It has all the usual markings of an election campaign Australians have become so used to over the decades. Pork barrelling, wedge politics, the 60-second sound bite, the presidential style of campaigning, the photo opportunities and the political spin. Very little of real substance, little differentiation between the major parties platforms and a biased daily media. Western Australians are to go to the polls on February 26.
But despite the hype, there are real issues underlying the election campaign. With the state's economy in a strengthened position, working people are looking for relief from deteriorating public health and education systems, looking for protection from the gathering storm clouds in the east as Howard prepares an anti-union crusade, and looking for protection from the white-shoe brigade determined to turn communities and ecological sanctuaries into money-spinning "developments".
One of the most outrageous promises of the campaign to date has been the opposition Coalition's proposal to build the world's longest canal to divert water to Perth from the Kimberley. With Perth's dam capacity at around 29%, opposition leader Colin Barnett hoped to turn fears of a general water shortage into an election winner.
Dubbed Barnett's wet dream, it is flawed in its costing (no-one seriously believes the Coalition's $2 billion price tag), and its environmental impact (there has been little to no studies) and serious questions are now arising over the real purpose of drawing water from the Kimberley. It appears that a substantial benefactor of the canal would be agribusiness, particularly a proposed cotton industry in the West Kimberley.
The Labor government's counterpunch has been to press ahead with a pipeline from the same water source coupled with a desalination plant. The fears are again that Labor is continuing to back agricultural and mining industries at the expense of working people. At present, industry uses 40% of WA's water supply and is heavily subsidised.
On health issues both Labor and the Coalition are falling over each other with promises of more hospital beds. In an opportunistic move garnered to win public support, Barnett signed a deal with the nurses' union that goes further than what Premier Geoff Gallop's government offered after months of protracted negotiations. However the primary push of Labor and the Coalition's policies has been to support the gradual privatisation of health care.
"Law and order" (state repression) gets it's usual guernsey with more restrictive laws against Indigenous West Australians and young people promised by both major parties. The funding bidding war started with Barnett outlining plans for a riot control water cannon, just like those in use in Third World countries. Labor upped the ante with proposals to buy 40 50,000-volt Taser stun-guns for police use.
Labor, particularly its supporters in the union movement are drawing heavily on the prospect of a return of Graham Kierath, the former minister for industrial relations, to public life. There are fears if the Coalition is elected, Kierath could regain the industrial relations portfolio.
Before the last state election, Labor promised to overhaul workers' compensation laws to claw back many gains lost under the previous Coalition government. Despite a few minor reforms, Labor's new laws go further than even Keirath dared in conceding to the insurance industry massive profits by preventing many thousands of injured workers for using their full rights under common law.
There is, however, are genuine alternatives being presented on February 26. The Greens are standing in every seat and have, to date, focused heavily on their traditional call to rally for the environment.
The Socialist Alliance is standing six activists in the three upper house seats representing Perth. The socialist candidates are hammering the theme that the interests of working people have to be put ahead of profits for the few.
The Socialist Alliance is calling for an end to WA ties to the US war machine, for a workers' compensation scheme that compensates injured workers not bloated insurance companies, an end to attacks on union rights, for proper funding for schools, hospitals and public transport, an end to the privatisation of public beaches, and for full rights for Indigenous people.
[The author is one of two Socialist Alliance candidates for the South Metropolitan Region. The full text of the alliance's WA election leaflet, the full list of its candidates and how you can help the campaign can be found at <http://www.socialist-alliance.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, February 23, 2005.
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