At 1pm on Sunday July 6, the Sydney Town Hall and its precincts were a very different place from usual: no members of the public strolling past or stopping to take the odd snap shoot or a selfie with this august building in the background.
Instead it was a sea of humanity surging on a chilly Sunday afternoon to demonstrate to the broader community their disgust at a Federal Budget. A budget that had promised to be fair, where everyone would “share the burden” but instead delivered a message that rewarded “the lifters” and penalised “the leaners”.
So who are “the leaners”? Clearly they are lower-income families, students, young job-seekers, pensioners and the sick. This Federal Budget attacks Medicare and will attempt to introduce a co-payment for a visit to your GP, jobseekers will be denied NewStart unemployment support for their first six months in need, aspiring university students will find there is no limit on how much universities will charge for course fees, there is no commitment to funding the final two years of implementation of the Gonski scheme and the attack on TAFE continues.
This is all known and has been grist for the mill in national and regional newspapers, and social media, but why did so many people in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and regional centres across Australia come onto the streets and into public spaces to campaign together?
Community disquiet has been growing with the March in March and May events, student rallies, the expansion of the Local Community Councils and campaigning against the treatment of refugees. All this organising echoes the Your Rights at Work campaign that sought change, and change we got in the form of a new government, but did we get real systemic change?
Our “it'll be fine” ethos is wearing thin and being replaced by active citizenry wanting to build a broad alliance while acknowledging differences but being driven by their concerns for the values of the country we live in and the future we leave to our children.
As Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon said at the Sydney rally: “This is not just about the Budget, this is about a change of the agenda of this nation. This is about a change in the philosophical direction of the country.”
Let’s not let the real opportunity for change slip through our fingers again.