If the last federal election promised the beginnings of a break from the two-parties-for-capitalism electoral system that has plagued Australian politics for the past century, the March 29, 2011 NSW election seems to be a lurch in the other direction.
The Liberal-National Coalition won dominance of the Legislative Assembly and (with small right-wing parties) control of the Legislative Council because a large number of working class voters punished the Labor party with a -13.5% swing.
The Sydney Morning Herald estimated that 623,500 voters deserted the ALP and most of these voted for the Coalition.
The Greens vote increased by about 2% in the Legislative Council and probably gained one seat there (giving them a likely five seats in this upper house). But the Greens appear to have failed to win the Legislative Assembly seat of Marrickville, which they were tipped to win. The Greens may have a chance of winning Balmain after distribution of preferences – but it will be tight.
The left-wing independent Gordon Bradbery, a popular Wesley Uniting Church minister who was sacked for his progressive views, looks like winning the seat of Wollongong. The Socialist Alliance and other leftists in Wollongong supported his campaign.
The Socialist Alliance increased slightly or held its vote. Pip Hinman, its well-recognised candidate, got 1.9% of the vote in Marrickville (1.6% in the 2007 election). The Socialist Equality Party also stood James Cogan as an independent in this seat and took 1.3% with the top spot on the ballot paper.
Zane Alcorn, another well-known Socialist Alliance candidate, won 1.7% in Newcastle and Rod Noble, a leader of the Progressive Labour Party, won 3% stranding as an independent in the same seat.
Duncan Roden, who ran in the federal election in the same area, won 1.6% in Parramatta. Paola Harvey won 1.4% in Keira (one of the seats in the Illawarra area). Daicy Olya, a late Socialist Alliance candidate in Fairfield, won 0.7% of the vote.
In the Legislative Council, where the Socialist Alliance won 15,142 votes in 2007, it appeared to be down slightly by 0.15%.
The Socialist Alliance used its election campaign to further unify the left. Its Legislative Council ticket included several left independents and several leftists who had just broken from the Labor party.
The Socialist Alliance and the Communist Party of Australia also initiated a joint left statement on the elections and CPA members helped out with the Socialist Alliance campaign in western Sydney on polling day.
The critical dynamic of this election was the large number of traditional Labor voters in working-class areas deserting straight to the Liberal-National Coalition rather than to the Greens or to left-wing parties.
Many progressive booth workers reported the heart-sinking sight of many working-class voters grabbing just the Liberal how-to-votes and rushing into the polling booth.
Some in the Greens may be thinking their party needs to abandon some of its more progressive policies to win more votes. But in reality, what the Greens should do is be more conscious of working class interests.
The party alienated many working class people with its embrace of the Gillard federal Labor party’s regressive carbon pricing scheme (which is to morph into a pollution rights trading scheme). This gave the climate change denialists a free kick.
If the Greens want to win the mass of working people to the fight for serious action on the climate change crisis, they need to champion public investment in renewable energy and public transport, funded by taxing the big corporations, which are ripping out record super profits and are also the biggest polluters.
Regressive carbon taxes (which operate like the GST to shift the tax burden from the rich to the poor) will not produce the scale or urgency of investment needed. They will destroy the chance of mobilising the great majority against the powerful vested interests that are blocking real action on climate change.
The left needs to work harder to unify and work closely with the Greens to advance progressive struggles.
If we want to reverse this lurch back to the two-party system (in which the working class alternately punishes and rewards Labor or the Coalition and gets absolutely nowhere) the Greens and the left need to reach out more effectively into working class heartlands.
[Peter Boyle was the Socialist Alliance lead upper house candidate in the NSW elections.]