Socialist Party National Committee statement on the Howard election victory, what it means, and what next…
In the last weeks of the election it was clear the Liberals were going to win even if there was to be a swing against them. The surprise is that the Liberals are looking like they are going to win the Senate, which means they have control of both Houses and can effectively do as they wish.
If the Liberals do win the Senate it may be with the support of the new, small, religious, right-wing Family First Party. This would be the first time in 24 years that the Liberals have control of the Senate.
This result is a direct consequence of the right wing conservative
agenda of the ALP, who rather than preferencing the Greens with their more progressive policies, decided to give their preferences to Family First. They preferred to see workers suffer under a Liberal regime rather than to concede a position to the Greens.
Liberal control of both Houses means that the most reactionary polices can be carried through. Huge industrial battles loom over the next few years as the Liberals attempt to privatise Telstra, the state majority-held telephone company. Howard has already indicated he will roll back
protection for workers in Industrial Relations. The passing of his unfair dismissal legislation will mean that all workers in firms of less than 20 employees will lose their right to challenge unfair dismissal in the Industrial Relations Commission ? effectively making a huge number of workers casual!
The media and Liberals are claiming this as an historic fourth successive victory- eight and half years for Howard as PM. Howard is now the second longest serving Australian Prime Minister.
However this is a historic victory for other reasons. This was the dullest election ever, all the candidates were uninspiring and there was deceit by the Liberals on an unprecedented scale. It will prove to be the most divisive election in Australian history as Howard attempts to drive through reactionary policies.
Voters did not have much choice between Tweedledum or Tweedledee.
When two parties are just the same why change course? Instead of gaining the thirteen seats they needed to win the election Labor will lose around five seats.
In his acceptance of defeat Latham could only offer to ?make the Liberals strong? by opposing them and saying it was a victory for democracy. The ALP, most trade unionists and many in working class communities are very badly bruised. In the eyes of most workers this was a crushing defeat and there will be a certain level of demoralisation in the short term.
Howard didn?t win this election, Latham lost it with pathetic policies to marginally improve education, health and help families. Over the election period Howard increased spending on health, education and family benefits, from $2 to $6 billion. Howard promised to spend more than Labor
on services causing Latham to accuse Howard of going on a spending spree! Latham?s tax and family benefit policy meant that the unemployed and those earning less than $35,000 a year would be better off under Howard! Despite this, there is little doubt that Howard will renege
on all but the reactionary promises he has made.
Because Labor had a program little different from the Liberals, they campaigned on Latham?s honesty and integrity as opposed to Howard?s lies and dishonesty. Australians were prepared to accept Howard?s lies for the security of interest rates so they can continue to pay their mortgages.
Howard rested on his good luck of being Prime Minister during an economic upturn ? even if the upturn has been partially due to ?labour market flexibility? keeping wages down. Workers have only survived by working long hours of overtime and taking advantage of historically low interest rates.
All economic commentators expect a rise in interest rates soon and a slowdown in growth, if not a recession. The debt-induced upturn will not last forever. That is why Howard, on behalf of the ruling class, must push ahead with the attacks on workers? rights, government spending,
the privatisation of Telstra, attacks on democratic rights and of course divisive attacks on social gains.
Interest rates were very successfully used as a scare tactic by the Liberals. Memories of 17% interest rates under previous Labor government did have an effect. One Labor strategist correctly pointed out: ?Interest rates were the Tampa of this election?.
Home ownership is over 70% in Australia and many middle classes and even some working class families have two mortgages. This means that almost every family lives from week to week, and a slight rise in interest rates would have a big effect on their standard of living.
The ALP provided no real alternative to Howard’s scare campaign. They didn?t have an economic alternative to the neo-liberal programme of Howard (previously implemented by the last Labor Government and by every government internationally). They didn?t have anything to say about job insecurity or growing poverty.
Unbelievably they also said nothing about the occupation of Iraq ? even Kerry in the US runs on this. They were also quiet on other attacks on democratic rights such as the ASIO bill.
Despite the fact that Howard kept Ruddock hidden, sensing that the electorates’ mood had changed on refugees, Latham said little on the issue except promising money for a Coast Guard.
The ALP’s badly explained Tasmanian forestry policy left Howard looking like he was the defender of workers? jobs. In any event Labor has no credibility on the issue as for decades both parties have handed out millions in subsidies to bosses in economically unsustainable industries like timber and fossil fuels.
So there was no real reason to vote for Labor. Many middle class and even working class families took the attitude to stick with the devil you know.
The ALP vote overall remained the same at 38.2% although there were small movements against ALP in Victoria and Tasmania. ALP lost seats in both areas to the Liberals.
