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Diverse communities raise voice for affordable housing and energy

They came from as far afield as Dubbo, the Hunter and the Illawarra – and from across Greater Sydney. Almost 2,000 people, representing hundreds of organisations, languages and cultural communities.

The Town Hall Assembly on March 14 is being seen as a watershed for reviving “people pow-er” across Sydney and beyond. Photo: Stephen Webb

On March 14, despite thunder and hail, they converged on Sydney Town Hall – in the biggest public gathering on cost-of-living issues ever held in Australia.

They came to seek action on affordable and secure housing for all, and for affordable renewable household energy. They pushed for clear commitments to policy and funding – from politicians from federal and state parliaments, from the ALP, Liberals, Greens, Christian Democrats and Independents.

The event was an unprecedented joint effort from the not-for-profit sector – bringing together the affordable housing and Voices for Power energy campaigns under the Sydney Alliance (with the Uniting Church and its agency Uniting playing a leading role); the Make Renting Fair campaign for rental security, aiming to end the “no grounds” eviction; the Right to Home campaign of the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW; and the Everybody’s Home campaign for federal action on housing and homelessness, led by major community housing providers.

Politicians heard harrowing personal accounts from members of the public directly affected by rental unaffordability and insecurity and by high energy prices – and were then questioned by campaign leaders to clarify their policy commitments.

Among these was a promise by both Liberal and Labor parties in NSW to review minimum standards of rentals to include energy efficiency standards, and to audit social housing stock – a big win for tenants. Both the ALP and Greens committed to support significant new funding of social housing.

Federally, both the ALP and Greens supported the Everybody’s Home election platform, promised delivery of affordable rental targets, reform of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions; they also pledged significant funding and structural reforms, and a strategy to cut homelessness. More details of the commitments can be found at the Sydney Alliance website, www.sydneyalliance.org.au/.

Most importantly, the Town Hall Assembly is being seen as a watershed for reviving “people power” across Sydney and beyond. Communities that had felt disempowered and ignored, through the public advocacy process led by the Sydney Alliance and it partners, have started to believe that they can be taken seriously, that they can make a difference.

The message from the March 14 Assembly is that no longer will decisions about this city be made without public scrutiny of rich developers and their political mouthpieces. The ordinary people of Sydney are getting organised and raising their voices. The giant has awoken.

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