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Issue #1738      July 6, 2016

Coalition’s election debacle – people looking for alternative

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s double dissolution of Parliament back-fired badly. Within hours of polling booths closing the recriminations had begun within Liberal Party ranks. At the time of going to press the outcome in at least 10 Lower House seats is still in doubt. The situation in the Senate also remains fluid with counting expected to continue for some weeks.

The vote is a strong statement against the policies of the major parties. Labor only secured around 35 percent of primary votes and the Coalition a little under 42 percent. Almost one quarter of the electorate sent a message to the major parties rejecting their neo-liberal policies.

The result brings into question the ability of the Coalition to get its Australian Building and Construction (ABCC) Bill, a trigger for the double dissolution, passed by a joint sitting of the two Houses. Failure to do so would constitute an important victory for the trade union movement, which put so much effort into defeating the Coalition.

The Liberal Party faced a swing of around 3.7 percent against it and Labor looks set to pick up an extra 10-15 seats in the Lower House. Labor is not expected to win a majority in its own right and the Coalition is struggling to do so at this stage.

It should, however, be emphasised that with postal and pre-polling votes still to be counted – as many as 20-30 percent or more in some seats – there could be significant swings over the coming days or weeks.

The Greens and independents also made gains, despite the efforts of the Coalition and Labor Party to cut them out and shore up the two-party system. The corporate media also worked hard against them.

When Turnbull pulled off the coup against Tony Abbott in September 2015, he did so on the basis of being seen by his colleagues as able to lead the Coalition to victory. Opinion polls were telling the Coalition that Tony Abbott would lead the Coalition to defeat.

Turnbull had a softer image and a more progressive and enlightened outlook on climate change, science, the arts, women, marriage equality and other social issues. But once in the job, it became evident how beholden he was to the right wing of his party. Instead of bringing change, Turnbull pursued the policies that were so unpopular under the Abbott regime. This was not lost on the public.

Cynical exercise

In a highly cynical exercise Turnbull first moved to change the voting system for the Senate in an attempt to rid the Senate of smaller parties, including the Greens. Then he used the bill for the ABCC to trigger a double dissolution.

The election date of July 2 was just weeks out from when a regular election could have been held. The public had to endure eight long weeks of campaigning, with daily media grabs from the major parties.

People were turning off and treating the double dissolution as a cynical exercise. The lack of real information and unwillingness of the major parties to detail their policies was frustrating to say the least.

The professional consultants and spin-doctors turned the major parties into commodities to be marketed with a carefully worded and rehearsed sales pitch. There was no room for slip-ups when facing the media. Regardless of the questions asked, the same set spiel was trotted out.

Feeding on the economic insecurity facing workers, pensioners and social security recipients, the Coalition sold itself as offering “strong leadership”, “jobs and growth”, “stability” and an “economic plan”. The repeated promise of “jobs and growth” was hardly convincing with no concrete plans to back it up.

At the same time, Turnbull referred to “the shambles” around Labor’s budget costings, predictions of larger deficits and economic instability that would arise from a Labor government. The Coalition also warned of chaos and attempted to instil fear of a hung Parliament as against “stable majority government” – by the Coalition of course!

Labor focused on Medicare, education, penalty rates, jobs, climate change, negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions – issues of immediate concern or policies appearing to make the wealthy pay.

The trade union movement poured its resources – financial and people – into defeating the Coalition.

One of the most publicised and possibly successful aspects of Labor’s campaign was the warning that the Coalition would privatise Medicare and the one million “Medicare cards” that were distributed in the 48 hours before the election.

Leader Bill Shorten failed to commit Labor to restoring the Coalition’s funding cuts. Shorten’s definition of the Coalition’s intended privatisation of Medicare was extremely limited and fell far short of what is planned. It focused on doctors’ charging fees rather than the takeover of Medicare’s functions by private health insurance funds.

The major parties remained silent on military spending, the Australia-US military alliance and the ABCC. This is despite the ABCC bill being a trigger for the double dissolution. They took almost identical positions on asylum seekers, with Labor not wanting to appear “weaker” than the Coalition on the issue.

