The federal election result and the surging Green vote have livened up the Victorian election campaign. The latest Newspoll figures show 19% support for the Greens, the and major parties are struggling to work out whether to launch a full-frontal attack or whether that would deliver more votes to the Greens.
The Greens are eating into Labor’s support base on the left and Labor is worried.
Four Labor inner-city parliamentarians, including two ministers, face likely defeat at the hands of the Greens. As the November 27 election approaches, the ALP has stepped up its attack on the Greens, describing it as an “anti-Labor” party.
Earlier in the campaign, Labor tried a softer approach after its vicious attack on the Greens in the 2006 state election turned off many voters.
This time, the ALP is telling voters it is a progressive party, focusing on climate change, social justice and support for same-sex couples.
Labor member for Richmond, Richard Wynne, has billboards saying “Richard Wynne stands for Equality. Social Justice. Tackling Climate Change.”
Labor Premier John Brumby’s government surprised and out-maneuvered the Greens by campaigning to phase out the coal-fired Hazelwood power station. The Greens support closing Hazelwood, but it hasn't campaigned publicly on it for fear of appearing too radical.
However, the fine print of Brumby’s announcement only commits Labor to phasing out one quarter of Hazelwood by 2014.
Brumby has called on the Liberal Party to preference Labor ahead of the Greens. The ALP has approached companies to ask them to lobby the Liberals to preference Labor.
Meanwhile, a big debate has opened up in the Coalition over its policy. The federal election result, in which the Greens’ Adam Bandt was elected to the lower house, has spooked some in the Coalition.
Coalition opposition leader Ted Baillieu has been criticised for not indicating whether the Coalition will preference the Greens.
Former Coalition prime mnister John Howard, former Victorian Liberal party president Helen Kroger and Victorian National Party leader Peter Ryan have all advised Baillieu not to preference the Greens ahead of Labor.
Even media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has intervened, warning voters to ignore the Greens and “don't let the bloody Greens mess it up”, according to the October 29 Australian.
The Catholic Church has called on voters to not trust the Greens.
Labor appears to have locked in union support. The Electrical Trades Union (ETU), which disaffiliated from the ALP this year and supported the Greens in the federal election, is supporting Labor candidates, including Fiona Richardson in the Labor-Greens marginal seat of Northcote. The ETU is also backing the Socialist Party’s Steve Jolly in Richmond.
The United Firefighters Union is also backing Labor candidates in Labor-Green marginal seats as well as backing Jolly.
The November 4 Agesaid there was almost unanimous support among unions to campaign for Labor candidates.
ETU secretary Dean Mighell told the November 2 Australianthat union concerns about federal policy direction were not issues in Victoria.
The Victorian Trades Hall has a big banner hanging on its wall declaring that, under Brumby, there has been “Improved public transport”, “Improved workers’ rights”, “Improved education” and “Improved environmental sustainability”.
These claims are open to challenge. Anyone who catches public transport on a regular basis knows public transport has got worse, not better. Public sector workers in Victoria are subject to a 2.5% cap on wage rises — hardly “improved workers’ rights”.
The Brumby government has weakened WorkCover and is happy to use the anti-union sections of the Fair Work Act when there is an industrial dispute in the public sector.
Unions should be consistent in supporting the most progressive candidates across the board. Why try to knock off Greens’ candidates in Labor-Greens marginal seats when there are plenty of seats where Labor could lose to the Coalition?
Meanwhile, preference negotiations have broken down between the Greens and Labor, making the ALP nervous that the Greens may not direct preferences. The Greens have also confirmed that if the election results in a hung parliament, they are open to supporting either a Coalition or a Labor minority government.
The Greens should stop toying with the idea of supporting a minority Coalition government. If they helped bring to power a Kennett-style Coalition government that took the hatchet to working-class rights and conditions, they would lose their new-found support.
The Greens should learn from the example in Britain: the Liberal-Democrats are experiencing a drop in support for backing a minority Tory government that is slashing jobs and services.
That’s why the Socialist Alliance has a very clear preference policy of supporting other socialist candidates first, then the Greens before Labor and put the Liberals and other far-right candidates last. We can’t risk a Coalition government.
But we also disagree with the unions giving another blank cheque to Labor. The Brumby Labor government has demonstrated time and again it will put the interests of its big business mates first.
That’s why unemployment in Brumby’s seat of Broadmeadows is one of the highest in the country, with 15.9% of residents unemployed and a whopping 55% of 15-19-year-olds unemployed. If Brumby were a friend to workers, he would be doing something about the Broadmeadows unemployment.
[Margarita Windisch is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Footscray.]