By Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — On August 16, former Democrat Senator Janet Powell and State Public Service Federation vice-president Bill Deller launched the Independent Action Campaign, a broad progressive coalition of candidates contesting the October 3 Victorian elections. With polls showing 25% support for independents, Democrats and smaller parties, Independent Action is confident of severely shaking the two-party system.
Deller said that 17 candidates, including sitting member of the Legislative Council Rod Mckenzie (ex-Labor) have joined the campaign. More candidates are expected to approach the campaign in the coming week.
Independent Action is united around a five-point platform:
- Defend and extend the public sector.
- Defend trade union rights.
- Fight unemployment through job creation.
- Promote a clean and safe environment.
- A guaranteed minimum income for farmers, workers and welfare recipients.
Also attending the press launch were Christine Craik, a former Democrat standing for Mill Park, environmental activist Colleen Hartland, who is standing in Footscray, and Democratic Socialist state secretary Dave Holmes, standing in Melbourne.
The Independent Action Campaign "was inspired by the success of the Phil Cleary campaign in the Wills by-election and the enormous level of anger that exists in the city and rural Victoria", said Deller.
On August 12, a number of activists in the militant farmers' movement, Bankwatch, indicated that they would be interested in joining Independent Action. Bankwatch organises actions to prevent banks from seizing property from indebted farmers and has been actively building links with militant unionists in Victoria and South Australia. Several left-wing union officials have also promised to support the Independent Action Campaign.
"There will be very many independent candidates in this election", said Senator Powell. "This is a reflection of the community's unhappiness and disenchantment with the old parties. But it will be important that voters will understand what these candidates are standing for. Independent Action will align itself with those candidates who stand for progressive issues." Powell said that while Independent Action was not a party, this was not to say that a party may not develop out of this alliance in the future. Deller said that part of the longer term strategy was to create an alternative force that could go through the next federal elections and beyond. "We are talking about a genuine long-term alliance."
"The community has great doubts about political parties, even relatively new political parties like the one I have just left. But that is not to say that some time in the future some sort of structure and organisation can't be perfected", said Powell. Where the major political parties had failed was that "they had solidified into something that has become more important than the issues".
The Kirner Labor government sought to buy votes by bringing in a soft budget on August 12. The government's program of public sector job cuts was suspended and $2 billion was allocated to capital works. This is to be funded primarily through borrowings, the introduction of gaming machines and a $750 million transfer of "surplus" funds from the Transport Accident Commission.
However, this last minute policy U-turn appears not to have impressed voters. An August 13 Saulwick Age Poll showed that only 24% of voters intended to vote for Labor. The Liberal-National coalition polled 51% support, and 25% said they would vote for independent, Democrat or other parties.