Bob Gould, 2005

Wall of silence on election results in WA
Labor substantially increases its vote and the Greens do well. Socialist Alliance literally nowhere, electorally speaking

Source: Ozleft, Green Left Weekly discussion list, February 28-March 11, 2005
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Green Left Weekly discussion list

The election result in WA is a dramatic confirmation of the class divide in Australian politics between the Labor-Green side and the conservative side.

The rather eccentric predictions of people like Michael Berrell and Paul Oboohov about the disappearance of the Labor vote are sharply refuted by this result.

When you look at the map of WA, the areas where Labor and the Greens did well were the working-class and middle-class urban seats and non-urban areas with a high concentration of Aboriginal voters.

The Liberal-National votes were concentrated in the most affluent urban areas and some conservative farming areas.

It’s clear that organised workers rallied to the Labor government on the general understanding that re-election of Labor was the best defence of their interests against the Howard government’s attacks on their right to organise.

Peter Boyle’s recent metaphysics about the healthy future prospects of the Socialist Alliance are dramatically contradicted by this election result, as also is the curious article in last week’s Green Left Weekly, which ended on the note that the Socialist Alliance was the genuine electoral alternative to what the writers called the two capitalist parties.

The radicalised working class and middle class voters clearly didn’t see it that way because the Socialist Alliance vote was so low in two of the three upper house electorates it contested that it didn’t register a percentage, and the percentage in the other seat was .02.

The election was notable for a very tight and deliberate exchange of preferences between the Greens and Labor, which is infuriating to the bourgeoisie, particularly since along with NSW the WA Greens are the sheet anchor of the left in the Greens nationally.

This election confirms the absolute need for socialists to adopt a strategic united front approach to Labor and the Greens, rather than the DSP’s vitriolic exposure strategy embodied in all the nonsense preached by the DSP leadership about the two equal capitalist parties.


Green Left Weekly’s wall of silence

March 11, 2005

It’s now a couple of weeks since the WA election. In that couple of weeks GLW has kept up its implacable ultraleftism in everything relating to the Labor Party and official union structures, and has ignored any useful things coming from those structures.

A kind of high point of this political stupidity was a rather excitable and eccentric DSP member accusing me on the GLW list of having blood on my hands, presumably because I am an ALP member. Does this principle apply to all people nationwide who have ALP tickets, including Martin Kingham, Michelle O’Neil, etc?

The WA election result has important lessons for the labour movement, and all progressive movements. Firstly it’s a very heartening and healthy result, given the looming attack of the Liberals on the state industrial relations systems.

The Labor vote went up to about 42 per cent, the Green vote held up at about 8 per cent, Labor in the lower house retained the same majority as in the previous parliament, and in the upper house the One Nation members were all defeated, Labor went up from 13 to 16 and the Greens dropped from five to two, which produced exactly the same result, in broad political terms, as the previous upper house.

The Green-Labor combination has 18 out of 34 upper house seats and the Liberal-Nationals 16. The only change is that Labor has more seats and the Greens fewer.

This result in the upper house underlines the electoral problem facing the Greens. The upward surge in the Labor vote pushed the last Labor candidate ahead of the first Green for a quota, so the Green was eliminated first and Green preferences elected the Labor candidate.

As far as I can tell, there was no double-crossing on preferences by Labor or the Greens in WA, and both parties stuck fairly systematically to giving the ultimate preference to each other, sometimes after minor parties.

The overall result was aided by the fact that one of the Greens got enough preferences from some small parties to the right of the Greens that were antagonistic to the Liberals, and that pushed the Greens over a quota in a province where the combined Labor-Green vote was a bit less than the conservative vote.

That was a fortunate outcome because it gave the Labor-Green side control of the upper house, and the Greens the balance of power despite their reduced numbers.

The obvious immediate problem is electoral reform. In the last parliament Labor and the Greens couldn’t agree on a formula to get rid of the outrageous electoral weighting in WA in favour of rural areas where the conservatives are strong. This gerrymander is ridiculous. In the Agricultural province, the Liberals got four seats to Labor’s one, yet a vote in that province has about three times the value of a vote in urban areas. This is a long-standing scandal and the Greens and Labor must find a common approach to get rid of it.

The nurses’ union electoral team, which used a lot of unwise rhetoric about giving preferences to the Liberals, got a very modest result, and the nurses’ union leadership will now, obviously, have to work very hard to mend fences with the Labor government to achieve the best industrial outcome for their members in a set of circumstances that they obviously didn’t anticipate — the re-election of the government.

During the election campaign the industrially militant CFMEU, which runs its own right-wing faction of “outs” in the ALP in combination with former premier Brian Burke, rapidly moderated its anti-government rhetoric, obviously estimating that Labor would be re-elected.

Unfortunately the same commonsense approach didn’t extend to the DSP, which persisted with ferociously anti-Labor rhetoric until the last moment before the election, presenting the Greens and the Socialist Alliance as the real alternative to what they termed “the two capitalist parties”.

The outcome of the election suggests several things. Firstly, the Greens electoral surge seems to have stalled in most states, except possibly Tasmania, at about 8-9 per cent.

That is still a substantial vote, and it gives the Greens an ongoing and serious presence in state upper houses, the Senate and municipal politics.

The Labor vote clearly fluctuates between 35 and 44 per cent. As the conservative commentator Baume pointed out in the Financial Review a week ago, the overwhelming majority of seats with the largest Muslim component are Labor seats and the overwhelming majority of seats with the largest Catholic component are also Labor seats. These seats are also where most industrial workers and recent immigrants live.

The voting pattern in WA underlines this class division between the Labor-Green side and the conservative side of electoral politics.

The slightly lunatic projections by Mike Berrell and others about the eventual disappearance of the Labor vote are completely refuted by the WA results.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: in statistical terms the Socialist Alliance vote in WA was completely negligible.

In working class politics it’s important to make a balance sheet of one’s activity and political perspectives. The WA results confirm the need for Marxists to have an active united front strategy towards Labor and the trade unions, and the Greens.

I look forward with interest to the DSP leadership’s analysis of the WA election results if they ever make one. I’m not holding my breath.