There is obviously volatility in the Australian electorate.
I gained an insight into that new mood last weekend when I went doorknocking in Raymond Terrace as part of the NSW Public Service Association’s (PSA) campaign against privatisation.
The PSA was not advocating a vote for any party except to ask people to put concerns about privatisation up front when they vote in the NSW elections of March 28.
“The Terrace” is part of the Port Stephens electorate, about 40 minutes outside of Newcastle. The state member, Craig Baumann, is a former Liberal who was forced to resign from Baird’s party after he was investigated by the Independent Commission against Corruption.
I doorknocked with John, a disability support worker who spoke to people about how the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is being used by the state government to sack 14,000 disability support workers. The NDIS provides a convenient excuse for the NSW government to exit from disability services and “gift” billions of dollars in public assets, such as the Stockton Centre, to big business. This was a big issue for the residents we spoke to who had relatives in need of disability services.
People were well aware of the cutbacks to TAFE. However, they were surprised to hear about the size of the fee increases, the extent to which courses were being cut, the number of teachers and support staff sacked and the amount of government subsidies flowing to private vocation education outfits.
One local issue that riled residents was the proposed sale of part of Boomerang Park in Raymond Terrace. This project has been pushed by Premier Baird, Baumann and the pro-developer mayor of Port Stephens. The message I heard was that Boomerang Park was donated to the council as a park for the people and not for developers.
The message I took away on the day was that people were fed up with the Liberals but they were not prepared to give the Labor Party a blank cheque.
Voters need an alternative to the big parties and their too similar message of privatisation, user pays and subsidies to the corporate rich. Voters are angry and rightly so.
The challenge for socialists is to relate to this volatility in a way that presents a genuine alternative, and like SYRIZA in Greece, starts to provide a real alternative to the Liberal/Labor revolving door.
[Steve O’Brien, a former Newcastle steelworker who now works in TAFE is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Newcastle the NSW election.]