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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



Should we campaign to put a socialist in the Senate?

I have been prompted to write this in light of the move to the left of sections of the working class and others in places like Greece and Spain and the deepening anger with the current conservative government in Australia. I also like to think out loud and collaboratively to sharpen my ideas.

There will be a general election in Greece by the end of January or early February. On present polling the left-wing group SYRIZA would be the dominant party in any anti-austerity government.  PODEMOS, an organisation of the radical left, is polling in first or second place in Spain.

This seems to show that socialists can use the electoral system to get a hearing and support. Of course in Greece and Spain the crisis of capitalism – with unemployment in Greece for example over 25% – has hit much more severely than here in Australia and the response has been an explosion of sit-ins, demonstrations and strikes.  The crisis and resistance has created the shift to the left and the organisational and political responses that are both PODEMOS and SYRIZA.

There is deep anger here in Australia against the Abbott Government. The anger hasn’t yet found a political outlet. That in my view is why it is time to seriously discuss some sort of united left electoral strategy.  The next Senate election is likely to be in 2016 unless the Abbott government falls before then. I live in the Australian Capital Territory where two senators, to date one Labor and one Liberal, are elected every election.  I am considering running as an independent socialist with support from workers, activists, socialists and students.

That strategy should not be seen as a substitute for action but as its political expression.  That of course is easy to say, but in Australia, while there is massive dissatisfaction with the conservative Abbott government (just as there was with the Gillard and Rudd Mark II Labor governments) there is a very low level of struggle.  Strikes are at near historic lows; demonstrations are often a chance to catch up with friends, and the radical left is divided, isolated and in disarray.

In the context of the lack of a strong left voice in mainstream politics making basic social democratic arguments and demands to defend wages, jobs and social services, the failure of the radical left to date to build a foothold in the working class, the decline in support for the major parties, with rusted on voters for the two major parties falling from around 45% each to around 35% each, the door is open for populist parties to temporarily fill the gap.

The Palmer United Palmer is one example of that although its deals with Abbott show it too is just another party acting against the basic social democratic wishes of the majority of Australians. Its support has plummeted in recent times.

The Greens have benefited a little but not that much. The experience of them in alliance with Labor in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years federally and in government in Tasmania and the A.C.T. shows to many the limits of the politics of ‘neither left nor right’. This limitation may well result from the Greens’ rhetoric of humanitarianism (an aspect of social democracy) on some social issues and the reality of neoliberalism on economic ones.

This is not anti-politics, as some on the left like to portray it. It is a hankering for a social democracy that no longer exists (if it ever did). Labor in power has exposed itself as just another neoliberal manager like the Liberals. As a consequence a majority of Australians now think it makes no difference who is elected.

This desire for social democracy, in the form for example of wanting lower unemployment and more jobs, improved pay, better public services like health, education and transport and looking after the disadvantaged, is not going to disappear. It is systemic. It arises from the necessity of workers under capitalism to sell their labour power to survive. Thus poll after poll on social and economic issues shows a majority of Australians well to the left of mainstream politicians.

This underlying social democratic character of many voters conflicts with the political offerings of the dominant parties. Hence the search by many for alternatives, a search that clutches at straws if voters undertake no deeper analysis than happened in the run up to the last election, Abbott is not Gillard/Rudd or, what looks likely in the run up to the next one, Shorten is not Abbott.


The question is how to break out of this hamster wheel of conservatism. Or maybe the question is can we break out of it? And who is ‘we’? It was Marx who argued that the old mole could burrow up from the depths. Socialists can influence and encourage the old mole to come forth and in doing that build themselves for that moment.

In Australia today the radical left is small. Socialist Alliance has a claimed 700 members, although how many are active is a moot point, and what the theme that unites them is remains unclear, although perhaps the broad brush of anti-capitalism captures their thinking and activity.  However even this may be too broad. From the outside they seem a mixture of revolutionaries, radicals and reformists. They have an electoral strategy as part of their anti-capitalist stance and have some elected local councillors. They stand in federal and state elections and their vote there has generally been lower than one percent. In the latest Victorian state election on 29 November Sarah Hathaway in Geelong won 1.16% of the vote. In Pascoe Vale Sean Brocklehurst won 3.22% of the vote for Socialist Alliance, although he was top of the voting ticket and benefitted from the donkey vote.

