A creditable result in last Saturday’s by-election has capped a very active and visible campaign by the Communist Party (CPA) and its supporters in the state seat of Port Adelaide.
At the close of counting on Saturday night, Party candidate Bob Briton had received 1.6% of the votes cast. That put him ahead of the candidates from One Nation, the Democratic Labor Party and a well-known independent running on the “ban live exports” issue. The announcement of early results brought cheers from red-shirted campaign workers at the after-poll party at the Semaphore Masonic Hall. Some of them had been on polling booths all day.
The ALP’s Susan Close narrowly won the contest from Port Adelaide Enfield’s mayor Gary Johanson who ran a very vigorous campaign against the neglect of the Port during Labor’s term in office. Preferences from most other candidates were directed towards the former-Liberal mayor with the notable exceptions of the Greens’ Justin McArthur and the CPA.
Back to the Cold War
The local branch of the Greens took a principled stand on the allocation of their preferences. They put the Communist Party second on its how-to-vote followed by the “ban live exports” candidate Colin Thomas.
Originally they had a “split ticket” from that point onwards – one way would favour the ALP and the other would put the mayor on top. Eventually, the Greens decided to distribute a how-to-vote that preferenced Labor. This was done in return for very significant government undertakings to preserve heritage sites and the environment on Torrens Island in the Port.
The Greens stuck with their decision to put Briton number two on their ticket and the right-wing commentariat went berserk. ABC specialist electoral commentator Antony Green opened up a lively exchange of comments with a February 1 post to his blog complete with a shot of the Greens how-to-vote.
He said: “Whether giving the Communist candidate second preferences was deliberate or accidental, I can't see it being anything but a dumb decision. Maybe someone gets a warm inner glow out of such a how-to-vote card, but it sends a message with which critics of the Greens will make merry."
Dean Jaensch, a columnist for the Adelaide Murdoch daily Advertiser, penned a piece a week later titled Greens' second preference goes to Red. “What is baffling is the Greens' recommendation that their second preference go to a Communist candidate! As the Communist puts Greens as second choice, then there could be a reasonable interpretation that there has been another cosy deal,” Jaensch said.
What is truly baffling is that two "experts" couldn’t admit the possibility that the Greens and the CPA had preferenced one another with no consultation whatsoever because they had many points of agreement over policy for the Port area and more generally. McCarthyism is alive and well in the Australian media.
The media was generally unkind to the Greens. Their rise to the status of a third major electoral force has displeased some powerful people. Their candidate in the Port was also attacked for his age (18 years), some tongue-in-cheek comments he made during student elections at Adelaide University and his interest in poetry.
Building left unity
The CPA campaign generated a flurry of media interest at first followed by a notable lack of interest – or a deliberate decision not to give the very active campaign any further assistance. Bucking the trend was ABC TV’s 7:30 SA item on February 3 covering the Party’s campaign. This can still be accessed from the CPA website’s main page www.cpa.org.au
Aside from the attention it attracted and the passions roused on internet forums, the CPA campaign had a galvanising effect on left forces in Adelaide. Other organisations were not in a position to run candidates in the by-elections held over the weekend and the Left Unity umbrella group encouraged the Party to contest Port Adelaide. The group, which includes the CPA, Socialist Alliance, the Anti-Capitalist Forum, Ecosocialist Convergence, the Socialist Party, Organise!, former and current members of the Greens and progressive individuals, undertook to help the Party.
True to their word, members of Left Unity doorknocked in the Port district, attended the launch of the campaign and street corner meetings and promoted events and issues on Facebook. They took long shifts on polling booths on Saturday. The generosity of spirit was outstanding. Briton acknowledged this development in his short speech at the election night celebration:
“Whatever the result in terms of votes this has been a very worthwhile (if slightly exhausting) exercise. I believe it has built the strength of Left Unity and raises the exciting prospect of joint Left Unity candidates at future elections. But how to keep the momentum going from here and now? We spoke about it in the CPA after the campaign in the seat of Lee. How do we keep this type of focus around campaigns for things that the community needs, this type of organisation and intensity of activity?”
They are not easy questions to answer but the CPA in Adelaide is convinced a strong Party within a strong and united left is central to finding the answers.
[Republished from The Guardian: The Worker's Weekly.]