Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Labor punished in Tasmania and South Australia

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Working class alternative absent in both states

Saturday March 20 saw State elections in Australia’s two least populated states, South Australia and Tasmania. South Australia makes up about 6% of the Australian economy, with Tasmania contributing just under 2%. In both States, sitting rightwing ALP governments suffered from big swings to their opponents.

In South Australia, the ALP lost four seats and received fewer votes than the Coalition. However, as the Coalition needed to gain ten seats to win, the ALP hung on to power. For a small economy, South Australia has a fair chunk of industry and builds 44% of all new cars in the country.

The Global Financial Crisis has hit the State hard, especially as it doesn’t have the mining boom buffer of Queensland and Western Australia. Of all Australian States, South Australia has suffered the biggest drop in GDP and the largest decline in per capita GDP.

The Blairite-like ALP government therefore took a battering from voters, but there was not enough confidence in the even more right-wing Coalition Opposition for it to win power.

A similar process took place in Tasmania but in addition there has been alleged government corruption and the continuation of old growth forest logging in that state. In Tasmania the ALP suffered a massive 12% swing against them. 7% of that swing went to the Liberals and 5% to the Greens.

Most likely the ALP and Liberals will end up with ten seats each and five to the Greens. The Greens hold the balance of power and will probably support a minority Liberal government.

In the inner-city suburbs of mainland Australia the Green vote is generally perceived to be moderately leftwing and largely made up of ex-ALP voters, it is different in Tasmania. Here, where the Greens first began in Australia, they are a larger and more moderate party – similar to the Liberal Democrats in Britain. In the past they have been in coalition governments with both the ALP and the Liberals.

In this election, the Tasmanian Greens had their very modest spending commitments checked by the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as they proudly declared on their webpage.

Their progressive call for a pokie-free Tasmania, included a pledge to “fund a fair and reasonable exit package” for the Federal Hotel chain. They also pledged $25 million for extra police while urging teachers not to take strike action during the election campaign despite Labor’s attacks on state education.

Their leader, Nick McKim, has declared since the election that he wants “stability and accountability” and (it seems) little else, putting not a single demand on the major parties for his support. He also promised not to block any budget from the future government even if it contains cuts and attacks on ordinary people.

The thought that the Greens could support a Liberal government considering their views on refugees, gay marriage, logging, union rights etc will be a shock to many voters.

No wonder one voter posted on a pro-Green blog: “As someone who thinks the Greens are the better alternative when it comes to parliament, I am appalled that they would do a deal with the Liberals. It seems [the] height of opportunism to sell out principles and do a deal with the party of big business. I voted for the Greens in my first election when I was 18 and was motivated by my gut hatred for Howard and the Liberals. If (the Greens) can’t rule out preference and minority government deals with the Liberals, I’d find it hard to stomach.”

In both South Australia and Tasmania there was an absence of a strong leftwing voice for ordinary people. This allowed the Greens to opportunistically capitalise on the anti-Labor mood in Tasmania and achieve a 1.8% swing towards them in South Australia. What is needed is a new working class party on the Left in these states and nationally. The Socialist Party will continue to campaign for such a party in the next months and years.

By Stephen Jolly


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