The Greens put forward a comprehensive program for progressive reforms including the humane treatment of asylum seekers, strong action on climate change, protection of the environment, support for workers’ rights, marriage equality, free public education, affordable housing, the protection and expansion of Medicare to include dental services. They also called for a federal independent commission against corruption.

The focus of campaigning by the major parties and the Greens was targeted on key electorates. The Labor Party relied heavily on the trade union movement that put its human and financial resources into throwing the Coalition out.

The parties made extensive use of social media, door knocking, leafleting, the usual street stalls and sausage sizzles in strategically chosen areas. Labor’s campaigning included thousands of phone calls to persuade swinging voters.

Lower House

There could be as many as six or even seven Lower House MPs who are not members of the two major parties, with those who were MPs in the last Parliament consolidating their position and increasing in their primary vote.

In Victoria, Greens MP Adam Bandt is set to return for a third term with an increase in his primary vote to around 44 percent. He has built very good relations with the trade union movement and has a strong record in defending trade union rights.

Independent Andrew Wilke’s primary vote is around 44 percent, an increase of over six percent. The Nick Xenophon Team could have as many as two or three MPs including the return of Nick.

Independent Cathy McGowan appears to have held on to her seat with an increase of around 3.5 percent and Bob Katter retained Kennedy with an increase of over 11 percent.

It is clear that voters have responded well to the work that these MPs have done in their electorates. In the case of the Greens, who ran first or second in a number of other electorates, the base has been set for more seats in the coming years.

The Greens with close to 10 percent of the vote are expected to have only one of the 150 Lower House seats. This points to the need for electoral reform, for a proportional system in the Lower House. (See Editorial)

Senate

In the Senate, Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie looks set to hold her seat and will be joined by another independent, media “personality” Darryn Hinch from Victoria.

The Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party are gone.

Queenslander Pauline Hanson has returned after a long absence with the possibility of two other members of her One Nation party also becoming Senators. This is a worrying outcome as it represents the rise of extreme reactionary forces. Her party exchanged preferences on how-to-vote cards with the neo-fascist and rabidly anti-communist Rise Up Australia Party.

Her campaign material played on the fears whipped up by the government of thousands of Muslim asylum seekers landing on Australia’s shores, and Australia’s “values” and way of life being threatened by immigration. It also feeds on and fuels the racism and xenophobia being promoted by some in the social media, by shock jocks and the Murdoch press, in particular.

“We advocate for a zero-net immigration policy where those who leave Australia are replaced with migrants who are culturally cohesive with Australians and will assimilate,” Hanson said.

“We support a sustainable refugee programme, but call for a stop to Muslim refugees.”

She calls for the burqa to be banned in public and government buildings and no more mosques or Islamic schools to be built until an inquiry is held into Islam. The purpose, according to her policy statement, of this inquiry would be “to determine whether it is a religion or totalitarian political ideology, undermining our democracy and way of life.”

Of course, what such an inquiry would do is create deep divisions and anti-Islam tensions in Australian society.

Turnbull’s swan song

Turnbull was given a chance. He and his team blew it. The people of Australia are sick of lies and deceit. They are not stupid, and when Turnbull says they will not touch Medicare, it only adds insult to injury.

Already doctors are abandoning bulk-billing as a result of an ongoing freeze on Medicare rebates to doctors. To respond with the claim that a doctor is only losing 60 cents was insulting.

The arithmetic does not require a PhD. Ten years of frozen rebates and rising costs amounts to a loss of thousands of dollars. The loss is 60 cents per consultation in one year, $1.20 the next year, and so on. Multiply that by 100 consultations or more a week. Doctors are already losing thousands of dollars.

Medicare, public education, climate change, jobs, pensions, social security are central to the well being of people. The majority of ordinary, hard-working Australians see no reason to be cutting and privatising services to pay for big business to get billions of dollars in tax cuts.

The people of Australia are looking for alternative policies that put their interests first, before those of big business. In the next elections the Communists will be standing and offering that alternative.

For an update on the election results as counting continues: abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2016

Next article – Editorial – Voting in Australia – system change needed

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