15-12-16 – The image of media with cameras filming the eviction of homeless people from under the Go-Between Bridge in October tells a damning story. The fact that the Brisbane City Council was proud to broadcast its callousness speaks volumes about an administration which plays its part in creating homelessness, and then punishing those who become homeless. The local councillor for the area, the Greens’ Jonathon Sri, stated that he was not informed of the evictions beforehand. Brisbane City Council claims that all those “moved on” will be found accommodation to move into is largely suspected to be hot air. Homelessness in Brisbane, and around Australia, in recent years is increasing, and may even be at its highest level ever.
One of the major drivers of homelessness is the privatisation of public housing stock, and the drive towards so-called “social housing”. Using these means, state governments absolve themselves of any responsibility to ensure housing for all, regardless of income and employment status. “Social Housing” invariably is handed to a religious organisation or housing company, which takes it on as a money making business, rather than service provision. As opposed to a set amount of rent collected from a person who required public housing, say 10% of their income, the profit seeking outfits place upward pressure on the amount of rent collected. Tenants’ rights under “social housing” also tend to be undermined, as a church group or NGO does not have the regulated oversight of a public body.
Another key force behind homelessness is chronic unemployment and underemployment, which has been steadily rising since the world capitalist economies entered into a deep recession in 2008. The official unemployment figures are widely regarded to be vast underestimates, if not outright falsifications. While the official unemployment rate is around 5%, combined unemployment and underemployment according to some figures is 19.1%, or around 2.3 million Australians of working age. The decline of manufacturing, such as the closure of the entire industry of car production, only adds to the dilemma. Some laid off waterside workers who know little else are languishing on miniscule unemployment benefits. Regional towns like Townsville, Dirranbandi and Biloela have many of their residents simply leaving because there is no work. They move to the big cities to find work, but often without luck.
Along with the privatisation of public housing comes the privatisation of public space. The Queens Wharf mega-casino monstrosity in the middle of Brisbane is another case of public land being handed to private corporations. The privatisation of public land shrinks the area not only that the public can use, but that homeless people and others can find some temporary respite. A privately owned mega-casino simply becomes another area from which the public and the poor are excluded.
Working people’s right to both housing and public space at a certain point come into collision with the profit system, i.e. the system of generalised commodity production for private profit. As the capitalist economy declines, public space and public housing are seen as more commodities that should be plundered by private capital. Capitalist governments organise for public space to be handed to private corporations, and for public housing to be degraded or handed to the private sector. Working people and the marginalised lose out automatically.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In the Asia-Pacific region, there is a prime example of a state which not only provides huge amounts of public space, but also provides free housing. This state is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – incorrectly referred to by the Western corporate media as “North Korea”. As we have mentioned previously, in our article on the “West Village” development, the DPRK’s capital of Pyongyang has a massive 58 square metres of green space per person, compared to an almost non-existent 4 square centimetres of green space per person for the city of Brisbane. Pyongyang is also known for its ten metre wide footpaths, which are made for people to meet and congregate on, while allowing a pathway for those who wish to reach their destination.
Moreover, the phenomenon in Australia of housing being virtually unaffordable for many young and working people is simply unknown in the DPRK. Article 25 of the DPRK’s constitution states: “The State shall provide all of the working people with every condition for obtaining food, clothing and housing.” This means that housing is provided at no cost to DPRK citizens. Understandably this means that there is no homelessness. What a contrast to capitalist Australia – with thousands homeless every night, and affordable housing virtually out of reach for vast swathes of the population!
The DPRK can only achieve such things due to the fact that it has, through an immense struggle against the worst excesses of US imperialism, abolished capitalism in the process of establishing a workers state. That is, a state which represents and places in power no class other than that of the working people. This is the first step towards the classless, socialist society which Karl Marx envisioned. Thus here in Australia, while we struggle for decent public housing and a livable amount of public space, we must keep in mind that ultimately, the only permanent guarantee of such rights is the sweeping away of the capitalist system through workers’ revolution. For this task, a workers’ party which fights for a workers’ government is indispensable. DOWN WITH THE PROFIT SYSTEM!
PO Box 66 Nundah QLD 4012
 Willoughby, R., 2014, North Korea – The Bradt Travel Guide.