Australia: Federal elections – a ‘choice’ of Tweedledum or Tweedledee

Workers need a socialist alternative

Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has called the Australian Federal election for 10th November. But Australians have little to choose from; Howard is the most right-wing Liberal Prime Minister ever, and the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is also the most right-wing Labor leader ever.

There is virtually nothing to distinguish the Liberals from the ALP. Mark Latham has written books on economics and is an unreserved economic "rationalist". Latham opportunistically says he will remove Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas, if elected. However this "pledge" is heavily qualified. Latham only calls for half of the troops to return to Australia and also believes that the Australian navy should keep a presence in the Middle East. At the same time, the Labor leader supported the intervention of Australian forces into neighbouring "failed" states, like the Solomon Islands and sharply criticises Howard for not being tough enough on the "war against terror" in the region. Latham condemns Howard"s inaction over terrorism in their "own backyard.

Given that there is little real difference between the two main parties, it is not surprising that this is the dullest Australian election ever. On the shop floors, building sites, schools, hospitals and communities, the talk is certainly not about the election.

Working class areas in cities and towns will still vote ALP and the leafy housing estates will vote Liberal but there is no enthusiasm to vote. Indeed, if not for the legal compulsion to vote the turn-out would more than likely to be very low.

Unequal "boom"

The Liberals boast about the "boom" in the economy to help their chances of re-election. Unemployment is at its lowest in 27 years, at 5.6%. Interest rates have been raised three times in the last year to slow down a growing economy threatening to overheat. The Bureau of Statistics reported that 13 years of virtually unbroken growth has added more than two million jobs to the economy. But these figures hide the reality for most working people. Apart from manipulation of the definition of unemployment, where now even one hour of work takes you off the unemployment statistics, the kind of work that people do has changed markedly. A huge growth in casualisation has meant most of the new jobs do not offer any sort of security in terms of employment, sickness or holiday benefits. Stress and overwork in every area has increased with subsequent record levels of sickness, depression and even suicide. The level of personal debt has never been as high, with financial advisers recommending since the 1980s that families should buy second homes (as rental property) as insurance for old age. If interest rates rise much more, millions of middle class, and some working class families, will be crippled with debt and bankruptcy.

So while the rosy picture painted by the media and the Liberals of a boom as a reason to re-elect a Howard government most familles are struggling to pay the bills and live from week to week. This is partly why there is a hatred of Howard and a movement to get rid of him.

However, rather than channel this mood towards creating a new party that represents workers’ interests, the higher echelons of the trade union movement call for a vote for Latham. Even in the most militant unions the leadership are actively campaigning for the election of an ALP government. The Greens vote could be badly squeezed because of the movement, at any cost, to get rid of Howard.

Socialist Party fights local elections

If the ALP is elected their right wing agenda will disillusion many workers and youth. This will pose the need for a new workers’ party. But if the Liberal coalition is elected it could the precursor of widespread strike action, just like the protests that followed the re-election of Thatcher in Britain during the 1980s. Whatever the outcome, the Socialist Party will grow from strength to strength, leading the call for a new party based on the rank and file in the unions and the communities.

As part of this struggle, the Socialist Party will contest the local elections, which will be held in late November, after the federal elections. Three Socialist Party candidates, with the list lead by Steve Jolly, will fight the seat of Langridge, in the City of Yarra, which is part of inner city Melbourne. Already, the party is finding a very good response from workers when canvassing in the constituency of 19,000 voters and the campaign is receiving good local media attention.

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September 2004