The bloodless coup last month against Ted Baillieu and his replacement as Victorian Liberal Premier with Denis Napthine is the latest example of the political instability that pervades Australia and the rest of the capitalist world.
The founder of the Liberal Party, Robert Menzies, had 23 continuous years in office as Prime Minister. His success ultimately rested on the long post-war economic boom from 1945-73. Such stability will never be repeated.
Today, with the world mired in economic crisis, every government is in a form of competition with each other to undertake cuts to the reforms won in the past. The cuts are to meet the demands of the all-powerful financial markets. The contradiction however is that these same governments have to face (in elections and sometimes on the streets) a public that is overwhelmingly in opposition to the cuts. This leads to instability and political crisis.
Baillieu was in essence sacked by Liberal powerbrokers, on the instructions of the corporate elite. This was for what they considered incompetence in selling the cuts and a plodding approach to new construction projects to kick start an economy mired in recession for the last 9 months. Alone amongst governments in Australia, in Victoria the Liberals were well behind the ALP in the polls.
As the Liberal Party is more than ever devoid of a healthy branch life, and any connection with ordinary people, its elite is ever more dependent on big business and the rightwing media for financial and political support. This makes coups like this easier than ever.
In order to give his government some breathing space, Premier Napthine will aim for some quick fixes to the worst of Baillieu’s problems. He may even attempt to make a settlement on teachers’ pay with the Australian Education Union (AEU) leadership, who are desperate to settle. The new regime has put $200 million back into the TAFE system, which is nevertheless only a small percentage of what has been cut by the Liberals and will not see the reinstatement of jobs lost or courses cut.
Like Baillieu, Napthine still has to rely on the ex-Liberal, and semi-crazed and rorting Frankston MP Geoff Shaw for the parliamentary numbers necessary to govern. He still faces a public who oppose the grinding cuts to services and public sector jobs. Therefore there is no reason to believe Napthine will find any more political stability than Baillieu did.
The Socialist Party, unlike the ALP and Greens, opposes all the cuts of the Liberals. If the trade union movement similarly opposed the cuts and organised mass action it would be entirely possible to drive this government from power. A first step should be a joint 24-hour state-wide strike with rallies of all the unions and community groups in conflict with this government – teachers, construction workers, community legal centres, TAFE staff and students, public housing residents and emergency service workers to name but a few.
The next question is what to replace the Liberals with. The ALP hopes to sneak back into office on the basis of an anti-incumbent mood and then to carry on the neo-liberalism with only stylistic differences to the Liberals. The Greens just want to be junior partners with whoever of the major parties will have them.
The Socialist Party argues that the only viable alternative is to build a new mass workers’ party with radical policies to defend jobs and conditions, expand not cut services, and pose the need for an alternative to the profit-driven capitalist system.
By Stephen Jolly