By Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — The Wills by-election on April 11 is shaping up as a dry run for a full federal election. Labor and Liberal campaigns are being run by Prime Minister Paul Keating and opposition leader John Hewson. The policy debate is between Labor's "One Nation" package and the Liberals' "Fightback!".
Most of the 22 candidates are being ignored by the commercial media, and both Labor and the Liberals have selected lacklustre candidates. Labor's Bill Kardamitsis seems to have been told to shut up and let Keating do the talking, and the Liberals' John Delacretaz only attracted the media when it was revealed he had campaigned for a 30% cut in welfare payments two years ago.
One candidate attracting attention is Coburg Lions football coach and former star player, Phil Cleary, who is standing as an independent. Cleary opposes economic rationalism and calls for protection of local manufacturing industry to stop job losses. He is also standing on social justice issues and has support from the "pledge" group of left-controlled unions.
Australian Democrat candidate David MacKay and Democratic Socialist candidate Bob Lewis have been ignored by most of the media. However, Lewis' multicoloured "issue-oriented" posters are up all around the electorate despite harassment from the local council, which claims they are litter.
Lewis is campaigning on jobs and the environment. He argues that a move to a shorter working week with no loss in pay and a massive public campaign to clean up the environment and improve public transport, education, health and social services will stop rising unemployment and address real social needs.
"Protectionism might save some manufacturers' profit levels, but ultimately it won't solve the unemployment problem. While I oppose the further lifting of tariffs until alternative jobs can be guaranteed to workers in the manufacturing sector, the real solution lies in putting people before profits", he told Green Left.
Because Wills has large migrant communities, the major parties have played down the immigration issue, though Angela Walker of Australians Against Further Immigration is trying to highlight it. Labor, the Liberals and the Democrats all support reducing migration and tightening entry requirements (especially for migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds). The Liberals even want to deny welfare to migrants for two years after arrival.
Bob Lewis opposes cutting immigration: "Migrants are being scapegoated for unemployment which is really being caused by the capitalist system", he says. Phil Cleary says immigration "has nothing to do with the recession" and also opposes cuts to quotas.