The Liberals have not enjoyed any sort of honeymoon after changing leaders in late August.
According to an Essential poll in September, 63% of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “I have lost trust in this government to function effectively and govern the country. Australia needs a new government”.
Despite desperately trying to reset the political agenda, Scott Morrison has struggled to assert himself. He’s been bogged down dealing with the aftermath of the internal dispute that saw off Malcolm Turnbull, and with dramas surrounding funding to Peter Dutton’s childcare centre, and the au pair visa saga.
In recent years, a change in leader has usually led to a modest poll bounce. Not this time.
The first polls with Scott Morrison at the helm were a disaster for the government. In late September Newspoll had the Coalition trailing the Labor opposition 46-54 on a two-party-preferred basis. The Coalition’s support was hovering at a pathetically low 36%.
The Guardian’s Essential poll wasn’t much better. If replicated at an election, these figures would translate into the loss of 20-30 seats. A wipeout.
Making matters worse, because of Turnbull’s departure, the Liberals now have to fight a by-election in the New South Wales seat of Wentworth.
At the by-election in the New South Wales state seat of Wagga Wagga last month, the Liberals were routed. They lost the seat for the first time in six decades. The Libs are clearly on the nose and voters are in the punishing mood.
The months ahead are going to be tough for this already weak and embattled government.
Holding on by the smallest of majorities, a loss – or even a big swing against the Coalition in Wentworth – could signal the beginning of the end for the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government. They could perhaps even be forced into an early election.
That however is not their preference. If possible, the Coalition would like to put the federal election off as long as possible. They desperately want some time to clear the air after the infighting and to promote the new face and style of Morrison to voters.
But while Morrison may have replaced Turnbull’s Armani suit for a Cronulla Sharks jersey, nothing has replaced the same old big business agenda.
In an attempt to cling on to the Liberal’s shrinking voter base, Morrison has already shown his willingness to resort to populism. One of his first announcements was a plan to put off the policy to lift the pension age to 70. He made sure to remind people that this was a policy implemented by Labor.
This was followed up by the calling of a Royal Commission into the aged care sector.
Morrison will do his best to try to win back a layer of outer suburban swinging voters so we should expect more populist announcements along these lines. The problem for him is that it is probably too little too late.
While Labor are in the box seat as the federal election approaches, this is not because of any real enthusiasm for their program, let alone their leader. They are merely the beneficiaries of a ‘punish the incumbent’ mood.
Their program differs only marginally from the Liberals, and on some issues – like the retirement age – the Liberals have opportunistically positioned themselves to Labor’s left.
The upcoming election campaign will likely be a contest of populist announcements that neither major party actually intends to implement.
The differences between the major parties exist only on the margins. On every fundamental issue, Labor stands with the Coalition in prioritising the needs of big business. For example, Labor recently agreed to wave through the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, a gift to big business.
It’s decisions like this that have encouraged many at the top end of town to shift their support over to Labor. Even Malcolm Turnbull’s own investment banker son has been soliciting donations for the Labor candidate in his dad’s old seat of Wentworth!
This is but one indicator that Labor are seen as a safe bet for big business. Unlike Jeremy Corbyn in Britain for example, Bill Shorten’s Labor Party has not proposed anything much that would even check the profits of big business.
Even on the basic issue of privatisation, no promises have been made to wind it back. In fact, in states like Victoria where Labor is in power, they continue with the privatisation agenda unabated.
On key issues like energy prices, climate change, housing and public services, Labor support ‘market measures’, just like the Liberals. In other words, leaving ownership and control in the hands of people who profiteer at the expense of the majority.
Labor’s essentially pro-corporate agenda is the main reason they are unable to enthuse voters, and it partly explains why Bill Shorten is so unpopular.
Despite the fact that nobody trusts the Liberals after their public display of backstabbery, Scott Morrison is still the preferred prime minister when compared to Shorten!
According to the Essential poll, Shorten is more likely to be considered by the public as ‘erratic, arrogant and superficial’. These are the polite descriptions crafted for middle class Guardian readers. In the lunchrooms and pubs of Australia Shorten is called much worse!
People know that a Labor government would not result in any real improvement to their lives, but they want to lash the Coalition regardless for overseeing a squeeze on their living conditions.
Socialists share this anger. We too want to see the back of the Coalition government. But rather than just changing the personnel at the top, we strive for a thoroughgoing solution. We want to see a change to the entire political set-up.
At the moment, big business interests dominate Australia. They just use the Coalition and Labor as their rotating management team. For them it doesn’t really matter which combination of corporate politicians occupy the benches in Canberra, as long as their profits are protected.
We want to put an end to this scam.
We want to break apart the bosses’ two-party system by building a political alternative to the Liberals, Labor and the Greens.
We need a party that stands in elections but, most importantly, we need a party that fights against profiteering and corporate greed in all spheres of our lives, in workplaces, on campuses and in our local communities.
A new party that stood unequivocally for putting people before profits, and drew together the different struggles of working people, would have the potential to win immense support right across Australia.
This was also highlighted in the September Essential poll. 67% of respondents agreed with the statement: “I’m sick of the major parties changing their leaders. I would consider voting for a third party to send a message to them both.”
So far, it has been right populist parties trying to take advantage of this mood. But rather than standing for measures that challenge the domination of big business, these right wing parties instead scapegoat migrants and minority groups.
They let the real culprits off the hook and, at the end of the day, do a huge service for those that exploit us all.
We don’t need another party that seeks to sow divisions amongst ordinary people. We need a party that seeks to reverse wealth inequality, low wage growth, housing stress and high energy costs by challenging the corporate agenda. This is best done by building working class unity.
The socialist policies of public ownership, democratic control and sustainable planning are the alternatives to privatisation, profiteering and the anarchy of the market. We need to fight for a socialist system based on sharing out the wealth created. In that way everyone gets a proper chance in life.
Be it Morrison, Shorten or any other capitalist politician, none of them are going to solve the problems we face. For that we need our own political movement, democratically led and controlled by ordinary people themselves.
Building this movement for change is the urgent task at hand.
Editorial comment from the October 2018 issue of The Socialist