It is also not clear to me what all the time and energy Socialist Alliance spent on electioneering has produced in terms of generalising the anti-capitalist struggle or building the organisation itself. This is not to gainsay the success of specific struggles and the role Socialist Alliance has played in them. It is to ask the question – is it worth it or does electioneering become the main goal and activity itself?

Socialist Alternative, with around 350 mostly active members, do not think it is worth the risk, at this time. They concentrate on building campaigns, fight backs, demonstrations, strikes and the like, and building up the theorietcial knowledge of their membership and creating a layer of cadre capable of intervening in the next upsurge of resistance, whatever form it takes.

Stephen Jolly from the Socialist Party is an elected Yarra councillor (and has been for ten years) and stood in the 29 November Victorian state election.  As a real fighter on local issues and one of the campaigners against the East-West tunnel, he has a high profile and on the ground respect. He won 8.5 percent of the vote. (This is actually 0.2% lower than his vote in 2010 in the same seat, but it may be a case of losing some less than solid support to a resurgent Labor or to the Greens while building a stronger activist base among those who did vote for him this time around.)

Jolly’s call for help in his Richmond campaign neatly summarises the reasons for running (and rebuts I think the case Socialist Alternative make against standing):

If we were able to get a socialist elected to the Victorian parliament it would send shockwaves throughout the state and indeed the country. It would help lay the basis for a real break with the two-party system in this country. With enough resources we can make this happen!

We are trying to build up an army of 200 volunteers to work on the campaign. We need help letterboxing, doorknocking, postering, staffing street stalls and on election day itself.

We intend to run a grass roots campaign that relies on our own supporters as opposed to the mainstream parties who will try and buy their way into office.

There is of course another reason. It is to make a difference here and now for working people, or as the Socialist Party site puts it, to ‘base ourselves on mass mobilisation to effect change.’ The successful campaign against the East West Tunnel, a struggle that forced Labor in Victoria to commit to not supporting it, is one very good example of this.

So why stand? In an interview with Green Left Weekly Jolly said: ‘We are using the campaign to promote socialist ideas to new layers of people.’ He also recognised that ‘Socialists need to work in many different areas to win support for our ideas. Yes, the trade union, student and social movements are important, but so too is the electoral arena.’

Electing a socialist will not of itself change the world. That happens if people mobilise. Standing for election gives socialists the possibility of making the point that, to use the words of the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, ‘If you don’t fight, you lose.’

But it is not just about making that point. It is helping put it into action, both outside and if elected, inside Parliament. Electing a socialist gives us the possibility of putting that BLF fighting maxim into practice, with the parliamentary office becoming Resistance Central. In the same Green Left Weekly interview Jolly said that if elected he would use ‘my position, my office, and my resources to assist the social and trade union movements and community campaigns.’

There are other reasons for running a socialist for the Senate in the Australian Capital Territory. First it can bring together some of the revolutionary and radical left in Canberra and see them working together. Thus one might expect if an independent socialist like me stood Socialist Alliance would be an enthusiastic part of the campaign. Given Socialist Alternative is opposed to electoral strategies at this time, it is unlikely to join. I do not know what Solidarity would do. But more than that, there is the group of dissatisfied left-wingers, and more generally Labor voters, looking for an alternative to the neoliberal ALP. We could give hope to those wavering Labor members and supporters disgusted with the ALP and bring them into the debates about the way forward and contact with socialists outside the party.

Take refugees. Here in the ACT, the Canberra Refugee Action Committee has built a strong, vibrant and active group with real and deepening links into the community. They estimate about 25% of the voting population support asylum seekers and are repulsed by the position of Labor and the Liberals.

The current ACT Labor senator, Kate Lundy, is stepping down in February and her replacement will be the current ACT Labor Chief Minister Katie Gallagher. Gallagher is a close political confidante of former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope. Stanhope spoke in November at a packed Canberra Refuge Action meeting. As City News reported in late October as part of the publicity for the meeting, Stanhope said:

I challenge any senior members of Shadow Cabinet such as Tanya Plibersek, Anthony Albanese and Andrew Leigh to look me in the eye and tell me that these [refugee] policies reflect what the Labor Party stands for.

