Canberra’s election – one view from the left
The local Liberals in Canberra are cock-a-hoop. With almost 88% of the vote counted in the Australian Capital Territory Assembly elections they have 38.9% of the vote, a swing to them of 7.3% compared to the last election in 2008.
The Labor Party is equal with the Liberals on 38.9% of the vote, a swing to them of 1.5%.
The likely makeup of the Assembly will probably see them win 7 seats and the Liberals 8. The Greens will probably lose half their seats and have two members. The latest test analysis suggests that in fact it could be even worse for the Greens – one seat, with Labor and the Liberals winning 8 seats each.
The swing against the Greens is 4.9%.
If this 7 Labor, 8 Liberals and 2 Greens analysis is correct – and the intricacies of the ACT 3 electorate proportional voting system mean it could be a week before we know the exact outcome - the Greens will hold the balance of power. Even at 8 Labor, 8 Liberals and 1 Green that one Green – Shane Rattenbury – will hold the balance of power.
Most are dismissing any chance of a Greens and Liberal alliance, and a rational look at the Greens’ priorities and personal animosity to the Liberals might back that up. In Tasmania in the 90s the Greens entered into an alliance with the Liberals to form Government.
After the 2008 ACT elections, in which the 4 Greens held the balance of power, Bob Brown, the party’s Federal leader, urged them to support a minority Liberal Government because the Liberals had promised ministries and the speakership for the Greens.
The local party rejected Brown’s advice and supported Labor in exchange for the speakership, some environmental committee chairs and a fairly wishy-washy agreement of commitments.
The Canberra Liberal leader Zed Zeselja has ruled out any ministries for the Greens in the prelude to discussions. He has however mentioned light rail – one of the Greens’ priorities – favourably today, indicating it was something he was open to discussing.
In the 2008 election in the ACT the swing against Labor was over 9% and the swing to the ACT Greens more than 6%. This was a vote for a hoped for left wing Greens Party prepared to take on the Labor of school closures, lengthening hospital waiting times and social conservatism to name a few issues.
For the last 4 years, instead of fighting Labor the ACT Greens have tailed them. Their parliamentary cretinism and failure to build any extra-parliamentary activity saw them in this 2012 election lose much of the left wing support (4.9% of the 6.3%) that they had won in 2008.
Nowhere is the Greens’ cowardice highlighted better than in their capitulation to Labor on civil unions. Instead of moving for equal marriage the Greens tailed Labor on a cop out on civil unions, a cop out designed by ACT Labor not to upset its own homophobic wing or embarrass Julia Gillard.
This Greens’ cowardice is systemic. It stems not from some character failings on the part of the Greens but from their concentration on Parliament and the games played in that sand pit rather than building real struggles in the streets and workplaces of Canberra.
There are 3 electorates in the ACT Assembly. Brindabella in the South returns 5 members, as does Ginninderra in the North. In the middle, Molonglo returns 7 members.
Liberal leader Zed Seselja moved from Molonglo to Brindabella and ran a campaign against Labor’s tax reforms to reduce and eventually abolish stamp duty on housing sales and increase land tax.
The Liberals painted this tax reform, despite conservative and progressive bourgeois economists agreeing that it produced a more efficient and less distorting tax system, as a tripling of rates.
It was a variation of the Tony Abbott ‘great big new tax’ propaganda. And like much of Abbott’s huffing and puffing, it was a lie.
However it resonated, especially in Brindabella with its large number of young families concerned about cost of living pressures. One irony is that the reforms could have reduced the cost of homes for these people over time by abolishing stamp duty on housing sales.
The other is that this tax reform is just changing the way workers are taxed. A real campaign from the Greens or Labor on taxing the rich rather than workers could have won votes. Neither party will do that because both are infected with trickle down theories of economics.
Clearly the move of Seselja to Brindabella paid off because in that electorate the Liberals outpolled Labor by ten percent. Part of this was not only because of the triple rates lie. Clearly Seselja as leader attracted votes to the Liberals in his new and generally more conservative voting electorate. So too did a popular former Community Alliance Party candidate Val Jeffrey running this time for the Liberals and receiving 3.7% of the vote in his own right.
Besides the swing against the Greens, the other swing was against ‘Others’ – independents and other parties. In 2008 this rag bag of groups won more that 15% of the vote. This election it was 3.6% less, and it appears this too went overwhelmingly to the Liberals. However, within that trend, more than 4% of the vote went to the new Bullet Train for Canberra Party. It may be this group’s vote leaked from and will flow back to the Greens as preferences are distributed.
Labor ran in part on a campaign of fear of Liberal Party public service cuts, with Campbell Newman’s attacks getting some mention. More generally, fear of an Abbott government and its attacks on public servants may also have spilled over to a return of some voters to the ALP.
The problem for Labor is that it too is the party of attacks on public servants, if only slightly less manic than the Liberals. In the ACT the Labor government’s efficiency dividend and pay cap of 2.5% showed its true colours as just another party of neoliberalism. Its failure to tax the rich and to spend more on health and education only reinforced that.
At first blush the swing to Labor of 1.7% seems to confirm the argument that fear of an Abbott government or the local Liberals all being secret Campbell Newmans may have seen some shift back to Labor. However, in both Brindabella and Ginninderra there was a swing against the ALP of 0.5% and 0.4% respectively. All of the swing to Labor was in Molonglo on the back of Chief Minister Katy Gallagher’s strong vote. Her personal vote improved by ten percent and that of Labor in that electorate by five percent.
My tentative conclusions about the Assembly elections in the ACT are that people moved back to voting for one of the two major parties of neoliberalism, that the move was in the main to the Liberals in Opposition rather than to Labor in Government, that part of that move at least was because of concerns about cost of living pressures, that the Greens’ support of a fairly modest and neoliberal Labor Government and their role as followers rather than leaders backfired on them and that a tax scare campaign full of lies can work. Fear of public service job cuts seems to have played little role in the vote.
If these tentative conclusions are correct, and if this response is typical of Australians more generally (and I think as the economic storm clouds darken it is and will be) we will have an Abbott government with a big majority in 2013.
Without a fighting trade union movement and a left wing focus for real struggle and opposition to the neoliberalism of the ALP and the Liberals, there is I think an inevitability about the Liberals, the first choice party of the bourgeoisie, winning federally.
For those interested, at the next Socialist Alternative Canberra meeting John will be discussing why there is so little choice in Australian politics. What’s the left alternative?
6 pm on Thursday 25 October in room G 8 of the Moran building at the ANU
The ACT elections were held on Saturday 20 October. The choice was between the 3 parties of neoliberalism – the ALP, the Liberals and the Greens. It is the same federally and in the other States and Territories.
John will be discussing why there is so little choice in Australian politics. What’s the left alternative? The answer isn’t voting for one or other party of neoliberalism; it is to be found in the struggle on the streets and in the workplaces. It is in building a socialist alternative.
And for what is it worth here is a link to one of the first articles I wrote on my blog 4 years ago about the 2008 elections. Some of it seems eerily prescient. For example I say:
…at least we can say that the next four years with the Greens on the cross benches in the ACT will test their capacity to balance between left and right and their ability not to lose the support of their supporters as they do ‘pragmatic’ deals with Labor.