Voters in Western Australia punished the two major parties in the Senate election rerun. The Liberals suffered a 5.4% swing against them while Labor saw a dip of 5% in their vote. Labor recorded its worst result in history with only 22% of the primary vote.
The Liberals primary vote was 34% while the Greens received 16%, up 6.5%. The other party to increase their vote was the Palmer United Party who won 12.5%, up 7.5%.
All up 3 seats were won by the Liberals, 1 by Labor, 1 by the Greens and 1 went to the Palmer party. In general it seems that dissatisfied Liberal voters shifted to the Palmer United Party while many of those fed up with Labor went over to the Greens.
The backdrop to the election is that unemployment has risen dramatically recently in WA from 3.5% to 5.9%. Thousands of jobs have been cut both in the public sector and mining industries. Business confidence has taken a dive with many workers now concerned about job security and their falling standard of living.
These worries and concerns have been reinforced by the Abbott Government’s talk of tough times to come.
Labor have been unable to take advantage of the problems faced by the Abbott government primarily because of the attack on living standards carried out by the previous Labor government and it’s ongoing support for most of the Liberal’s policies.
Labor continues to prioritise big business interests over the needs of working class people. It is the pro big business policies that make Labor irrelevant to ordinary people. Further shifts to the right will only exacerbate this problem.
Candidates in this election were scrutinised far more this time around. Labor chose Joe Bullock from the Shop workers union as their number one candidate. He was a huge embarrassment as his right wing views were revealed. At one point he made homophobic comments about Louise Pratt, the party’s second candidate.
Bullock also admitted during the election and that he had not always voted for Labor. This debacle highlighted the undemocratic nature of Labor whereby voters have ended up with a Senator who holds views that are rejected by huge swathes of the party and the population. He was selected on the back of a shady factional deal between the left and right factions in the party.
The Greens improved their vote dramatically – mainly at the expense of Labor. Scott Ludlam, a left leaning Green, was re-elected for another term. As with the experience of Adam Bandt in Melbourne, the Greens have been able to maintain their vote only when they are seen to be part of social movements.
Ludlam has supported workers rights, refugee rights and has come out opposed to internet censorship. The Greens also tapped into the anti shark cull protest vote and used social media to attract young voters.
The Greens as a whole however continue to focus on electoral work as opposed to basing themselves in these movements. At the end of the day their economic policies are fundamentally the same as the major parties and this means that when they get into positions of influence they act in much the same way.
The increase in support for the Palmer United Party was in part due to the millions of dollars they spent on advertising but also due to the fact that present themselves as something different to the major parties. It is possible that this right wing populist party, led by a billionaire mining magnate, can continue to be a thorn in the side of the major parties – especially in the absence of a left wing alternative.
The Palmer party’s rise highlights the need for progressive forces to come together to build a new organisation that defends living standards and protects working class people from the drive to cut jobs and services.
By Mick Suter
The following article was published in the April edition of ‘The Socialist’ prior to the election.
WA Senate election rerun – The election the Liberals did not want!
After authorities lost over 1300 votes last year during the Western Australian Senate election a rerun is being held to elect the states’ six Senators. The curse of incumbency is now catching up with the WA Liberals. Six months ago the Liberals won 3 of the 6 seats and enjoyed a big lead in the opinion polls. This was mainly due to the 5-6% economic growth in the WA economy that was driven by the mining sector.
This year we have seen their support begin to crumble as the economy drops to 3.5% growth due to a massive decline of 25% in mining investment. Unemployment has increased from 3.5% to a high of 5.9% in March 2014. This is the highest level of unemployment in WA for decades.
Business confidence is dropping and hundreds of jobs are disappearing. The Barnett State Government has cut $180 million from the education budget sacking 350 education assistants and 150 education head office staff. The State Government is also threatening the loss of 500 social trainers with the privatisation of 60% of disability accommodation services. Another 500 jobs are being cut at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital with occupational therapists and Physiotherapist services being cut to shreds.
Against this backdrop the Liberals are becoming more unpopular by the day. To make matters worse their shark cull policy has backfired with over 6000 protesting in the Premiers seat of Cottesloe and 80% of the WA population opposing their plans.
The State Government is lurching from one crisis to another. Troy Buswell, the former State Treasurer and Transport Minister, recently resigned from cabinet due to health issues, however it has been revealed that he had also crashed his ministerial car allegedly hitting several parked cars on his street before crashing into his front gate.
Opposition to the State Government and to the policies of the Federal Liberals saw over 4000 people demonstrate at the March in March rally. Last September also saw the biggest demonstration for decades when 20,000 teachers, teaching assistants and school support staff protested against education cuts across WA. Further action is planned for April with thousands planning to attend.
The real issues facing working class people in WA are not being addressed in this election campaign. People are concerned about job losses, job insecurity, the rising cost of living and the housing crisis. Housing stress is particularly acute made worse by 945 evictions from Homeswest that have taken place. Over 550 Aboriginal families have been evicted in the last 3 years since the introduction of the racist ‘three strike’ policy.
More than 20,000 people remain on the public housing waiting list and thousands more struggle paying high rents in the private sector. None of the major parties have solutions to any of these problems. Instead the Liberals, Labor and the Greens continue to support neo-liberal polices such as user-pays and privatisations.
While a multitude of new micro parties and campaigns (up to 72) are participating in this Senate election what we really need is a new mass workers party that really represents the interests of ordinary people.
The time is ripe for the trade unions, community organisations and activists to build an organisation based on socialist policies. An organisation that would stand in elections but more importantly would lead campaigns to improve people’s lives. This is the real task ahead in WA regardless of the outcome of the Senate election rerun.
By Socialist Party reporters