The Liberals gained 3.3% to take them to 40.7% mainly at the expense of Democrats (who originated as a split from the Liberals) who polled 1.1% down 4.3%. The Democrats were wiped out as a party and set to lose all three senate seats. This signifies a hollowing out of the centre in Australian politics.
The racist One Nation Party?s small vote collapsed to 1.2% losing 3.1%. Hanson (standing as an independent) is likely not to win a seat and the only seat One Nation itself had is likely to be lost with a 6% swing against them.
The Greens at 7% had an increase of 2.1% are set to win a further two seats bringing them to three. This represents a large section of middle class and many working class activists. They are now the clear third party in Australian politics, receiving over a million votes. They are perceived by voters as a left wing alternative to Labor. We understand this and see it as a sign of how well a real new mass workers? party would grow. However we must continue to point out the Greens’ pro-capitalist economic policy, its support for the occupation of Iraq (as long as under the UN flag), its support for the Australian imperialist intervention in the Solomon Islands and PNG, its economic rationalist record in power in Yarra City Council etc. Unlike the Socialist Alliance we will not sow illusions in the Greens.
The two big winners (other than Howard) were the Greens and the right-wing Family First Party. This shows the polarisation developing in Australian society, which will increase as Howard launches his impending war on the working class.
Socialist Alliance got 0.5% of the vote overall (and 0.1% in the Senate in Victoria), a very poor showing. This proves the Socialist Party?s policy that basing a workers? party on REAL forces such as trade unions and community organisations is the only answer. The SA?s maximum vote was 2% in Canberra, a couple of 1% votes but mostly gaining one or two hundred votes and 0.3% to 0.5%. In the Federal seat of Melbourne they got less than half the vote we got in the same seat in the 2001 election.
The Socialist Party would have preferred an ALP victory on Saturday. This would have exposed them as the capitalist party they are. It would have helped tear unions from the ALP to start a campaign for a real workers party. That argument is now harder to win with the TU leadership wanting to wait for an ALP victory in three or four years. However among many rank and file workers there will be a growing feeling that waiting for Labor has failed three times now. It?s like waiting a life time for wage rise of one percent and a smiling boss. Australians can?t afford to wait for a possible future Labor victory, the stakes are too high. Our campaign for a new workers? party will continue.
Among big sections of the working class, especially young people, there will be a view that only mass action, strikes, rallies etc can stop Howard. The weakening hold of Labor over workers can lead to spontaneous or semi-spontaneous movements of the class against Howard?s attacks ? similar to the mass movement in Victoria against Kennett in 1992-93.
Some on the left, in the unions and the community will blame workers for voting in Howard. The blame, however, lies with the ALP and the Left for not understanding that the ALP is a lost cause. It is a capitalist party that no longer represents the people of Australia, it represents the bosses. The ALP has offered more of the same capitalist Liberal polices both at Federal level and State level. The ALP are in power in every State, they have attacked unions in every
State holding down wages and in some States decimating education and health. It is an indictment of ALP rightwing policies they have now lost fedrally, four times in a row.
The Socialist Party is preparing for huge industrial battles and
demonstrations on the streets of Australian cities.
In his acceptance speech Howard said he would tackle industrial relations. On Sunday morning TV big business leaders laid out plans for Howard. They want the full privatisation of Telstra, large tax cuts for big and small businesses. The right to sack any worker at any time for
any reason and a huge changes in Industrial Relations, attacking all the legal benefits to workers. These bosses also warned of a recession in the next six to twelve months. Coinciding with a recession comes the hiking of interest rates and with it huge pressures on families. The Liberals will be faced with massive opposition over the next year or two.
Howard has won a poisoned chalice. The economy faces a looming downturn. A rise in interest rates is expected with negative consequences for the standard of living of millions. Blocked on the political path once again workers, in particular youth, will see no option but taking to the streets to combat attacks on their wages, working conditions as well as attacks on social issues.
The Socialist Party will turn to union and youth work in preparation for these battles to come. This could include huge industrial struggles over the sale of Telstra around July.
We plan to use our Unite campaign and widen its base to take up the question of fighting the relaxing of unfair dismissal laws ? effectively making permanent workers in small firms into casual workers.
We will be part of the impending social movement to protect the forests. We will fight to defend the gains won by women over the past years from the Liberal/Family First social conservative assault.
There is a law in history that when blocked on the political front, the working class turns to the industrial front. We predict a period of attacks from the ruling class leading to highthened class struggle and politicisation. The Howard 4th victory is preparing a big swing to the left in the consciousness of workers and youth.