A common theme of most state and federal elections over the last decade has been a decline in support for the two major parties. Voters have often sought to punish the incumbents, in many cases voting for minor parties as a protest against the entire establishment.
As far as the New South Wales state election is concerned, it seems people are still in the same mood.
As the election campaign draws to a close the polls are very tight. Most polls have Labor slightly ahead, but complicating predictions are indications that at least 25% of people will vote for a minor party or independent.
20 years ago, it was mostly a two-horse race between the Liberals and Labor. In this contest however a number of other parties are genuine contenders for seats, including the Greens, Nationals, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, as well as various independents.
Mark Latham, formally the leader of the Labor Party, is standing for One Nation and there is a chance that he could also be elected. There is a real possibility that there could be a hung parliament, with a crossbench dominated by small right-wing parties and independents.
The shift away from the major parties ultimately flows from people’s dissatisfaction with the big business policies they pursue, and a growing sense of insecurity felt by many working class people.
For example, Sydney’s property market is starting to deflate. The housing boom peaked last year and now Sydney’s median house price has fallen by 12%! Sydney’s economic growth is at its lowest in three years and there are worries that the drop in house prices could further impact the broader economy.
Underemployment is already an issue and if the economy slows more that could result in job losses, with even more people forced to compete for less hours.
Even a mild slowdown in the housing sector – let alone a crash – can have big consequences for the state government. For example, the government is already set to lose around $8 billion dollars in stamp duty because of the drop in house prices.
At the moment there is a budget surplus, but with less revenue coming in, what cuts will any new government make to cover the short fall?
Wage growth is flat and insecure work is the norm for many. The major parties have some sense that people will vote with cost of living pressures in mind, so they have each come up with a few token gestures to try and woo votes.
For example, the Liberals are offering free car registration for frequent toll road users. But to be eligible for this you have to spend at least $1300 on tolls in a year!
Really, this is just a crude attempt to encourage people to use Sydney’s private toll roads. It will only further enrich companies like Transurban who trade on squeezing money out of working people who need to drive to work.
The current Liberal government has been one of the best friends of the toll road companies, building more roads and extending tolls for decades into the future. The problem is that Labor themselves are also big supporters of these profiteers.
The budget surplus has given the Liberal government some wriggle room but this could change as the economy slows. You can bet that no matter who wins the election neither major party will be prepared to go to big business and make them pay more. Ordinary people will be asked to pay via cuts to jobs and services.
There is a real basis to people’s worries about cost of living pressures and their future. Unfortunately, none of the establishment parties – including the small right-wing parties – offer any alternative to the big business-first approach.
While a hung parliament may stay the hand of whatever party wins the most seats, it will not resolve the underlying issues. The biggest problem that working people face is that they have no real political representation.
The best way to push back at big business is to build a new working class party that genuinely fights in our interests. We desperately need a party worthy of voting for, but also a party that can support campaigns against toll roads, for better healthcare and education, for more public housing and for decent wages and conditions.
These are the socialist policies we need in order to put an end to no-choice elections and to make politics relevant to working class people.
By Meredith Jacka