Anger with the two major parties was the clear winner this federal election as a quarter of the electorate gave their first preference to independents, Greens or minor parties.
The Socialist Alliance (SA) ran in the Senate in three states, and in four lower house seats. Despite its blanket exclusion from the corporate media, its reliance on small donations and its radical message, its votes increased in two lower house seats, dipped in two others and increased our Senate vote in NSW and WA compared to the previous election.
“We did better than expected”, Corio candidate Sue Bull told Green Left Weekly. Bull, an Occupational Health and Safety teacher and active Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union member, recorded a slight swing in favour.
Chris Jenkins, a nurse who ran in the seat of Fremantle, almost doubled the vote SA received compared to the previous federal election in the same seat.
“The votes are important, but we also weigh the number of members and volunteers who helped us out and the number of people who have approached us to join. This is just as important,” Bull said.
“The huge 'I want to vote for an independent' phenomenon may have helped us, but only slightly, given that we lack the sort of profile to capitalise on this sentiment and the electoral system is geared for parties — big and small — with money.
“We also came across so many people who told us they 'really like us' and put us number 2. This demonstrates, again, that many still do not understand the preferential voting system and were confused by the changes to the Senate voting system.”
Jenkins said the campaign for Fremantle helped consolidate a lot of work the Socialist Alliance has done in the area.
“We letter-boxed more than 24,000 houses across 11 suburbs, with priority given to those areas which are in Socialist Alliance councillor Sam Wainwright's district”, Jenkins said.
“Our vote almost doubled from the 2013 election. For a party that struggles for profile and funding, this shows we are building our base in the area — Walyalup.
“Our massive posters calling for an increase in corporate tax featured on major roads and local shops, whereas there was little publicity by other candidates, other than a few billboards.
“One of the local newspapers gave us equal coverage, with weekly questionnaires, where we were able to distinguish our politics from the Greens.
“As there were so few House of Representatives candidates, we probably received more attention.”
In Sydney and Wills, SA's vote went down slightly, amid fields of 9 other candidates. In Sydney, the local Murdoch-owned newspaper focused exclusively on the Green–Labor contest, backing the latter.
Bull, a seasoned campaigner, observed that even with scarce resources their campaign in Corio attracted militant unionists who are keen to work with SA.
“While the ACTU-led 'Put the Liberals Last' campaign meant that some unionists couldn't campaign openly for Socialist Alliance they made it clear they supported our approach and politics. At the end of polling, they came to our election night party rather than Labor's.”
Socialist Alliance made its opposition to the Coalition's attacks on unions a strong focus.
It received support from several unions, and NSW Senate candidates Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, a descendant of the Guringai, Gadigal, Wiradjuri and Dharug peoples and Susan Price were named “education defenders” for their strong defence of tertiary sector workers by the National Tertiary Education Union.
“Every time we run, we build up our profile and membership and this time was no exception. People see us as having a go. I had good recognition on my booth, as did Uncle Ken Canning [who headed the NSW Senate ticket] even though the boundaries have changed and many Aboriginal people had to vote elsewhere”, Leroy-Dyers said.
While the Senate vote is still being counted, the vote in NSW has improved (4454 at the time of writing compared to 2728 in 2013).
Ken Canning, the lead candidate, was supported by Aboriginal communities across NSW, including in Lightning Ridge, Dubbo, Orange, Bowraville, Nambucca Heads, Kempsie and parts of the South Coast.
The NSW Senate vote is similar to the 2010 Queensland Senate vote when Murri leader Uncle Sam Watson headed a ticket for SA.
“Our campaign in Sydney mobilised more than 100 polling booth volunteers on election day and countless others helped in other ways,” Sydney candidate Peter Boyle told Green Left Weekly.
“But our biggest success was in uniting a whole range of communities around our call for a 'people's movement against racism and corporate greed'.
“This was more than an election campaign: it is an ongoing campaign to unite oppressed communities against our common oppressor.
“Over the next few weeks we will be discussing how to take this campaign forward in the post-election period”, Boyle said.
Canning told Green Left Weekly: “This campaign has taught me a great deal and has shown me that via hard work with First Nations peoples and other oppressed communities, we can build a strong movement that will have an impact on how our movements are run.
“We need all similar parties to be united in our struggle if we are ever to be a political voice to be reckoned with.
“I have experienced so much grassroots support from both First Nations communities and the broader community, I am very humbled. Thank you to all those, from all over the country, who gave me their whole-hearted support.
“I will be more than pleased to be part of building a positive people's movement well into the future”, Canning concluded.