The Barnett led Liberal Party were pummelled at the recent Western Australian state election, suffering a massive 16% swing against them. The results of this election provide a snapshot of the general mood among ordinary people in that state.
Labor are set to win 41 seats in the legislative assembly, compared to a mere 18 seats for the Liberal Party. While Labor will reap the benefits of the swing against the Liberals, the result wasn’t due to huge levels of enthusiasm for them. Their leader Mark McGowan has been described as a robot that lacks any sort of charisma.
It seems Labor picked up about 9% of the Liberals losses with other smaller parties, including One Nation, collecting the rest. The One Nation vote however was much lower than expected, they received 4.9% of the vote despite polling around 13% in the weeks preceding election day. The Greens vote stagnated at 8.8%.
By far the biggest factor in the result was the economy. Western Australia has gone from being the fastest growing state to the slowest. While the last few months have seen a slight increase in commodity prices, overall, exports of iron ore have dropped, leaving the mining dependent economy weak and exposed.
As a result, the states debt has risen dramatically, heading towards $40 billion, compared to $5 billion in 2008.
Working class people have been left wondering where the all the wealth and prosperity from the mining boom has gone. They ended up punishing the Liberals who have overseen this economic decline. It was from this mood that Labor benefited.
One of the defining issues of the campaign was electricity privatisation. The vast bulk of people oppose privatisation so under pressure Labor were forced to come out against it. This was not due to any ideological commitment to public ownership, instead it was an opportunist manoeuvre. Labor at both a state and federal level have pioneered the selling off of public assets.
The poor Liberal vote was also a result of backlash to a preference deal they did with One Nation. This deal back-fired on both parties and it has led to huge divisions within the Liberal-National coalition.
Many Liberal voters were repelled at the idea of being associated with a party known for its extreme views. At the same time, potential One Nation voters were repelled at the idea of their vote being used to keep the hated Barnett government in power. The deal saw One Nation lose its anti-establishment and protest vote edge.
It is likely that the federal Liberal government’s plans to cut penalty rates also played a part in the result. Labor Party aligned unions campaigned around this issue and seem to have struck a chord around this highly unpopular idea.
While Labor has been thrown into power there is no prospect of them solving any of the issues that concern working people in Western Australia. They are fully committed to capitalism and as such they will continue the trend of carrying out cuts to social spending, while offering concession to their big business backers.
Capitalism is a system that puts profits before all else so on that basis it seeks to make the working class pay for any economic woes while protecting the interests of corporations. Cuts to the public sector are likely under Labor and this will anger people as they are implemented.
The merry-go-round of exchanging one major party for another has to stop. Working people need a real political alternative. Unlike the fake alternatives of parties like One Nation, we need a party that stands opposed to the corporate agenda and for a system that puts people before profits.
It should be noted as a positive that people didn’t flock to One Nation on the scale that was expected. While One Nation has a section of supporters that are outright racist, many others vote for them as they perceive them as anti-establishment. If there was a real mass left-wing alternative on offer working people would embrace it.
The challenge ahead is to build a new left-wing party. With the economy set to worsen even more it is needed now more than ever.
By Meredith Jacka