A collation of 30 polls taken over the first half of 2012, and published on the criikey.com.au website, has highlighted a huge contradiction that exists in Australian society. While the majority of the population holds progressive views on economic and social issues there is no major political party that has policies that match those views.
Most Australians are actually far to the left of the major parties on all the key issues. On social issues like same sex marriage polls have long shown majority support. On the economy most people support bank taxes and regulations, publicly-funded infrastructure, a wealth tax and more funding for health, public transport and education.
At the same time the major parties are either opposed to or reluctant to legalise same sex marriage, private banks are allowed to act with impunity, company taxes are being cut, regulations weakened and spending on public services slashed.
Most people think that privatising Telstra, Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank was a big mistake. A clear majority of Australians actually support establishing a new publicly owned bank. Most say that the so-called benefits of the ‘economic reform program’ and ‘labour market flexibility’ (neo-liberal policies) have mostly gone to employers and have not benefited ordinary Australians.
An interesting point is that when people are asked in general terms if they support a big or a small government most people say that they think a small government is better. However, when talking about specific issues most people contradict this view by saying that they support more funding for public services, more public ownership and more government intervention.
The desire for a ‘smaller government’ does not stem from support for neo-liberal ideas or for ‘free market’ rule. In fact most people want to see society move in the opposite direction. The desire for a so-called ‘small government’ stems from the lack of confidence that most people have in the parties of government.
Despite the major parties handing more power to corporations in recent times, public trust in corporations, government institutions and the political establishment as a whole, are at all time lows. People clearly want to see big business reined in. They want a party with real labour movement values and they want a more equal, egalitarian society.
The major parties are seen to be representatives of big business, with the lurks and perks enjoyed by politicians, corruption scandals, lies and government waste all contributing to a general mood of dissatisfaction with the status quo. These issues are not mere anomalies but are inherent in parties that support a system that puts profits before all else.
In many ways these polls explain why the Occupy movement was met with such sympathy.
There is clear need to resolve the contradiction between the attitudes of people, and the fact that they lack any genuine political representation. The Socialist Party believes that as the economic situation worsens these attitudes will become even more popular. People will look for ways to resolve the problems that are being created and strive to reverse the trend towards the rich getter richer at the expense of everyone else.
In this context the idea of making a break from the major parties and building a genuine mass progressive force in Australian politics will gain ground. This is the type of organisation that the Socialist Party is trying to build as a vehicle to be used to fundamentally change society along the lines that most people desire.