Hot on the heels of this year’s Melbourne Cup is the Victorian state election on November 24th. November may look like a bonanza for punters and pundits, but elections are more than a race between big money’s favourites — in this case, the Australian Labor Party, Liberal/National Party Coalition and (3rd place) The Greens. Electoral contests give candidates usually left out of the limelight a public platform to present their ideas.
As of early April, the full electoral lineup isn’t yet known. But the March by-election for the federal inner Melbourne seat of Batman gives a good indication. Five far-right candidates — including Rise Up Australia, Corey Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives and the Australian Liberty Alliance — showed that the extreme right is jumping onto the stage to spruik their white nationalist, Islamophobic, anti-refugee, misogynist family values ideology. The good news is: a newly formed Victorian Socialists ticket will provide Victorian voters an alternative in the upper house.
Elections mirror their times. Recent national elections in the U.S. and Europe have shown the polarising impact of an economy in serious trouble. The growth of the far right and rightward lurch of mainstream parliamentary politics are the result of a crisis-prone profit system.
“Race to the bottom” describes governments’ neoliberal “solutions” — from deregulation and public projects that further enrich the few to harsher law-and-order measures and more prisons-for-profit to lock up the victims.
Incumbent ALP Premier Daniel Andrews boasts of a sturdy economy, which he hopes will reap a 3% growth this year and an $8.3 billion surplus over the next four years.
These riches are earmarked for the top end of town. Paying for them is Victoria’s working class through worsening work conditions, longer hours, growing job insecurity and higher bills. Casual work is replacing a previous era of full-time and ongoing employment. For so many workers, particularly those entering the workforce, having a job today and none tomorrow is the norm. Housing and energy costs have shot through the roof, homelessness keeps rising, and support services (those that still exist) can barely cope.
Divide and control. Working people are living with enormous uncertainty and fear. They’re questioning the system and demanding answers. Corporate mouthpieces — business “analysts,” politicians, media commentators — respond that the economic “fundamentals” are sound and will self-correct, and “leaners” (who receive government support) and immigrants are to blame. In other words, the capitalist system is fine, and the problem lies within the working class itself.
Designed to break class solidarity, the message has been grist for emerging far-right and neo-Nazi groups, from One Nation to the United Patriots Front. Islamophobia — used by successive governments to push their phony “war on terror” and turn away refugees — has enabled them to prey on people’s insecurity and prejudices. The list of enemy targets has expanded from Muslims and refugees to immigrants of colour, First Nations, Jews, mothers on welfare, the Left, queer and trans people. And it keeps getting longer.
This satisfies growing numbers of those isolated and ready to scapegoat others for their misery. But working people are also protesting against the intensifying hardship, in solidarity with each other — as unionists, feminists, leftists, LGBTIQ folks, people of colour, with disability, who are homeless, on welfare and more. Marches through Melbourne — some so massive they’ve gridlocked the city — are too frequent to count. And consistent anti-fascist organising has kept the neo-Nazis weak.
This conflict building between the 1% and the rest of the population is playing out in Victoria’s election. The Liberal/National Party Coalition, led by Matthew Guy, is betting on a racist, xenophobic “tough-on-crime” platform to win. Claiming that Victoria has a “gang crime crisis” (it doesn’t) and pointing the finger at young people of African descent, the Coalition aims to justify a crackdown on civil liberties. Police in so-called “high risk” secondary schools, stricter bail conditions and minimum mandatory sentencing are just some of its plans to enforce “community safety.” Young people of colour, Sudanese in particular, are hostages in this vile scam.
Not to be outdone, the Andrews government is showing the electorate it’s not “soft on crime.” In its 2017 budget, this government committed $2 billion to hire 3,000 more police and $288 million for a new high security youth detention centre at Cherry Creek in outer Melbourne. The Victorian Supreme Court found the government in breach of human rights laws for housing children in an adult prison. Already, Victoria has the largest prison population in its history.
There’s more. The Andrews government is arming Victoria Police to the teeth. Its recently announced $2 billion “Public Safety Package” includes $42.6 million to buy new weaponry — such as stinger grenades and a 175-shot semi-automatic rifle that fires capsicum rounds, blunt-force marble-size pellets or dye markers to brand people for arrest. The package includes a $15 million “state-of-the-art, New York-style” 24/7 surveillance centre in the centre of Melbourne. A $227 million IT data intelligence program will merge databases and allow predictive tracking, way beyond Cambridge Analytics’ capabilities.
Grassroots resistance is building. Community legal services and activists are disseminating invaluable analysis to the community and calling for an independent body to investigate acts of police violence. Stopping the violence and militarisation of the Victoria Police is becoming integral to many on-the-ground campaigns, from Aboriginal justice to anti-fascist mobilisation.
The Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne (ISJA), which organises at the grassroots to end Aboriginal deaths in custody, points out that young First Nations youth are chief targets of these law-and-order drives. ISJA’s Stop Failing Our Kids! campaign demands that young people be kept out of adult facilities, the Cherry Creek youth prison be scrapped and imprisonment of untried Aboriginal youth be stopped. It condemns the use of the anti-riot squad in juvenile centres and isolation, lockdowns and other brutalities as punishment. It calls for rehabilitation, not detention, and full funding for culturally appropriate services to keep Aboriginal kids out of the genocidal child protection system. Through speakouts, publicity and the collection of thousands of signatures for its petition and postcard blitz, ISJA has garnered strong community support.
