Labor’s resounding victory in the March 19 South Australian election is the latest indication of a mood for change.
While that result should not be over-read, Labor has been ahead of the Liberal National Coalition in national opinion polls for more than a year, and its lead is growing.
The sentiment for change is strong; a betting person would say Labor is favourite to win the coming federal election. But Labor was ahead in the polls before the 2019 election and then lost.
Its lead is bigger this time and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not a new contender. His arrogance and mistakes are piling up, but he might manage to pull another “miracle” out of the bag. This fear is rational because sections of the establishment media are still batting for Morrison and the Coalition.
Meanwhile, Labor leader Anthony Albanese is insisting on a “small target” strategy that minimises any differences with the government. The thinking behind this is that it minimises the Coalition's opportunity to attack.
But not providing an alternative vision for Labor’s base is an inherently risky strategy. If it’s only really “Coalition-lite” what’s the point of supporting it?
It also makes Labor vulnerable to last minute scare campaigns, as we are seeing now with its right faction alleging the party mistreated the late Senator Kimberley Kitching.
Following its “unlosable” 2019 election defeat, Labor strategists assessed its reforms, including the “death tax” and changes to negative gearing, had been “too ambitious”. While those particular ideas were debatable “reforms” to push, the party was definitely not “too ambitious”. It did not offer enough!
While supporting a change in government, we should avoid falling in behind Labor strategists’ narrow vision.
Vote for the better candidate, not just the lesser evil
It is a dishonest to claim, as some Labor supporters do, that the only way to get rid of the Coalition is to vote  Labor.
Socialist Alliance, Victorian Socialists and the Greens have all committed not to support a Coalition government. Therefore this argument does not apply to their candidates. Independent candidates should be scrutinised about which party they would support for government.
Voting for the Socialist Alliance and the Greens is preferable as long as your preferences flow to Labor ahead of the Coalition. If your preferred candidate does not get elected, your vote passes on at full value to the candidates you preference.
Labor should be criticised
Anyone concerned about the climate catastrophe should not give Labor their first preference. This is because Labor, unapologetically, supports new coal mines and gas developments at Scarborough and the Beetaloo Basin.
Its climate policy is less ambitious than the inadequate policy it took to the 2019 election. Even if implemented, it still means climate disaster.
Labor’s argument that “we just need to get elected” because the Coalition is so bad relies on historical amnesia and a naivety about the extent it is prepared to go to push progressive reforms. Its record in government and its small target strategy show it is a loyal and slavish supporter of big business.
Labor has been its most progressive under pressure from mobilised movements, including from the unions, women’s and queer communities as well as the anti-nuclear and peace movements.
While these progressive views are widespread today, they are not a counter power as they once were during the 1960–70s. It means that Labor can get away with its “small target” strategy and, as a consequence, support many of the Coalition’s rotten policies including tax cuts for the rich, the religious discrimination bill and AUKUS.
People power needed for change
Labor supporters argue, falsely, that while its policy can be disappointing, only Labor has brought in progressive reforms. This is wrong: its record in state and federal governments includes supporting privatisations, wars and anti-union laws.
Remember too that a federal Labor government refused to introduce marriage equality between 2007 and 2013. While Labor is often credited with ending Australia’s involvement in the disastrous Vietnam War, it was William McMahon Liberal government that decided to withdraw combat troops prior to Gough Whitlam’s election in 1972.
Regardless of which major capitalist party is in government, strong community campaigns can win reforms. History shows that without popular pressure, the major capitalist parties don’t.
It’s not just Morrison, the individual, we need to defeat, but the Coalition’s pro-capitalist agenda. Given Labor shares a big portion of it, we need to focus efforts on supporting those parties that prioritise building popular movements that prioritise working class and oppressed peoples’ interests.
We do want to kick out the Morrison government, but this alone will not be enough.
A vote for Socialist Alliance, where we’re standing, sends a signal to Labor and the Greens that radical action is needed and that the only way to achieve it is to organise on the ground for the changes we so desperately need.
[Alex Bainbridge is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive. See our federal election candidates here.]