Beyond the elections
At a time of rising anger against the two major parties, in particular the Labor Party, many people are looking around for a progressive alternative. The many Labor betrayals on so many important issues will, we hope, result in a larger combined vote for the green, social justice and socialist forces in the March 25 NSW elections.
There is no doubt that this would send a message to both federal and state Labor about the impact of its rightward shift. But to have any significant effect, this message would need to be reinforced after the elections by all those wanting progressive change uniting to campaign for those changes: an end to woodchipping of old-growth forests; an end to supporting Suharto on the East Timor issue; an end to prohibitions on abortion; and an end to wage cutting and wages manipulations through enterprise bargaining.
The Democrats' preference distribution confirms their continuing shift to the right. They have put Fred Nile's reactionary Call to Australia outfit before the Democratic Socialists.
In some NSW electorates the Greens have decided not to allocate preferences to Labor ahead of the Liberals in the naive belief that this will scare Labor into being more "green", or that this will give the Greens some tactical advantage in the federal elections.
This sort of politicking is dangerous because it can so easily backfire. The ACT Greens are now on record as supporting a minority Liberal ACT government. They have also decided not to direct preferences to Labor in the March 25 federal by-election for the seat of Canberra. (This is despite internal polling which shows the Liberals well ahead of Labor.) In Queensland, Greens leader Drew Hutton has threatened to direct preferences to Liberals ahead of Labor, and there is some speculation that green groups in NSW may run a "Snow must go" campaign against ALP MP Jim Snow in the federal seat of Eden Monaro.
This is a very short-sighted approach. The Greens' approach may erode the growing base of support for green and left politics, much of which comes from people who still prefer — however grudgingly — a bad ALP government over a worse Liberal one.
The truth is that while Labor has shifted further to the right (and up to 53% of people recently polled believe that there is no difference between Labor and the Coalition on key issues), Labor is still the lesser evil. For this reason it is important that Labor is put ahead of the Liberals, but only after all green and progressive candidates.
It is also preferable to have Labor in government because this will limit its opportunities to grandstand from the opposition, further expose it in the eyes of its traditional supporters and create the opportunity to build a bigger green and progressive alternative.
The outrage at Labor's betrayals will not help develop the progressive movement if the outrage is channelled into unprincipled electoral manoeuvres. The manoeuvres of the Democrats, Greens, No Aircraft Noise Party and independents in the NSW elections could backfire because they have sacrificed a tight exchange of preferences between all green and progressive candidates.
This is all the more dangerous considering the right's tactics in this election. Of the 27 groups contesting upper house seats, only a small minority come from the progressive side of politics. The majority range from conservative to reactionary, and all have carefully exchanged their preferences.
If the green left alternative is to be strengthened, principled and united action in campaigns which build confidence in the effectiveness of green left politics has to be our central focus. If we want real democracy, we have to fight for it by convincing people that a united opposition must be effective not only in parliamentary elections but also in workplaces, on campuses and on the streets.