We run in elections, even when we don't have a chance of winning, to get our political message across, build our political profile, draw members and supporters into political action and to get some indication of our level of support.
Comrades know the limited scale of the federal election campaign we ran this year — largely because it came straight after the NSW state election, but also because deposits for both houses had been raised to $2000 per candidate — another anti-democratic electoral “reform” brought in with Liberal and Labor support.
We knew the trade unions were under pressure to give all donations to the ALP in the federal election.
So we decided to run a small Senate-only campaign in NSW. Basically, we recycled the coreflutes we produced for the state election campaign, where we ran in Parramatta and Newcastle as well as the Legislative Council. We only produced a half A4 how to vote (HTV) for our Senate ticket of Susan Price and Joel McAlear, with information about our platform on the back.
In Sydney, we did no doorknocking, letterboxing or street stalls (apart from in the preceding NSW election campaign) and pretty much went straight into the three-week early voting. We staffed the Enmore (Grayndler and Sydney) early voting centre for two weeks and left HTVs at an early election booth in Central Station (Sydney booth).
There was a good reception in Grayndler where we obtained our biggest vote, 73.5% higher than in 2016 and more than double our 2013 vote. Many people we spoke to at polling booths were surprised we were not running Pip Hinman, who has been our candidate there for years.
We mobilised 54 volunteers on 15 booths in Sydney: 17 on these volunteers were not SA members. We also sent four members to help in Wollongong where we staffed four booths on Election Day.
We called for and received help from the Latin American and Kurdish communities allowing us to staff a booth in Chifley (Blacktown) with two young Kurdish comrades, and in Fowler (Liverpool) with a few Latin American comrades.
Across the state, 104 volunteers were mobilised at polling booths, 64 of whom were SA members.
Newcastle comrades letterboxed 9800 local flyers supporting the NSW Senate campaign and introducing our lead Newcastle council candidates for next year's local elections. They also organised a presence at the Newcastle early voting centre by setting up A-frames with HTVs each day and staffed it on the Saturday before elections. About 30 members and supporters mobilised at booths on Election Day.
We also spent a few hundred dollars on a social media campaign.
We managed to make a surplus on our modest budget, with no trade union donations — in contrast to the state election, where we received a couple of thousand dollars from trade unions. So we could have put up another $2000 deposit!
What results did we get in the NSW Senate and what can we learn from them?
We ended up with 6058 first preference votes in the NSW Senate: this is 12.5% higher than our 2016 NSW Senate vote of 5385 and more than double our 2013 vote of 2728 — despite the fact that in 2013 and 2016 we ran more substantial federal election campaigns, with multiple lower house candidates across the state.
Our Senate vote was higher than in 2016 in all but six electoral divisions, where it was slightly lower. It confirms a general rise in support for socialist candidates.
While this NSW Senate vote is less than half of our 2019 NSW Legislative Council vote of 14,194 three factors must be taken into account:
1. In the NSW elections we had the second spot on a big ballot paper but we were in the middle (Group K) of a big Senate ballot paper. It was much easier for people to spot our party name in the state election. The flip side of this is that every vote we got in the NSW Senate was from someone who deliberately searched for us on the ballot paper.
2. We ran a much bigger state election and in the seats where we ran Lower House candidates — in Parramatta and Newcastle — our Upper House vote was more than twice as high.
3. The Socialist Equality Party (SEP), a very sectarian and dogmatic grouplet, also ran in the federal election – so there were two socialist tickets on the NSW Senate ballot paper. The SEP got about 2100 votes and the combined vote for the two socialist tickets was 8158.
What can we learn from the distribution of our NSW Senate votes?
We got significantly higher votes in the areas where we have the most longstanding political presence and have won some recognition and respect, as you can see in the table showing the 10 electorates where we obtained our highest votes.
Our best vote was in Grayndler, second best was Newcastle, third Sydney and fourth Cunningham (in Wollongong).
It should be noted that we also got higher than average votes in electorates adjacent to Grayndler: Barton (Hurlstone Park), Watson (around Lakemba) and Reid (around Strathfield) and in all areas where we have comrades politically active in the state. The two exceptions to this were around Armidale and Albury where those branches' campaigns were very limited.
[Electorates in red are those we campaigned in.]
We also had higher than average votes in the western Sydney suburban seats of Chifley (near Blacktown), Fowler (near Liverpool), Macquarie (Blue Mountains) and Werriwa.
Our vote generally follows class lines with higher votes in working class suburbs than wealthier suburbs. We also did worse in “the Shire” where the racist right has a small base of support.
Interestingly our regional and country vote has improved.
In Parkes (the state's far west including the water crisis area) our Senate vote has increased nearly five-fold since 2013 elections and the same in Calare (Mudgee-Dubbo).
This result should inform us in decisions we need to make soon about the next elections coming up in this state: the local elections in September next year (2020).
It also reinforces the importance of building more left unity. When you compare our NSW results with the results in Victoria, with left unity and serious campaigning (including mass doorknocking and well-chosen candidates) the socialist vote can be increased significantly. This could mean return of deposits, thousands of dollars in electoral funding, greater political impact, if not winning seats.