It is a challenge I am more than willing to direct as well to incoming A.C.T. ALP Senator Katie Gallagher. Of course it is not just on refugee policy that Labor are vulnerable. This is the same ALP which in government sent 80000 single mothers into deeper poverty, cut $2.3 bn from Universities, and is the party whose ‘efficiency’ dividend has hamstrung the public service. Under Labor’s anti-strike and other industrial laws, real wages have been falling.

Under Julia Gillard the gender pay gap increased. It was the Hawke and Keating governments who introduced neoliberalism to Australia (leaving aside Bill Hayden’s 1975 Budget) and first started the decades long shift of wealth from labour to capital and the rich. It was Keating who locked up refugees, and locked up union and worker rights (through enterprise bargaining and associated industrial relations changes).

Labor’s actions lay the red carpet out for conservatives like Howard and Abbott.

Labor’s shift from a capitalist workers’ party to a CAPITALIST workers’ party to a capitalist party means that it won’t reject neoliberalism and will attack its working class supporter base, and over time lose more of that base. The global crisis of capitalism caused by falling profit rates mean there may no longer be the social surplus available for as much expenditure on unproductive social welfare spending like the dole, the pension, the disabled etc.

The recognition by capital of its needs for women both as the producers of the next generation of workers and as workers themselves may see the focus of welfare shift to productive social welfare spending on maternity leave and perhaps, although less likely, in part because it might challenge conservative views of women as mothers and nurturers, child care.

More generally the crisis of capitalism globally is spreading to Australia as the rising unemployment rate (6.5% predicted this year) and collapse in company revenue show. Neither the Government nor Labor have any plans, let alone ones likely to be successful, to increase employment.

The other existential crisis is climate change. Neither Labor nor the Liberals have any realistic plans for addressing this threat to the profit system (and neither does capital across the globe or its political representatives.)

Canberra is a university town. The Australian National University and the University of Canberra combined have about 20000 students if not more. They could be one focus for involvement in an energetic and radical programme.

What then could a Socialist senate campaign demand? Here are a few suggestions off the top of my head. The aim is to appeal to and mobilise that social democratic current in society that wants a better world and wants it now, that part of society that knows, or can be convinced, that if you don’t fight you lose, in short those to whom we socialists can talk to about the major immediate issues and in doing that open up the discussion about the need for socialism.

  • Recognition of prior sovereignty, negotiating a treaty and paying the rent
  • A 30 hour working week plus double overtime for all hours worked longer than that
  • A $10,000 increase in the minimum wage and the age pension
  • An immediate increase in welfare benefits to the poverty line, with plans to extend it to the minimum wage over time
  • Price controls over all the necessities of life
  • End all restrictions on the right to strike
  • A program, such as that put forward by Beyond Zero Emissions, to make Australia a fully renewable energy society within a decade
  • Expropriation of the about to be abandoned car plants to use them to make trains, trams, buses, solar panels, wind farms
  • A public housing program to abolish homelessness in the long term (and the mandated use of rooms in hotels, motels, churches, public offices and the like in the short term)
  • A fully funded public health system
  • Free education
  • Free 24 hour child care
  • Free public transport
  • A tax regime that taxes the rich and capital till their pips squeak (including abolishing the $40 billion in tax concessions for business and the rich)
  • Withdrawal from the US alliance and the closure of the Darwin and Pine Gap bases
  • Recognition of the state of Palestine
  • Cancellation of the purchase of the 72 advanced American-built F-35 stealth fighter jets, using the saved $24 billion on the social projects mentioned above
  • Processing asylum seekers in both the nearby countries of refuge and bringing many of them here for quick processing and re-settlement here
  • Equal love

There will be many more issues to take up but these give one indication of what a program designed to rebut the neoliberalism of both Labor and the Liberals would look like. Most importantly it would be based on mobilising people to defend and extend their own interests in opposition to the one percent and their rapacious appetite for profit, profit and more profit at our expense.

Any campaign has to make clear too what it means by socialism. As Terry Townsend and I wrote for the Reddit Socialism site:

Socialism is the democratic control of the means of production by the working class for the good of the community rather than capitalist profit.

