BY LISA MACDONALD
SYDNEY — On the eve of the March 22 NSW election, both Labor Premier Bob Carr and Liberal Party leader John Brogden pleaded with voters not to make the war on Iraq a state election issue.
However, the rapid growth of the anti-war movement over the last two months, the commencement of bombing three days before the election and the explicitly "No war" position of the Greens, Democrats, Socialist Alliance, Reform the Legal System, and some Unity and ALP candidates, transformed the election into an "unofficial" poll on the war.
Labor was re-elected to a record third four-year term, with a 4% increase in its vote (but no extra seats). The Liberals, who campaigned almost exclusively on the "law and order" issue, lost votes and their National Party allies look likely to lose two seats.
The big winners were the Greens, who averaged just over 8% across the state, doubling their vote from the 1999 state election. In the inner-Sydney Labor-held seats of Port Jackson and Marrickville, and in Kiera, the Greens pushed the Liberals into third place, scoring 29% (Jamie Parker), 28% (Col Hesse), and 19% (Mike Sergent) respectively.
With the majority of the lower house votes counted, the Greens look unlikely to win any Legislative Assembly seats, but will probably win an extra upper house seat, with Sylvia Hale joining Ian Cohen and Lee Rhiannon in the Legislative Council.
By contrast, the Democrats were pretty much wiped out in this election, averaging just 1% of the lower house vote. Peter Breen's Reform the Legal System averaged less than 1%.
The Progressive Labour Party, whose candidates appeared as independents on the ballot papers, scored 3.6% in Newcastle (Harry Williams), 3.4% in Charlestown (Kate Ferguson) and 3.8% in Wallsend (Di Gibson).
In the lower house, the Socialist Alliance won 2948 primary votes in the seven seats it contested, averaging 1.3%. The results were: 2.92% in Marrickville (Sue Johnson); 0.45% in Illawarra (Chris Williams); 0.65% in Charlestown (Kathy Newnam); 0.68% in Lismore (Nick Fredman); 2.58% in Bankstown (Sam Wainwright); 0.44% in Auburn (Roberto Jorquera); and 1.3% in Port Jackson (Paul Benedek). With less than half of the upper house vote counted, Socialist Alliance had received 4650 primary votes.
Reports from the 280 Socialist Alliance polling booth campaigners indicate that opposition to the war was very much in voters' minds. In all areas, alliance campaigners received a very positive response to the tens of thousands of leaflets they distributed advertising the next anti-war demonstrations, and hundreds of people signed a petition calling on the opposition parties to use their majority in the Senate block the passage of PM John Howard's May war budget. While scrutineers' reports are not yet available, the response to the alliance's call for voters to write "No war" on their ballot papers was also well received at polling booths.
The divisions within the ALP on the issue of the war were stark clear on polling day. In some electorates, particularly those — like Port Jackson and Marrickville — where Labor was under threat from the Greens, ALP canvassers displayed "Labor against the war" posters and helped hand out anti-war rally leaflets. In most others, however, Labor staffers followed Carr's lead, supporting "our troops" (i.e., the war) in Iraq and condemning anti-war protesters as traitors.
From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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