By denying both the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the the Liberal-National coalition an outright majority in primary votes and in House of Representatives seats, Australian electors voted “neither of the above” for the traditional parties of government.
This followed an election campaign in which the major parties conducted an ugly race to the right, most notoriously by scapegoating the few thousand desperate refugees who attempt to get to Australia on boats.
The effect of this race to the right was to promote racism, further breakdown community solidarity, and bolster a range of other conservative prejudices on issues ranging from climate change, to the economy, to same-sex marriage rights. Important issues like Indigenous rights and Australia's participation in the imperialist war in Afghanistan were screened out.
However, there was also a reaction to this push to the right. The Greens, a party with a record of taking positions well left of the major parties on many critical issues, enjoyed a 3.8% swing, taking most of its votes away from the ALP.
At the time of writing, the Greens had obtained 1,187,881 (11.4%) of the first preference votes for House of Representatives. Yet under the undemocratic system for lower house elections, the Greens only got one of the 150 seats, that of Melbourne. A string of other once-safe ALP seats that came close to being taken by the Greens.
The power of corporate Australia to buy elections with massive donations and their domination of the media also has to be confronted.
The Greens won the seat of Melbourne with the open assistance of the Victorian Electrical Trade Union and many other militant trade unionists. This was an important break from the total domination of the labour movement by the pro-capitalist ALP.
The Greens will likely raise their number of Senators from five to nine — giving them the balance of power in the Senate.
The progressive social movements, including the trade unions will look to these Greens senators to offer strong support in the struggles ahead, no matter which major party eventually forms government.
The result after election night on August 21 was a hung parliament. The major parties are now desperately trying to negotiate agreements with three or four independents and the Greens MP to form a minority government. If a deal to form government cannot be made, the Governor-General has the power to call another election.
Three of the independent MPs certain of a seat, Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott, are former members of the conservative rural-based National Party, but all left because of strong objections to particular aspects of the neoliberal agenda that has been pursued by both Liberal-National coalition and ALP governments since the 1980s.
Further, they have consolidated the hold on their seats by taking “community-first” positions on issues directly affecting their electorates. So neither major party can be certain of their support.
Progressive independent Andrew Wilkie, a former Greens candidate, looks likely to win the Tasmanian seat of Denison away from the ALP. He laid out a position on the August 22 7.30 Report on how he would be prepared to support a minority government:
“If I'm elected, the party I support will only be assured that I won't block supply, and that I won't support any reckless no confidence motion.
“Beyond that, it's all up for grabs. I will look at every piece of legislation, every issue and assess them on its merits. I think it's self evident what is reasonable ethical behaviour and what isn't. And any acts of lying and so on, I won't accept that and I won't support legislation in that regard.”
The Greens should make an offer to support a minority ALP government along similar lines because clearly a Liberal-National government would be a greater evil.
In an August 26 interview on the ABC’s Lateline, Greens leader Senator Bob Brown left open the possibility of the Greens taking cabinet positions in a government led by one or other of the major parties.
However, entering government or making any commitments beyond those made by Wilkie would trap the Greens in a conservative government that will be bad for the majority of people, bad for Indigenous communities, bad for refugees and bad for the environment.
[Peter Boyle is national convener of the Socialist Alliance.]