The March 23 New South Wales (NSW) state election saw the Liberal-National coalition returned for a third term. As predicted the election was a very tight race, but in the end the Liberal-National coalition scraped over the line with a slim majority.
While Gladys Berejiklian’s Coalition are relieved to have won, the result was hardly anything to crow about. The Liberals suffered a 2.7% swing against them while their coalition partners the Nationals suffered a 1% swing.
In specific seats, the biggest swings were against the Nationals – in Dubbo there was a swing of 18.9%, while in Wagga Wagga the swing away was as high as 28.4%!
While the incumbent government endured some setbacks, it was not the Labor opposition led by Michael Daley that benefited. Labor also suffered a 1% swing against them, highlighting the disillusionment voters have with both the major parties.
Daley fumbled badly in the last weeks of the campaign, doing poorly in the debates and having to deal with the release of footage of a speech that showed him blaming “young people from Asia with PhDs” for the lack of jobs in Sydney.
Labor campaigned hard against government spending on sports stadiums, but they were unable to convince people that they could be trusted to spend taxpayer money any better.
In the eyes of most people both the major parties are in bed with big business, and given Daley was only in the job for a few months, those who were inclined to stick with a major party considered it better to stay with the devil they knew.
A full quarter of all voters however couldn’t stomach a vote for either major party, instead voting for a minor party or independent. This shows the huge potential for a new genuine left party with a socialist program and based on mass participation by workers and young people.
The Nationals lost most of their votes to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFF). The seat of Barwon – previously a Nationals held seat – saw a huge swing of about 20% to the SFF. One Nation also picked up votes from the Nationals in regional areas.
In the inner-city, groups like the Animal Justice Party (AJP), and the newly formed Keep Sydney Open (KSO), gained votes at the expense of the major parties, although not enough to win any seats in the lower house.
Labor and the Greens have blamed these “left of centre” minor parties for splitting the vote, but these parties have only been able to gain ground due to the failures of Labor and the Greens. Labor tried to tack to the left with some populist language, but clearly people did not consider it genuine.
While the Greens managed to hold their ground, they have been embroiled in an internal dispute where the leadership has attempted to drag the party further to the right.
The issues run far deeper than greyhound racing (which the AJP campaigned on), or a push back against lock out laws (the key focus of KSO). People are suffering from cost of living pressures and they have very little faith in the Liberals, Labor or the Greens.
In many ways the vote for minor parties is a vote to shake things up, a hope that they will put some pressure on the major parties to focus on people’s concerns.
The main beneficiaries of this mood so far have been right wing populist parties, but none of them have been able to coalesce into a major and stable political force. Ultimately this is because their policies – just like the major parties – are at odds with the interests of the majority of people.
One Nation have won at least one seat in the upper house, but it remains to be seen whether their candidate, the former Labor leader Mark Latham, will stick around or split like most of their other MPs.
This election should serve as a warning to the trade unions, who supported Labor in this election regardless of the fact that their program was entirely inadequate. Pretending that careerist Labor politicians can be saviours of the working class does not strike a blow to the Liberals.
The unions need to stand unequivocally against privatisation, for more public housing, free public transport and for more schools, hospitals and childcare centres. Big business could be taxed more to pay for all this.
Because Labor refuse to endorse these basic pro-working class demands, they should be ditched and the unions should work with other progressive forces to build a new party.
This would not only be the best way to undermine the Coalition, but it would also be the best way to cut across the right wing populists, who are taking advantage of the fact that there is no major party worth voting for.
By Meredith Jacka