Socialist candidates attracted impressive support in the November 27 local council elections in Victoria.
The Socialist Party (SP) ran three candidates for Yarra Council in Langridge Ward, which covers the inner city suburbs of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Abbotsford and Clifton Hill. The three candidates scored a combined first preference vote of 14% and SP candidate Steve Jolly was elected after both the Labor Party and Greens directed their preferences to him rather than each other. The SP was critical of the neoliberal policies pursued by the outgoing Green/ALP council and is advocating a democratic debate within the community about the council budget. Councillor Jolly argues the need to mobilise the community to defend its interests through grassroots campaigns.
The Socialist Alliance (SA) which also ran candidates in Boroondara, Darebin, Moreland and Yarra scored its best result yet. In Boroondara, SA candidate Leon Zembekis attracted 12.32% of the vote, almost matching Jolly’s first preference vote.
In Moreland, more than 11% of voters cast a first preference vote for Socialist Alliance candidates Brian Maher and Tessa Theocharous in the North East Ward, which covers the suburbs of Coburg and Fawkner. In the South Ward, covering Brunswick, SA candidates Terry Costello and Judy McVey attracted almost 9% of the first preference votes, and their preferences helped elect the most progressive of the three ALP candidates, 19-year-old Alice Pryor. All four candidates saved their deposits.
The combined vote for Socialist Alliance in the Moreland Council elections across the two wards was 3,809 votes. The two wards represent approximately two-thirds of the Federal seat of Wills, where SA candidate, David Glanz scored 867 votes in the Federal election a little over a month earlier. The municipal result shows what can be achieved when ideas get a fair hearing. The Federal election was a presidential style campaign broadcast on TV and radio 24/7. The major parties had big bucks to spend and minor parties got little coverage.
In contrast, the local council elections focused on coverage in the local newspapers, letterboxing, public meetings, door knocking and community campaigning. In this environment, the proposals advocated by Socialist Alliance candidates got an almost equal hearing and were well received by voters.
Socialist Alliance ran on a strong anti-war platform with the central demand of money for local services, not for war. Voters stopped to discuss this slogan on polling day, some arguing that the local council does not spend money on war. This was a perfect opportunity for the more than 60 SA booth campaigners to make the case for electing a fighting council to mobilise the community to challenge other layers of government. Funding is needed for local services such as meals on wheels, childcare, aged care and recreational services instead of squandering it on massive handouts to big business and funding the voracious war machine.
Socialist Alliance ran a unique campaign around safety and inadequate staffing levels at the local swimming pools and held a public meeting featuring a lifeguard who is an Australian Services Union activist working at several of the pools. The Alliance opposed outsourcing of services and also raised the popular demand for Moreland to establish sister city relationships with towns in Iraq and Palestine.
Name recognition for the Socialist Alliance was strong. For some voters within the area, this was the sixth opportunity they have had to vote for SA candidates in the last three years.
SA members have a long history of activism in the area. Members led a successful campaign to shut down a Nazi bookshop in Fawkner and mobilised against the sexist patriarchs known as the Blackshirts. Branch members are also active in the Moreland Peace Group, and several are union delegates within local workplaces. During the Federal election campaign, the branch held a rally against inadequate staffing levels at the local Centrelink office and attracted substantial media coverage as the only group to campaign against the closure of the Kodak factory.
The Wills Branch was able to build on these conditions through a well organised local branch with active members and strong roots in the community.
The election of Steve Jolly and the good showing for Socialist Alliance in Moreland also highlights the real potential of the new system based on preferential voting and electing councillors to represent multi-member wards.
The Freedom Socialist Party made a submission to the Victorian Electoral Commission’s review earlier this year. We advocated full proportional representation based on a single multi-member ward. If a single multi-member ward, instead of three multi-member wards, had been adopted, it is almost certain that a Socialist Alliance candidate would have been elected to the Moreland Council.
The 2004 Victorian local council elections show that when socialist ideas are not drowned out by the big-spending major parties — and when the electoral system is somewhat fairer —these ideas attract the support of a substantial number of voters.