South Australia and Tasmania held state elections on Saturday March 15. South Australia has been governed by the ALP since 2002 while Tasmania had been governed by the ALP since 1998 and then by an ALP/Greens coalition since 2010.
In South Australia the result was very close with the ALP and the Liberals neck in neck. The ALP won 23 seats in the 47-seat House of Assembly while the Liberal Party increased their number of seats to 22.
The ALP managed to form a minority government with the support of Independent MP Geoff Brock. In this election the Liberals increased their vote to 44% while the ALP received about 37% of the vote.
Against the backdrop of state government cutbacks and a crisis facing the car industry in Adelaide many people went to the polls with jobs on their mind. While many wanted to punish the ALP for slashing public sector jobs and overseeing the closure of two major car plants in recent years, some were hesitant to abandon Labor for fear that Liberals at both a state and federal level could be even worse.
In the end the Liberals picked up the votes of a layer of disaffected people while those who voted for the ALP did so while holding their nose due to the lack of any credible alternative.
In Tasmania the hatred of the ALP/Greens government was expressed much more clearly. The ALP vote plunged to an historic low of 27% – a swing against the party of almost 10%. The Greens suffered a swing of 8% against them losing 3 of their 5 seats. The Liberals were able to secure a clear majority winning 14 of the 25 seats.
The Liberals benefited from deep hostility to both Labor and the Greens. Similarly to South Australia the previous ALP government under Lara Giddings oversaw deep cuts to the public sector. The Greens themselves had two ministers in the government and supported cuts to education and housing amongst other things.
Unemployment in Tasmania is officially 7.4% and up to 20% amongst young people. Given that none of the mainstream parties offer any solutions to the jobs crisis, and all support cuts to public services, very few people have any enthusiasm for any of them. With cost of living pressures increasing there is a definite mood to punish the incumbents.
While ordinary people across Australia are clear about what they don’t want they have still not developed a party that represents exactly what they do want. Most recent polls show people’s attitudes well to the left of the major parties. While the Liberals and Labor compete to be the best representatives of big business interests ordinary people are without a mass party that represents their needs.
As for the Greens, their experience in Tasmania shows that they cannot become a genuine progressive force capable of challenging the ALP from the left. In the absence of a political and economic alternative to the major parties, any third force will always shift to the right the closer it gets to power. While they were on the ascendency a decade or more ago people have seen that when in positions of power the Greens act in much the same way as the Liberals or Labor.
The challenge in South Australia, Tasmania and across the whole of Australia is build a new political force that unashamedly puts the interests of the majority of ordinary people first. Punishing the incumbents is not enough. We need a party of our own.