The right-wing dominated Coalition's win in the May 18 federal election is a major setback for the climate action movement, the union movement and the interests of working people in Australia.
It will no doubt lead to an acceleration of attacks on union rights, the living standards of workers and the poor and is a serious blow to the growing climate action movement among youth and the population generally.
We must now urgently take steps to unite and step up the fight to defend the movements for progressive change in this country.
Despite this electoral setback, which occurred in the face of opinion polls showing a large majority of the Australian people want real action to tackle climate change, we have the potential to build a mass movement that can force the government to retreat on its determination to expand the fossil fuel industry — starting with the Adani coalmine in Queensland's Galilee Basin.
Socialist Alliance national co-convener and lead candidate in the NSW Senate Susan Price said on May 19: "The union movement will need to seriously reconsider its strategy in the Change the Rules campaign on industrial law reform in unconditionally backing the Labor Party election campaign. The union movement urgently needs to re-establish its independence from Labor electorally and industrially and re-launch a mass action campaign to defend workers' rights.
"And the left and progressive movement generally, including the Greens and the socialist movement, will need to consider working more closely together to build alliances for radical change around the environment and the social crisis, which is likely to deepen substantially under this emboldened Scott Morrison-led Coalition regime."
As Green Left Weekly goes to press the likely result is: the Coalition will win 76 seats, Labor 69, the Greens 1, Katter’s Australian Party 1 and Centre Alliance 1. There will also likely be three independents: Andrew Wilkie in Clark (Tasmania); Helen Haines in Indi (Victoria); and Zali Steggall in Warringah (NSW). Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth, famously snatched by Kerryn Phelps in a by-election, is likely to return to the Liberals.
While it is clear the Coalition will be able to form the next government, it is not certain whether it will have an outright majority in the House of Representatives, or will need to rely on support from independents to hold onto office.
The result has surprised the political pundits, who generally predicted a Labor victory. Opinion polls leading up to election day showed Labor with a narrow lead of 51–49 or 52–48%. Despite swings to Labor in Victoria, other states either produced a small, or in the case of Queensland, a sizeable swing to the Coalition.
Labor gained seats in Victoria, won and lost seats in NSW, but lost seats in Queensland and Tasmania. It failed to pick up the necessary marginal seats around the country it needed to gain a majority in the House of Representatives. At this stage, the Coalition is leading the two-party preferred count by 50.9 to 49.1%.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has resigned and Labor front-benchers are already jockeying for position to become the next Labor parliamentary leader. Whoever is elected will have to confront the fact that Labor’s failure to clearly abandon support for the Adani coalmine, together with their commitment to develop the CSG industry in the NT, merely weakened Labor popular support, while failing to ward off attacks from the Coalition and the mining lobby, especially in Queensland.
Without doubt, a major factor in the Coalition's come-from-behind win was a massive scare campaign against Labor's proposed tax reforms on negative gearing of investment properties and the planned abolition of franking credit on shares, together with other tax measures. The Coalition, the real estate industry and the reactionary Murdoch press were able to launch a vitriolic tirade that frightened many pensioners and other retirees that they would be hit by Labor’s "retiree tax".
However, the election was not all bad news. The Greens Senate vote increased nationally to 11.23% and in every state. In Victoria, the three seats contested by the Victorian Socialist electoral alliance (Calwell, Cowper and Wills) all obtained good votes.
The brightest spot on election night was the defeat of right-wing former Prime Minister Tony Abbott by "small l" liberal independent Zali Steggall, who campaigned largely around action on climate change in protest at the climate-denial policies of Abbott and his cronies. While this is a win for the climate action movement, Steggall may soon face the stark contradiction of giving her vote of confidence to a re-elected government led by "coal-loving" Prime Minister Morrison.
All in all, this election result is a serious short-term blow to the cause of progressive change in Australia. The labour movement, the climate action campaign and the left need to launch a major discussion about the way forward from here, based on a strategy of united action to defend our rights, our living standards and our climate future under escalated attack. This is an urgent task for the entire progressive movement.
[First published in Green Left Weekly, May 19, 2019.]