'Mad Dog' Kennett, Labor and elections


'Mad Dog' Kennett, Labor and elections

After a decade in office the Western Australian Labor government, with absolutely nothing to recommend it, goes to the polls on February 6. It won't campaign on the basis of a dynamic record of progressive legislation, nor even on the grounds of sound economic management. And they won't say "at least we've been honest", because they haven't.

No, WA Premier Carmen Lawrence has only one card to play, and that is Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. Both Lawrence and, a little later in the year, Prime Minister Paul Keating will use Kennett as a mad dog on the leash to frighten people into voting Labor.

Australian journalist John Pilger wrote recently that the British Labour Party begat Thatcherism. In Australia, just as surely, Labor begat Kennett.

Look at how far Labor has led us down the Kennett-Hewson road: privatisation, cuts in welfare, university fees, anti-union laws, wage cuts, mass unemployment. And of course it will continue whichever of the main parties is in office. The only difference will be pace and degree, not direction.

Former WA premier Brian Burke, when talking at the union movement, or reneging on land rights or being admonished for giving multimillion dollar handouts to business mates, would put it bluntly: "So who else are you going to vote for?"

As long as this question goes unresolved, the only option will be a choice between two evils. Then we all continue to lose.

Before the advent of Kennett, Labor and many union leaders were keen to point a warning in the direction of New Zealand, but they told only half the story. In fact, New Zealand does hold some very pertinent lessons for us.

In the wake of a reactionary Labour government, a Thatcherite National government was elected that continued and escalated the attacks on people's rights and living standards begun under Labour.

But in New Zealand, the progressive movement rejected appeals to return to Labour, and instead formed a new green left coalition, the Alliance, which has broken the two party system; it may even form the next government.

The WA and forthcoming federal elections offer us a chance to make a start in the construction a green left electoral alliance, capable of forcing a new politics onto the agenda here, both within and without the parliamentary arenas. We can begin by supporting and voting for green, socialist and progressive individuals in these elections, thereby refusing to allow either Labor or the Liberals the right to claim our vote as a mandate to keep on attacking us.

But we must also put pressure on the groups on the progressive k more closely together. Both the red and the green must take a leaf out of the New Zealand book.