NSW election shows growing disillusion with mainstream politics

Issue 
Socialist Alliance candidates Susan Price and Howard Byrnes. Photo: Peter Boyle.

“The swing against the Coalition and vote for three, perhaps four Greens MPs, in the NSW elections represents an important political gain for the left in NSW. This is welcome news for those fighting for community need not corporate greed”, Susan Price told Green Left Weekly.

Price, a long-time unionist and co-convenor of Socialist Alliance, ran for the Socialist Alliance in the inner-west seat of Summer Hill.

“In regional and rural NSW, the people-powered campaign against coal seam gas has decisively broken the Nationals' stranglehold. This shows that well-organised campaigns – as this one is – have a decisive impact on the powers that be.

“The ALP regained 14 seats in Sydney’s west and south west from its devastating 2011 result, when it was reduced to 20 seats. However, many NSW voters haven't forgotten or forgiven the [former Labor minister] Eddie Obeid and the other corruption scandals, and so the Liberals retained government by a comfortable margin.

“The Greens' win in Newtown and Ballina, their re-election in Balmain and possible win in Lismore strengthens an important progressive break from the stranglehold of politics as usual”, Price told GLW.

Despite the ALP devoting huge resources to promote candidates from its “left” faction in Balmain and Newtown, it did not manage to stem the Green tidal wave either in Sydney's inner-west.

The ALP's last-minute promise to oppose coal seam gas mining in the Pilliga and the Northern Rivers – areas that have been radically shaken up by the mass anti-CSG movement – failed to halt strong Green gains there.

“This is a clear rejection of the major parties' arrogance, corruption and neo-liberalism in these electorates, which have a bigger proportion of politically engaged voters. It has sent a powerful warning to the ALP, as well as the Liberals”, Price said.

Labor won in the new seat of Summer Hill, with a swing of 2.1%. The Greens increased their vote by 2.5% to make them the second major party in Summer Hill.

Socialist Alliance received 1.5% of the vote in Summer Hill– similar to its previous results in the old electorate of Marrickville (which included Newtown). However, according to an ABC booth-by-booth redistribution, the Alliance’s booth results in the Summer Hill area doubled since 2011. It also received higher votes in the more working class areas – in the Ashfield, Lewisham and Marrickville West booths.

Steve O'Brien ran for the Socialist Alliance in the Legislative Assembly seat of Newcastle, where he received 1.2% of the vote.

O'Brien told GLW: “Our campaign slogan in 2011 ‘NSW: not for sale’ became the main campaign slogan for the ALP, and was also pushed by the Greens”.

“This time we also demanded that privatisation be reversed: we called for the contracts for the sale of the Port of Newcastle to be ripped up.

“We also campaigned heavily on a job creation plan based on a phase-out of coal – still a big employer in the Hunter. Interestingly, the Newcastle Herald ran a front cover with ‘Life after coal: What’s next?’ the day after the election. The solutions we put to people may well become labour movement demands.”

The Socialist Alliance also fielded a ticket of 16 for the Legislative Council. The Socialist Alliance ticket received 8489 votes, down from 9770 in 2011.

Price said: "With such modest votes, people often ask why we run in these elections.

“Without the massive resources of the small parties of the right, and up against an undemocratic electoral system, we run because a lot of people we’d like to engage with relate to politics and new ideas at election time.

“We also run to raise the argument that we need to break from the capitalist system and move to a socialist society if we are going to have social justice and survive the climate change crisis. Most people may not see this now, but it is a reality.

“This campaign has confirmed, again, to us that heaps of people are active around local concerns – connected with local schools, CSG, questions of diversity and more. We letterboxed the electorate, but didn’t stop our day-to-day campaign work.

“I attended at least seven candidates’ meetings and they were a great opportunity to present our ideas in more detail. People wanted clear answers: they were not prepared to be fobbed off.

“We introduced the Socialist Alliance to more people – including union activists on picket lines at Barangaroo and The University of NSW. Meanwhile, I continued to help strengthen the newly-formed union activist network set up after last year’s horrendous budget.

“Our upper house candidates – all union or other social and environmental activists – also continued to build and support the resistance such as the Save our Rail campaign in Newcastle, the Stop CSG campaign in Sydney and elsewhere and the save Miller’s Point campaign in Sydney.

“The challenge for the Socialist Alliance now is to build on this work. Significant political battles loom – such as the fight to stop the wasteful and environmentally disastrous WestConnex tollway, the campaign for affordable housing and against the removal of the Aboriginal tent embassy in Redfern as well as defence of our services and jobs from the newly-elected government."

[Pip Hinman is a member of Socialist Alliance.]

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