Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Western Australia’s ‘no choice’ election

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Western Australians go to the polls on March 9. The background to this year’s State election is the slow down in the mining sector which is being accompanied by mounting job losses. This in turn is having an impact on the State’s budget.

In mid February the headline in the West Australian newspaper was ‘Rio Axes 350 Jobs’. This came on top of FMG laying off 1500 workers last September and plans for a further 200 job losses in that firm. It was reported that 4600 jobs have been lost in mining across Australia in the last half of 2012.

By Sean Moore, Socialist Party Perth

The amount of jobs being advertised fell by 22% in the last 3 months of 2012. Deteriorating employment prospects goes hand in hand with concerns about high living costs. Perth is now the 8th most expensive city in the world with many regional towns in WA even more expensive with less infrastructure and inferior services.

A 2012 report by R2Mining and Costmine stated that Australian mine owners have reduced overheads by $2 billion. The lower levels of investment in the sector reflect the uncertainties in the world markets – particularly the slow down in the Chinese economy. Adding to the woes is the fall in commodity prices, the strong Australian dollar and an increase in supply coming from other countries, especially in Africa and South America.

Budget cuts

The Barnett Liberal/National Government has responded to the fall in mining profits, and reduced state revenue, by carrying out a further round of budget cuts in the public sector. Fearing a small surplus, or even a deficit in an election year, in September 2012 they cut $330 million from the State budget which led to 1500 public sector job losses. This came on top of a 2% cut earlier in the year.

On top of the job insecurity and budget cuts, housing is a major concern to people. House prices are extremely high and there is a lack of affordable housing. Over 25,000 people are on the public housing waiting list while the private sector vacancy rate is only 1.9%. This means the vast bulk of people are suffering from either rent or mortgage stress.

With the opposition Labor Party failing to outline any genuine alternative to these issues most people have been thoroughly uninspired during the election campaign. In the lead up to the election the Liberals are a massive 12% ahead of Labor. The Greens look set to lose their only Lower House seat to Labor.

While the Greens stand to the left of Labor in terms of policies on paper, they have failed to make any real impact over the past 3 years. In fact their support in the latest poll shows a drop of 4% from 2008. They have been somewhat tainted by supporting Labor at a Federal level and have done very little on the ground apart from their own election campaigns.

If re-elected the Liberals are planning further shifts towards privatisations, such as in the TAFE sector. They are looking to follow the lead of the Victorian Government who slashed $300 million from the sector resulting in over 1200 job losses and over 2000 courses being cancelled.

The Liberals are also proposing further budget cuts of 3.5% in 2012-13, 4.5% in 2013-14, 5.5% in 2014-15 and 6.5% in 2015-16. This will result in even more job losses in the public sector and a reduction in services.

Attacks on workers’ and Aboriginal rights

Further to this the Liberals have proposed a new industrial relations bill which would lead to lower redundancy pay outs and the stripping of entitlements such as long service leave and personal leave once public services are privatised or outsourced. They also want to make it harder for public sector trade union officials to visit their members.

At the same time the Liberals continue to attack the rights of Aboriginal people. Local indigenous communities in the Kimberley around James Price Point continue to oppose the big oil and gas company Woodside who want to set up a new gas hub on their land. Barnett is seen as a big supporter of this company. In Perth activists around the Nyoongar Tent Embassy continue to struggle against the Government’s attempt to steal their land for big business development.

Unfortunately the ALP has been silent on most of these important issues. The main reason is that Labor does not have any policies that are fundamentally different. They, just like the Liberals, are first and foremost representatives of big business.

The ALP supports Barnett’s racist policies in regards to taking land off Aboriginal people. They have also refused to pledge to put and end to ‘efficiency dividends’ (read: cuts) in the public sector.

The ALP and Liberals both support the transfer of public housing to the so called not-for-profit sector. This is a basically privatisation by stealth. Both parties support a shift towards the marketisation of education and a system which subsidises private schools at the expense of public schools.

Even if Labor were able to win the election they would carry out the same policies as the Liberals. The reason why ordinary people have had no real enthusiasm during this election is precisely because they correctly see both the major parties as being essentially the same. Each of them put the interests of big business over the needs of the majority.

Alternative to the major parties needed

With this being the case it is shameful that the vast bulk of unions in Western Australia continue to support Labor. What we really need is a new party that unashamedly represents the needs of ordinary people.

The Socialist Party argues that left-wing trade unions, progressive community groups, environmentalists and socialists should come together to form a new workers party. Such a party would oppose budget cuts, privatisations and attacks on workers’ rights, Aboriginal rights and the environment. The party would campaign in workplaces and communities as well as standing for parliament.

A party that stood for more investment in public housing, health, education and transport would win the support of huge sections of society. By investing in these areas thousands of jobs could be created while building the things that society needs and protecting the environment.

A new campaigning workers party with a socialist program could very rapidly win reforms and begin the process of using the wealth in Western Australia to increase living standards across the board. At the end of the day we need a party that stands for a different way of running society – a party that stands for a socialist world where people’s needs are prioritised, not big business profits.


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