Campaigning to put progressives in parliament

March 15, 1995

DENIS DOHERTY, the social justice independent candidate for Port Jackson, is being supported by a variety of groups and independent activists. Doherty, who has taught Aboriginal children in Alice Springs and in schools in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Sydney, is the national coordinator of the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition. He was interviewed for Green Left Weekly by ROBERTO JORQUERA.

How do you see real change coming about?

Change comes about in a cyclic sort of way; people who are upset about something get organised and then put pressure on the political process. For too long we have had a very strong peace movement but no-one in parliament and so nothing really gets done. The same has happened with the campaign for prison reforms and the environment.

[My campaign] is directed against Labor, not because I am anti-Labor, but for too long people have been saying that Labor is the better of two evils. We are saying that we have had enough of the two-party system. We want a third force. If representatives from this new force get into parliament, both in the lower and upper houses, the cycle of change would be complete rather than always being cut off.

You say we need a parliament full of greens and independents. But how can independents be held accountable?

You have to take independents on a case by case basis. But people like myself, who have a progressive ideology, should be in parliament. In a hung parliament, like the one in New South Wales, the government has to, often, negotiate with the independents. In federal parliament Labor has to [negotiate with] the Greens to pass the budget. A third force will be able to bring politics out of the caucus room. There is a need for an alternative force such as the New Zealand Alliance.

How do you see such an alliance coming about?

It's very embryonic at the moment, but I asked a number of groups — the Greens (WA) and the NSW Greens, the Socialist Party of Australia, the Democratic Socialist Party, the Democrats and Rainbow Alliance — to support me either as an independent candidate or as part of an alliance. These small parties don't have the resources to run in a large number of electorates, but if they shared the electorates around, and not spread themselves so thinly, more could be done.

In the upper house there could be, say, a 10-year agreement stating that in the first year a green candidate will be number one candidate on the ticket, and the second year a socialist, the third, a Democrat and so on. It is important that in the federal and state elections we present a united ticket. We have to build teamwork and cooperation, and we have to share the resources.

We could even give people areas and ask them to get involved with community activities and the local council so that they become more prominent. The reason why progressive people keep on missing out [on election to parliament] is because they are off doing all sorts of things and nobody in their neighbourhood knows them.

After the elections, we need to get all the interested parties together and have a debrief about what happened in Port Jackson. I am prepared to write up a position paper after the elections to start such a discussion.

What has been the response to your campaign in Port Jackson?

There is deep anger against the two major parties. Whether that will translate into votes, I am not sure. The other aspect that has surprised me is that, out of the 4000 people I have spoken to, less than 10 said that they had always voted Labor and would continue to do that. Only one person said they would vote Liberal, and one agreed with the third runway decision.

How has your campaign related to the No Aircraft Noise Party (NAN)?

We stress the need for alternative parties, but I think NAN is exhibiting a lot of opportunism. Their policy of not distributing preferences in the lower house will assist the Labor Party and seriously undermine alternative candidates.

We were told by one of NAN's representatives that they were advised by the Labor left not to give preferences. It is pretty clear that, behind the scenes, the ALP is involved.

NAN has all the weaknesses of a single-issue party. I do not think that they are helping the [alliance] process by not presenting a well-rounded attack on the sorts of structures and vested interests that produced this [third runway] fiasco. They are misleading people and making it harder to get rid of that airport.

What sort of response have you had from the ALP?

Their candidate [Sandra Nori] approached me and asked what our preferences would be. Then Andrew Ferguson, general secretary of the NSW Construction, Forestry, Mining and Engineering Union's building division, rang and argued the case that Nori had to get in because she had a class perspective and that his union couldn't stand another four years of Liberal government attacks.

I told him that, on the issue of class, I have the same perspective. I am a member of a union and argued that I would not support any attacks on the CFMEU. He expressed some displeasure, and we left it at that.

The nexus between the ALP and the union movement has resulted in unions losing their sting, and all workers losing wages and conditions. The ALP parades as the defender of workers, but actually it has stabbed them in their backs.

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