The Victorian Labor (ALP) government, led by Premier Steve Bracks, was comfortably re-elected on Saturday. It suffered a small 2% swing against it to the traditional capitalist Liberal Party opposition led by Ted Bailleau.
The ALP got 43.9% of the primary vote, 4% less than the last State election in 2002. The Liberals polled the same as 2002 – 33.9%. The conservative rural party, the Nationals, rose from 4.3% to 5.4%. The reactionary, religious-based Family First party won 4.3%. Unexpectedly the Greens polled no better than 2002, about 8.9% overall.
The final results for the lower house are expected to see ALP on 55 seats, Liberal 24, Nationals 8 and 1 independent. With about 68% of the votes counted, it seems the Greens failed to make a breakthrough in the more powerful lower house (Legislative Assembly) but should win between 2 to 4 seats for the first time in the upper house (Legislative Council). However it is possible they will not hold the balance of power, with the ALP currently on 18 of the 40 Legislative Council seats, with another 3 possibly going to them as well.
Every State government continues now to be controlled by the ALP, with the Liberal-National Coalition holding the Federal government since 1996. Over the last four years the State ALP government, like all the other ALP State governments, has carried out a right-wing neo-liberal agenda of public-private partnerships, strict fiscal discipline to please the money markets and massive corporate subsidies to tollway, tram and pokie operators.
Despite the economic upturn and a consequent official budget surplus of $800 million (the real figure is $3 billion according to the Acting Auditor General), the Bracks ALP government oversees rundown government school buildings, less public housing than when they first won office in 1999, and an ever-growing public health crisis.
So why did the government get re-elected? There are two main reasons.
1. Working class and rural voters have still not forgiven the Liberals for the policies of their last government between 1992 and 1999 when 350 state schools were closed, and thousands of public sector workers (especially teachers and nurses) were sacked.
2. The huge working class opposition to the industrial relations policies of the Federal Liberal government of Prime Minister John Howard has maintained the ALP vote in Victoria and weakened the Liberal vote.
However, the Bracks government is not pro-worker in deed, albeit happy to make loud noises against Howard’s IR changes. There has been a series of industrial disputes between it and public sector employees such as nurses, teachers and emergency workers. These battles will continue during Bracks’ 3rd term, especially if the economic conditions worsen.
The Victorian Trades Hall Secretary, Brian Boyd commented: “This (vote) establishes Victoria as a bastion against John Howard’s IR laws and more importantly it becomes a base for the campaign to get rid of John Howard in 2007. Bracksy’s delivered to the union movement in Victoria his promise that he would campaign strongly on federal IR laws and he did that strongly. We’re proud to be associated with this victory.”
These words will turn to vinegar in the mouth of this so-called workers’ leader in the months and years to come.
These comments say more about the current strategy of the union leaders in Victoria and nationally to put all their resources into getting Kim Beazley and the ALP elected at the next Federal election and in the process stop all effective industrial action unless forced upon them by extreme circumstance. Millions of dollars of union members’ money is being pumped into the ALP coffers instead of organising on the ground against the employer offensive. What unions will do if Beazley is not elected is never spelt out. What they will do if Beazley continues with the neo-liberal policies of Howard (as is pushed hardest for in the ALP by ‘left’ MPs like Lindsay Tanner) is also not spelt out.
The fact is that a frightened union bureaucracy is putting its hopes in a capitalist party – the ALP – to save it from the attacks of the capitalists. It is a dream. All some of the union bureaucrats want is to be part of, a lubricant for, the process of worker exploitation and the selling of neo-liberalism and working class surrender. There needs to a revolution in the thinking of the union movement, starting from the top down.
The Greens seem to have reached their peak vote in Victoria, just under 10% and mainly centered in the gentrified inner-city suburbs of the major cities. This seems to be an international phenomenon. While they are socially progressive, they have no alternative economic policies to the dominant neo-liberalism of the major parties. That means they are unconvincing to thinking workers and youth, and when they do get into power (such as at Yarra City Council in Melbourne) their budgets are similar or worse to the ALP/Liberal norm.
The Greens performance in the Lower House was less than they expected. In the inner city seats of Melbourne and Richmond they claimed they were in with a good chance. With voting still continuing most number crunchers are predicting that the ALP will retain both of these seats.
The preference deal that the Greens did with the Liberals left a bad taste in many voters’ mouths. This also contributed to the slight drop in vote the Greens experienced in the inner suburbs. The Liberals preferenced the Greens ahead of Labor in the inner city in exchange for the Greens leaving their preferences ‘open’ in some eastern suburbs seats. This favored the Liberals enormously.
It seems that in the areas of Melbourne were voters have had a taste of the Greens in power (Yarra, Melbourne etc) the Green vote dropped slightly whilst in the outer suburbs where the Greens are still to be tested their vote increased slightly. The Greens candidates in the inner city were also not the best. The press had reported that Richard Di Natale in Melbourne didn’t really want to do the job and Gurm Sekhon in Richmond was hardly seen on the campaign trail. The campaigns they ran were also very uninspiring. They relied on the Green brand name instead of a bold approach and hard campaigning.
The ALP offer no solutions to the problems facing the big number of working class people who have been left behind by the economic upturn – public housing tenants, those on pensions, the aged, casual workers etc. For those workers who have gone ahead during the boom through overtime and debt, the government offers no quality of life, as a lack of community or government funded childcare and the lack of other such services forces working families into the expensive and sometimes second-rate private sector.
The Socialist Party calls on the militant unions like the ETU and CFMEU to break with the ALP and ally themselves to community organisations and the like to create a new workers’ party in Australia. The growth in the vote for the Socialist Party in Melbourne, especially in the booths where voters had a direct taste of our policies in action (see accompanying article) shows the potential support for a new workers’ party with bold socialist campaigning policies.
By Socialist Party reporters