What do you think? Is putting a socialist in the Senate viable? Do you support it? How should we go about it? (I will have more to say on that over time.) To have your say hit the comments link under the heading. Like all posts on this site comments close after 7 days.




Comment from MarkH
Time December 30, 2014 at 1:25 pm

passing on best wishes with this project. I don’t liv in the ACT so can’t vote for you but will continue to share and fight for grassroots socialist activism as a mainstream endeavour.

Getting people to understand the value of their own power is part of the problem and something I guess they themselves have to sort through. If this can spread to other communities and wider electorates and other states hone that would be great.

I find myself for once in my life radicalised enough to practically support’ real’ socialists in taking the fight up to capital and it’s stronghold on how our political system works…that’s for sure.

Comment from Ewen
Time December 30, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Go for it John you’re on the right track, well presented article. The Left Unity is a hard one though, how to get the Left united could be a focus point to start with. The last unity talks failed between SA and SALT and Jolly won’t have a bar of it. It is frustrating to see the two major parties just getting worse and worse with nothing building any significance on the Left.

Comment from Lorikeet
Time December 31, 2014 at 10:28 am

Yes, you might as well go for it, John. There are plenty of public servants in the ACT who will vote Abbott out and not want a return to Labor.

I agree that the general public is very disenchanted with politicians per se.

A couple of days ago, I received a letterboxed flyer from Clive Palmer. If his candidate is the only alternative to the Coalition, Labor and Greens, that’s who I will be voting for.

Sure PUP has made a few boo boos, but I am willing to give them a go, as I think they may be more pro-Australia than the usual (3) anti-Australian candidates.

Now that John Bjelke-Peterson has become the Queensland leader, my interest in PUP has become greater. Under a National Party government led by his father, Joh, we had the best education system in Australia which was also highly competitive on the world stage, with schools in poorer areas receiving extra help with resources.

Our public hospitals were also much better. Labor sent both hospitals and schools backwards here in Queensland for around 20 years.

Unfortunately the National Party has made a huge boo boo by jumping into bed with Liberals. This is the main reason for breakaway groups arising e.g. Katter’s Australian Party and Palmer’s United Party.

I think the greatest difficulty in getting people to change their vote to anybody outside of Coalition and Labor/Greens is the link between superannuation holdings and the need for avenues of investment for retired people.

The people with the largest super holdings will want their money invested in every possible service (health, education, public transport etc), and the poor will be ripped off and lose their homes in the process of providing for the rich.

To gradually get rid of the superannuation system would be a move in a pro-Australian and working class direction.

Comment from Lorikeet
Time December 31, 2014 at 10:31 am

I would forget about supporting the Climate Change Religion and many other policies supported by the Greens. A lot of their ideas are socially destructive and the Carbon faith is a mechanism for capitalists to rip us all off and drive our nation backwards on the world stage.

Comment from Peter Johnson
Time December 31, 2014 at 11:08 am

I support many of the stated aims in the article too. I live in Qld so it would be good to learn of other Queenslanders who share your aims. If we don’t stand the electorate has to fall for anything that is more of the same . . . . . Good luck!

Comment from Mike.B
Time December 31, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Yes John, the list of what you would like, is the exact reason that socialism is in the murky waters of the political spectrum.
I lean to the left, but on what you would campaign for, I would not vote for you.
What this country needs is a blend of moderate socialism. A party that works for everything you want without destroying the industries that, at the moment, keep the country ticking. Take farmers and pastoralists for instance. There is no way they would vote for a system that will tax them into eternity. They want moderation. In good years they make a motza, and in bad years sweet FA. They need a system that moderates between the two.
We need to fuck the US influence off, get rid of all the free trade agreements, stop internationals buying our land, biscuits, and almost anything else you can name. And that will take BALLS, at the threat of asssasination, invasion, and political mayhem. But it will work, and allow us to become a sovereign independent nation. Good luck with your campaign…

Comment from Lorikeet
Time January 1, 2015 at 9:36 pm

Don’t forget about a withdrawal from the numerous international agreements that sell us out as a nation. There can be no increase in Australian wages or drop in working hours while third world nations are being put in the driver’s seat by a corporate neo-communistic UN.