In February, hundreds rallied in Melbourne to say No to the scapegoating of African communities. The multi-racial, mainly young, crowd and prominence of unionists showed promise for a strong fightback.
In this election, the two top contenders are vying to govern for the ruling 1%. Whichever wins, when the State comes after any of us, it’s coming after all of us.
Vote socialist. A recently formed ticket, the Victorian Socialists (VS), is standing for the Northern Metropolitan Region in the upper house. Its lead candidate is Steve Jolly, member of inner Melbourne’s Yarra Council and formerly from the Socialist Party. Also on the ticket are Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance leader and member of Melbourne’s inner northern Moreland Council, and Colleen Bolger from Socialist Alternative.
VS offers an anti-capitalist alternative to represent “the poor against the rich, … workers against their bosses, … the powerless against the powerful.” Refreshingly, it recognises the working class’s diversity: “Muslim, Christian and atheist, … black and white, … gay and straight. It is the barista, the delivery driver, the factory hand, the social worker, the nurse, the call centre operator, the teacher and the unemployed.”
It answers xenophobia and racism with class solidarity: “The real enemy of workers in Melbourne isn’t refugees, African migrants or ‘political correctness gone mad.’ It’s anti-union laws and the driving down of wages. It’s the refusal of governments to properly fund health and education. It’s the giving of land to developers who don’t have to provide decent amenities.”
The Victorian Socialists will launch its Manifesto on May 12. Its provisional platform is: to fix the housing crisis by building public housing, capping rents and closing tax loopholes for investors; reverse the privatisation of the public transport system, expand services and extend the no fare zone; return electricity to public hands, build renewable energy and stop corporate rorts; create decent jobs in Melbourne’s North; stop demonising people of colour and queers.
These times are crying out to challenge the capitalist grip on electoral races. When a socialist is actually elected — as Jolly and Bolton have been at the local government level — this is validation of socialist ideas’ appeal to voters. And when socialists remain true to the program they’re elected on, this further weakens the 1 percent’s hold. It also strengthens the struggle of our class. Recent examples are Yarra Council’s appeal to anti-fascists to protect a meeting from possible attack and Sue Bolton’s mobilising of a community campaign against anti-democratic bylaws threatening to stifle grassroots organising in Moreland’s streets.
With critical support. But this socialist ticket has shortcomings. To begin with, its formation leaves some questions. Victorian Socialists describes itself as a unity of the Left. Yet no callout was made to the broader socialist movement. The Freedom Socialist Party, for example, did not learn about the ticket until its announcement. This ticket is a deal between Jolly, Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative. Furthermore, Jolly — no longer a member of The Socialists, which had split from the Socialist Party — has no socialist organisational base.
If there were open and collaborative Left unity, the platform wouldn’t be so limited. There is so much not addressed, such as the law-and-order push of the major contenders, the wholesale attack on unions and the vicious assault on queer and trans people, perpetrated by the Coalition and far-right groups in the 2017 marriage equality poll and earlier in the hysteria over the anti-bullying Safe Schools program. Ignored is the misogyny behind the shocking data on sexual harassment, family violence and high rates of women facing homelessness and desperate poverty. Also absent is reproductive justice. Since 2006, the neighbouring electorate of Western Metropolitan Region has had a far-right Liberal Party member, Bernie Finn, who leads an anti-abortion campaign to overturn Victoria’s 2008 abortion law reform. There is no mention of the rising threat of the far right and neo-Nazis. VS is equally silent on the raging community battles with white supremacists over the celebration of “Australia Day” and First Nations’ call for the recognition of sovereignty through treaties — even though Yarra and Moreland Councils have been in the centre of them.
Socialists well understand that capitalism is inherently brutal. Faltering under its inbuilt contradictions, the system will resort to any repressive measures necessary to survive. Yet VS says in the preamble to its platform that the system is “broken,” implying that it can be repaired to some kind of humane working order. It also fails to call for nationalised energy, transport, banking and so on under workers’ control. Fudging socialist principles to appeal to the least conscious layers of the working class is opportunist. And it mis-educates.
Hopefully the, yet to be released, Manifesto will address these issues. But the platform, so far, isn’t encouraging.
The candidates have been actively campaigning — intervening in public housing actions and attending student and refugee rallies. VS calls for Victoria to be a sanctuary state for refugees. A good demand, but it stops far short of the necessary call for open borders. VS condemns Andrews’ “Public Safety Package” and police violence, but it supports an undefined independent body to investigate incidents instead of a more radical call for community-elected civilian review boards with powers to control police. VS should connect with dynamic grassroots campaigns, like those from the African community and ISJA’s Stop Failing Our Kids!
A socialist electoral campaign must show that socialism is for everyone under the boot of capitalism. It has to be at the multiple fronts of struggle and offer openly socialist answers. Working class voters are looking for an alternative, and this is the time to put it out there.
Want to discuss these ideas with the Freedom Socialist Party? We’re keen to talk and to collaborate in building a working class, socialist, feminist alternative.