Australia: Why Labor won the Victoria State elections

Greens fail to make promised breakthrough

The Victorian Labor (ALP) state government, led by Premier Steve Bracks, was comfortably re-elected last Saturday. It suffered a small 2% swing against it to the traditional bosses’ 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, with about 8.9% overall.

The final results for the Victoria State 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 in Australia continues to be controlled by the ALP, with the Liberal-National Coalition holding power in the federal (national) government since 1996. Over the last four years, the Victoria ALP government, like all the other ALP state governments, 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 big business toll-way, tram and pokie operators [high street gambling machines].

Despite the current 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 Victoria government oversees rundown government school buildings, less public housing than when the ALP first won office in 1999, and an ever-growing public health crisis.

So why did the ALP get re-elected? There are two main reasons:

  • Working class and rural voters have still not forgiven the Liberals for the policies of their last Victoria state government, between 1992 and 1999, when 350 state schools were closed, and thousands of public sector workers (especially teachers and nurses) were sacked.
  • The huge working class opposition to the industrial relations policies of the federal (national) Liberal government of Prime Minister John Howard maintained the ALP vote in Victoria and weakened the Liberal vote.

However, the Bracks government is not pro-worker, even if it opportunistically makes loud noises against Howard’s Industrial Relations (IR) changes, which mark a huge attack on workers’ rights. During the last Victoria state government, there were industrial disputes between the Bracks government and public sector employees, such as nurses, teachers and emergency workers. These battles will continue during Bracks’ third term in office, especially if economic conditions worsen.

Victorian Trades Hall Secretary, Brian Boyd commented: “This [vote] establishes Victoria as a bastion against John Howard’s IR laws and more importantly, if 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 a lot about the current strategy of the union leaders in Victoria, and nationally, which is to put all their resources into getting Labor leader, Kim Beazley, and the ALP, elected at the next Federal election. As part of this strategy, union leaders stop all effective industrial action unless protests are forced upon them. Millions of dollars of union members’ money is pumped into the ALP coffers, instead of organising on the ground against the employers’ 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 argued for hardest in the ALP by ‘left MPs’, like Lindsay Tanner) is also not spelt out.

A cowed, conservative union bureaucracy puts its hopes in a pro-capitalist party – the ALP – to save it from the attacks of the capitalists! It is a dream. It seems that some of the union bureaucrats want to merely oil the machine of worker-exploitation, acting as a mid-wife for neo-liberal policies. This is unacceptable. There needs to a revolution in the thinking of the union movement!

Greens preference Liberals

The Greens seem to have reached their peak vote in Victoria State, just under 10%, which was mainly in the gentrified, inner-city suburbs of the major cities. This seems to be an international phenomenon. While the Greens often put forward socially progressive policies, 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. When the Greens do get into power (such as at Yarra City Council in Melbourne, where Steve Jolly, Socialist Party, has a seat) the Greens’ budgets are similar, or worse, than the fiscal policies of the local ALP and Liberals.

The Greens performance in the Lower House was less than they expected. In the inner city seats of Melbourne and Richmond, the Greens claimed they were in with a good chance of winning a couple of seats. With voting still continuing, at the time of writing, most experts predict the ALP will retain both of these seats.

The Greens made a preference deal with the Liberals which left a bad taste in the mouths of many voters. This also contributed to the slight drop in vote the Greens got in the inner suburbs. The Liberals got a preference vote from 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 where voters have had a taste of the Greens in power (for example, in Yarra Council, Melbourne) the Green vote dropped slightly. In the outer suburbs, where the Greens are still to be tested, their vote increased marginally. Also, the Greens candidates in the inner city area were hardly the best. The press reported that Green candidate Richard Di Natale, in Melbourne, did not really want to do the job of member of the State parliament, and another Green candidate, Gurm Sekhon, in Richmond area, was hardly seen on the campaign trail. The Greens’ campaigns 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 many working class people, who are left behind during the present economic upturn – public housing tenants, those on pensions, the aged, casual workers etc. For those workers who had some improvements to their living standards during the boom, albeit by working overtime and by accruing debt, the government offers no decent quality of life. For working families, childcare and a lack of other services, forces them to use the expensive, and sometimes second-rate, private sector.

The Socialist Party calls on militant unions, like the ETU and CFMEU, to break with the ALP and link up with community organizations, 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 areas where voters had a direct taste of Socialist Party policies in action (see previous article on SP’s election results on shows the potential support for a new workers’ party, with bold socialist campaigning policies.

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