Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

SA election: Two party system under threat

As the state election in South Australia looms, polls are showing a surge in support for Nick Xenophon’s new formation SA Best.

The latest Newspoll has SA Best edging ahead of Labor and the Liberals with Xenophon himself preferred premier by 46% of voters. It looks like, at the very least, Xenophon will be a kingmaker, but it’s also very possible that one of the major parties will be forced into a coalition with him.

At the beginning of 2018 thirteen SA Best candidates had been revealed, predominantly in Liberal seats, with seven more to come. A number of these seats will be easy pickings for SA Best in an election that should have seen the Liberals seriously contesting the Labor incumbents.

Labor have blundered its way through 16 years of government in South Australia, but the Liberals have struggled to take advantage. They have trailed in 30 Newspolls so far.

Under the Rann/Weatherill government Labor oversaw the destruction of South Australia’s car and manufacturing industry, the selloff of the TAFE sector, budget cuts, power shortages and blackouts and years of the highest rates of unemployment in any state. With more SA Best candidates set to be announced in Labor seats, it is likely that they too will lose ground at this election.

Part of Xenophon’s charm is that he presents himself as operating outside of the two major parties. In a time when popularity for the status quo is at an all-time low, his brand of populism is cutting through to some extent. SA Best has so far managed to do this without even releasing a consistent list of policies!

That said, Xenophon’s candidates are a mixed bag who range from a hand-full of small business owners and professionals to big businessmen like Michael Slattery. Slattery has been in strife in the past owing $402,000 to some 117 creditors.

With no strong ideology or party structure tying them together it would be easy to see SA Best go the same way as the Palmer United Party or suffer from infighting as we have seen with One Nation. This has already happened to some extent. Rhys Adams, an early candidate of SA Best, was forced to resign hours after he was announced as a candidate after he made a joke of domestic violence.

However, even if SA Best do manage hold their formation together and win a swag of seats it will not mean any sort of fundamental change for South Australians. Xenophon has been in politics for the last 20 years and he has never represented a radical shift from the status quo.

He has supported a number of anti-worker laws including the ABCC, he opposes Sunday penalty rates and has consistently supported tax cuts for the big end of town.

If Xenophon manages to get himself into a position of real power, his real politics, as opposed to his populist stunts, will be exposed. His brand of capitalist economic nationalism and right-wing ideas will be much harder to hide.

It’s true that the mistaken policies of successive Labor and Liberal governments have wreaked havoc on the SA economy. The selling off of TAFEs and the privatisation of the electricity network have led to substandard education, blackouts and high energy prices for ordinary people. But Xenophon does not support public ownership. Like the others he prefers to let the profiteers rule.

One major backdrop to this election is the collapse of the car industry in SA. Xenophon’s answer has always been the same as Labor’s, handouts and pleas for big business to stay. In recent years billions of dollars in government handouts saw Mitsubishi, Ford and Holden pocket public subsidies to stay only to sack their workforce and pack up shop a few years later.

We need an alternative to this madness. A political alternative based on working class and socialist politics could offer a break from profit driven chaos and a solution to SA’s problems.

A BeyondZero study showed that as much as 20-30% of Australian steel could be used over 10 years to build renewable energy alternatives. Taking gas and electricity into public hands would facilitate cheaper services for ordinary people and revive manufacturing in the depressed state.

While we have no illusions in Xenophon we do understand why people are ditching the major parties and looking for alternatives. SA Best will not be that alternative, but there is fertile ground for one to be built in the coming years.

By Corey Snoek