The Socialist Alliance national council meeting on September 5, involving 72 members from around the country, grappled with the new and intriguing political situation opened up by the August 21 federal election result.
At the time, it was unknown who would form a minority government.
But it was already clear that the result presented a challenge and opportunity for the progressive social movements to mobilise to demand a just, equitable and sustainable response to the big problems facing society.
There were a number of protests before the elections around refugee rights, equal marriage rights and against the NT intervention. Now we need those same movements to exert even stronger pressure on the minority Labor government — particularly on the two issues where the policies of the ALP (and the Liberal-National Coalition) go against majority opinion.
We should say to the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Respect the majority — withdraw the troops from Afghanistan and recognise equal marriage rights for all. If Gillard disputes the majority position on these issues, we challenge her to take these questions to a referendum — along with a proposal to entrench real Indigenous rights in the constitution.
The two-party system suffered a knock in the election, with neither major party gaining a clear mandate. While the result indicated some polarisation, and a larger-than-normal informal vote and abstention, the fact that neither of the major parties obtained a mandate in the face of their race to the right was a positive outcome.
The corporate ruling class expressed concerns that the result made it harder for it to continue with its neoliberal “reforms”. This confirms that the powers-that-be don't care very much whether it’s Tweedledum or Tweedledee that governs, as long as the party has a stable majority and can continue to force through their anti-worker, anti-ecological agenda.
The biggest swing to any party was to the Greens — on a platform that was consistently to the left of the major parties. The ongoing capitalist economic crisis, and the two parties’ failure to take real action on climate change, has opened up political space for the left and progressive movements.
The Greens result, a 50% increase on its previous federal vote, and the biggest third party vote since World War II, reflected support for the rights of refugees and workers, and opposition to the war in Afghanistan and to discrimination against non-heterosexual couples.
The Socialist Alliance national council agreed that it needed to engage with this large minority opinion — more than 1.5 million people that voted left of Labor. Many of the people who voted Green would also agree with much of Socialist Alliance's positions, and could be convinced that to win real and lasting change we not only have to change the politicians, but also change the system.
Socialist Alliance national council agreed it needed to work with the Greens in as many campaigns as possible and continue the principled policy of preferencing from the most progressive candidates to the least.
Socialist Alliance will continue to work with the Greens in union and social movement campaigns, but we also need to be confident in putting forward our socialist message.
The socialist vote also rose (from its much more modest base). The Socialist Alliance vote in the House of Representatives improved in eight out of the 12 seats in which it ran. In the Senate, the vote rose in every state where it ran and, at last count, was 32,070 first preference votes.
But more importantly, Socialist Alliance joined many new members, built campaigns and sparked branches into activity.
In light of this, the national council recommended that its branches in Victoria and NSW start organising now for strong campaigns in the upcoming state elections.
[Paul Benedek, is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive. A more detailed election analysis can be read here at www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=1026 .]