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Australia: Swing to Greens a shift to left as neither major capitalist party wins a mandate

Newly elected Greens MP Adam Bandt with trade unionist supporters during the 2007 federal election.

By Peter Boyle

August 24, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- By denying both the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the opposition Liberal Party-National Party coalition an outright majority, in primary votes and in federal House of Representatives (lower house) and Senate (upper house), Australian electors on August 21 voted “neither of the above” for the traditional parties of government. The result after election night was a hung parliament, with several rural independent MPs and one Greens MP to decide which party will form the next government.

This followed an election campaign in which the major parties conducted an ugly race to the right, most notoriously by scapegoating the few thousand desperate refugees who attempt to get to Australia on boats.

The effect of this race to the right was to promote racism, further breakdown community solidarity, and bolster a range of other conservative prejudices on issues, ranging from climate change, to the economy, to same-sex marriage rights. Important issues like Indigenous peoples' rights and Australia's participation in the imperialist war of occupation in Afghanistan were totally screened out.

Greens' vote a left vote

However, there was also a reaction to this push to the right. The Australian Greens, a party with a record of taking positions well to the left of the major parties on many critical issues, enjoyed a 3.8% increase in support, gaining most of its votes from the ALP.

At the time of writing, the Greens had obtained 1,187,881 (11.4%) of the first preference votes in House of Representatives seats. Yet under the undemocratic system for lower house elections, the Greens only won one of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, that of Melbourne. There were a string of other once-safe ALP seats that came close to being taken by the Greens.

The contradiction between the size of the Greens' vote and its small representation in parliament suggests the need for a grassroots campaign for democratic reform of the electoral system. It is not democratic that the National Party, which won a third of the the number of votes of the Greens, should get seven times their representation in parliament!

The power of corporate Australia to buy elections with massive donations and its domination of the mass media also has to be confronted.

The Greens won the seat of Melbourne with the open assistance of the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria and many other militant trade unionists. This was an important break from the total domination of the labour movement by the pro-capitalist ALP.

At the time of writing, the Greens had won 1,266,521 first preference votes in the Senate election and socialist candidates, including the Socialist Alliance, a further 39,186 votes. The Greens look like increasing its number of senators from four to nine — giving the Greens the balance of power in the Senate.

The progressive social movements, including the trade unions, will be looking to these Greens senators to offer strong support in the struggles ahead, no matter which major party eventually forms government.


The major parties are now desperately trying to negotiate agreements with three or four independent MPs and the Greens MP to form a minority government, while the outcome in a number of seats still remains uncertain. If a deal to form government cannot be made, the governor-general (Australia's appointed constitutional head of state) has the power to call another election.

While the three independent MPs certain of a seat -- Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott -- are former members of the conservative rural-based National Party, all broke with it over their strong objections to particular aspects of the neoliberal agenda that has been pursued by both Liberal-National coalition and ALP governments since the 1980s.

Further, they have consolidated the hold on their seats by taking “community first” positions on issues directly affecting their electorates. So neither major party can be certain of their support.

Newly elected Greens MP for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, indicated earlier in the campaign that he would support a hypothetical ALP minority government but since August 21, he's been reluctant to be as specific. He told ABC TV's 7.30 Report on August 22 that the Greens were entering discussions with various parties and independents and “there's nothing on or off the table”.

Progressive independent Andrew Wilkie, a former Greens candidate, has a chance of winning the Tasmanian seat of Denison away from the ALP. He laid out a position, on the August 22 7.30 Report on how he would be prepared to support a minority government:

If I'm elected, the party I support will only be assured that I won't block supply, and that I won't support any reckless no confidence motion.

Beyond that, it's all up for grabs. I will look at every piece of legislation, every issue and assess them on its merits. I think it's self evident what is reasonable ethical behaviour and what isn't. And any acts of lying and so on, I won't accept that and I won't support legislation in that regard.

The Greens should offer to support a minority ALP government along similar lines, because clearly a Liberal-National federal government would be a greater evil. However, entering or making any further commitments to allow an ALP government would trap the Greens in a conservative government that will be bad for the majority of people, bad for Indigenous communities, bad for refugees and bad for the environment.

[Peter Boyle is national convenor of the Socialist Alliance. This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly, Australia's leading socialist newspaper.]

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