Last month’s NSW state election saw a significant swing against the incumbent Liberal/National Party Coalition government, but not enough for it to lose power.
The Coalition suffered a 2.9% swing against it winning 45.6% of the vote (54 seats). The opposition Labor Party (ALP) gained 8.6% of the vote compared to the 2011 election winning 34.2% (34 seats).
This has allowed the ALP to recover from its semi-rump state, which it was reduced to in 2011 after being crushed and left with only 23 seats.
The Greens won two seats in the inner city areas of Balmain and Newtown plus (probably) two seats in regional towns where the elections were a virtual referendum on coal seam gas. However the Greens vote overall stayed static at 10.3%. Interestingly the rise in seats for the Greens has led to little comment or hysteria from the right-wing media outlets.
The ruling elite are entirely comfortable with the Greens as a political safety valve for voters angry at the neo-liberal policies of the major parties. When in coalition as a junior partner with the major parties, the Greens have stuck to the script of cuts to services and public service jobs.
The ALP was unable to repeat the historic events at Australia’s last two state elections where the party was able to turf out Coalition governments after a single term in office. In Victoria last November and in Queensland in January, the ALP was able to opportunistically reflect voters’ anger at neo-liberal policies.
Despite a lack of enthusiasm for the ALP amongst ordinary people, such was the anger at the respective state governments, that voters ‘held their nose’ and put the party back into power.
In NSW, this process was only partially repeated. One reason was that the main election issue, the electricity privatisation plans of the Coalition government, was not such a strong weapon for the ALP.
They themselves had privatised the retail and generator sections of the power industry in NSW in the teeth of opposition from voters, partially reflected by some trade union opposition.
All that was left for the Coalition to pledge to privatise was the poles and wires. The memory of a 15-year right-wing ALP government, that itself privatised and undertook massive cuts, was not forgotten by voters and this made their newly found opposition of privatisation and cuts seem fake.
A last minute, xenophobic ad campaign also cut little ice with voters. These ads tried to whip up fears of Chinese government control of the electricity power grid. They claimed privatisation would allow the highest bidder (and therefore potentially China’s State Grid Corp) to buy the infrastructure.
ALP spokespeople called for Australia’s national security agencies to condemn this possibility, highlighting the craven pro-capitalist nature of the leadership of this party.
This racist logic seems to imply that a US-owner of the electricity grid might be better for workers. Which capitalist would they prefer owned the infrastructure? Perhaps ‘Aussie Gina Reinhart’ who spoke wistfully in 2012 of wanting Australian workers to live on $2 a day.
Another problem for the ALP was the stench of corruption that has surrounded the party for years and was partially exposed by the ICAC hearings. Corruption is endemic in capitalist politics but the ALP in NSW seemed to reach new heights.
ALP ministers, power-brokers and even union officials milked, not thousands, but millions of dollars for themselves in various dodgy dealings. Voters were “not yet ready” to put the ALP back into power as their leader Luke Foley admitted on election night.
The contradiction at the heart of Australian politics right now is the pressure on the major parties by the forces of capitalism to implement vicious neo-liberal polices. This comes into conflict with intense voter opposition to these very same policies.
The best way for the working class to overcome this problem is to break from the major parties and create a new political vehicle – one that unashamedly opposes neo-liberal policies and capitalism and fights for a democratic socialist alternative.
By Stephen Jolly