By Russell Pickering
CANBERRA — The Democratic Socialists tripled their 1995 election result in the ACT election on February 21. It was the first time the Democratic Socialist name had appeared on the ballot paper in the ACT.
With 80% of the votes counted, 650 people had voted first for the Democratic Socialists. Lead candidate Sue Bull told Green Left Weekly, "It is disappointing that we may have another minority Liberal government in the ACT, but our own election campaign was a great success.
"Even though we ran in an electorate with 49 candidates, and despite being marginalised by the mainstream media, more than 1% of the vote for an openly socialist platform is very good. By running a campaign strongly opposing the economic rationalist policies of the major parties, we have received support from those people wanting a truly progressive alternative. Also, our high profile on the street meant we had great discussions with people who were sick to death of the no choice Lib-Lab policies."
The Labor Party received a disastrous 28% of the vote, compared to the Liberals' 37%, losing further ground on its 1995 vote of only 31%. Analysts are blaming the ALP's reluctance to counter the negative campaign run against its leader, Wayne Berry, by the Liberals and the Canberra Times for Labor's loss. No commentator has been as clear as ex-deputy ALP leader, Andrew Whitecross, who told the Canberra Times, "One reason for the bad showing was the party's failure to run a campaign that highlighted the Liberal Party's deficiencies, or to contrast Labor's policies with those of the Liberals." Whitecross also lost his seat.
Bull commented, "What a joke the Labor Party made of itself in this election. While party heavies like Graham Richardson blame unrepresentative "hard line lefties" for the defeat, the utter lack of policies defending working-class people against the relentless attacks of the ACT and federal Liberal governments is the real cause.
"Liberal leader Kate Carnell has also made it difficult for Labor by adopting policies on issues like the heroin trial which are more progressive than the Labor right's. The person tipped to take over the ALP's top position, right-winger Ted Quinlan, has wasted no time in stating that he could not rule out the privatisation of ACT Electricity and Water."
Despite spending close to $50,000 on a full ticket campaign, the Australian Democrats failed to win a seat in the new assembly. Having received only 6% of votes, the Democrats have blamed their failure on too little media coverage in the last week of the campaign — not on Cheryl Kernot's defection to the Labor Party.
Much of the Democrats' campaign was focused at the federal level, calling on supporters to "send a message to Kirribilli". This compounded a general lack of focus on policy, exemplified by leader Jane Errey's statement that "Labor and Liberal have too many tired old faces".
While the ACT Greens maintained their vote, and incumbent Kerrie Tucker was returned to office, a battle is raging in the seat of Ginninderra where the final position is being fought out between the Greens and a Paul Osborne Independent. If Osborne's candidate wins, there will be fewer progressive votes in this assembly than the last. The Greens have still not indicated whether they will vote for an ALP or Liberal minority government if the situation arises.
Independent Michael Moore will probably win the final seat in Molonglo and the Liberals are considering him for a cabinet position.
With 80% of the votes counted, the Progressive Labor Party had received just 400 votes across two electorates. The PLP, like the Greens, failed to give a clear direction to their supporters regarding preferences in this election.