, not the developers. Finally, we need a party for trade unionists”. 

Striking a similar note, Geelong Trades Hall secretary Colin Vernon told Red Flag, “We need to pull politics back to the left. I want to be a citizen in a society, not a consumer in a market”. 

Addressing the meeting were the three Victorian Socialists’ candidates for the Northern Metro region of the upper house: Yarra councillor and CFMMEU member Steve Jolly, Moreland councillor Sue Bolton and social justice lawyer Colleen Bolger. 

Jolly told the audience, “This is a fighting manifesto. A manifesto for a party of the streets … Victorian Socialists will fight for 50,000 homes in the next five years, a five-year freeze on rents and a minimum 20 percent inclusionary zoning for low-cost housing on all new construction projects”.

Law and order hype has been a pernicious element of state politics for many years. Jolly put it in perspective: “Daniel Andrews talks about crime. The real crime is being committed by the bosses in the form of wage theft. We need to name and shame and picket and fine and jail any person that thinks they can set up a company and not pay their workers the minimum wage”.

More than $15,000 was raised on the night, highlighting the depth of enthusiasm for the project. District organisers were busy signing up new volunteers to prepare for the 10-week campaign leading to the 24 November poll. Door-knocking and letterboxing is being organised across the Northern Metro electoral region, which contains around half a million voters. 

The evening ended with an appeal from the meeting’s chair: “We need campaigners, we need money, we need activists. Every voice and every dollar will count. Get involved and help make history this November”.