BY GRAHAM MATTHEWS
MELBOURNE — The Socialist Alliance's Aston campaign committee decided on June 30 to direct voters to preference the Labor Party's candidate, Kieran Boland, ahead of the Greens' candidate, Mick Kir, in the July 14 by-election in the outer-suburban seat.
The Socialist Alliance candidate in the seat is La Trobe University student Josephine Cox. The alliance is not yet registered, and so its name will not appear next to Cox's on the ballot paper.
The decision, not taken lightly, was a direct result of the Aston Greens' decision to provide a "split" how-to-vote card, directing half of their preferences to the Labor Party before the Liberals, but half to the Liberal Party before Labor.
According to Germ Secomb, Victorian Greens' state campaign coordinator, the Aston branch of the Greens took an independent decision to split its how-to-vote card.
The local Greens' decision was based on the failure of the Labor Party to agree to a series of three demands: to commit to signing the Kyoto climate change treaty if elected to office in the forthcoming federal election; to outlaw the use of biomass (old-growth forests) as fuel for power stations; and to divert funds from the proposed Scorseby freeway to improving public transport in the Aston area.
While the Aston campaign group of Socialist Alliance agrees with the demands made by the Greens, and has also campaigned strongly around the demand for better public transport in the electorate, it decided that it cannot agree with the apparent political conclusions drawn by the Aston Greens.
Public transport in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne is appallingly limited. There is only one train stop in the (sprawling) electorate of Aston, no tramline, and buses are infrequent and inadequate.
It is correct for the Greens to demand that public monies go to public transport ahead of the construction of freeways, but preference bargaining is not the way to achieve this.
The Greens' demands can ultimately be won only by mobilising a movement, independent of the major parties, committed to the winning of the demands. The first step in achieving this should be to take to the streets, not to back rooms for private deals. Winning a paper commitment from Labor will not necessarily achieve anything.
Do the Aston Greens really think that promises made by either major party are a guarantee of action?
By splitting their preferences between Labor and Liberal, the Greens are sending the message that the only basis to differentiate between Labor and Liberal is on the three demands they have raised. But this is not true.
The Greens' electoral "tactic" of offering their preferences to the highest (mainstream party) bidder gained them considerable attention and some success in the Ryan by-election in February this year, when they successfully negotiated some small concessions from Labor in return for their preferences. The Greens' preferences ensured that Labor won the seat.
In the Aston by-election, the negative side of the Greens preference "auction" is revealed. Labor's refusal to offer guarantees to their three demands has led to the Greens abstaining from directing their supporters to making a choice between Labor and Liberal.
The Greens' preference choice ignores the last six years of environmental and social vandalism practiced by the Howard government.
While it is true that the ALP has failed to offer an adequate alternative to the Liberals' neo-liberalism, it is wrong for the Greens not to differentiate them as a lesser evil than the party that introduced the GST, slashed ATSIC funding and privatised 49% of Telstra.
As a party committed to social and environmental justice, for the Greens not to preference Labor ahead of the Liberals as a matter of principle would seem to make a mockery of their progressive stance on these issues.
The decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens was taken by the Aston Socialist Alliance campaign committee and applies only for the Aston by-election.
It does not imply any preferencing policy for the federal election, which will be determined by local Socialist Alliance branches. Nor does the decision imply that Socialist Alliance believes the Labor Party represents a more progressive alternative than the Green Party.
It was a decision taken mindful of the Greens' preference policy for the Aston by-election, but also mindful of the fact that the by-election will neither affect government nor senate seats.
Socialist Alliance has formally contacted the Victorian Greens and stated our case. Had the Greens reconsidered their preference policy and chosen Labor ahead of the Liberals, it is likely they in turn would have received the alliance's second preference.
The Aston campaign committee of Socialist Alliance is open to working with all progressive forces to see the ousting of the Liberals and the building of a genuine progressive alternative to Labor. We hope that the Greens in Aston and elsewhere will join us in that fight.
[Graham Matthews is a member of the Aston Socialist Alliance campaign committee, and the Melbourne district secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party.]