Build the alternative now
The 2016 federal election has confirmed the continuing decline of Australia's two-party system.
The relative stability that characterised the decades after World War II was shaped by a phase of unprecedented economic growth, record low unemployment and mass home ownership. But that is long gone, in fact it was an aberration. Our system of single member electorates helped paper over the current period of rising economic insecurity, but inevitably politics is catching up.
Both the Coalition and Labor are committed to being "good economic managers" on behalf of capitalism. With the end of the post-World War II boom, that means maintaining the profit share of national income at the expense of wages and social spending. It means administering austerity; and along with it privatisation, more insecure working conditions and the housing crisis. The rhetoric used and pace at which this happens may vary between the Coalition and Labor, but both are heading down the same path.
The decline in the two-party vote and accompanying volatility will continue, and the re-emergence of Pauline Hanson and proliferation of other far right parties comes in this context. They tap into people's growing insecurity and disaffection with the status quo but deflect it on to scapegoats. The targets for their hate are not accidental, drawing on the legacy of the White Australia policy and indigenous dispossession, reinforced by a decade and half of bi-partisan refugee bashing and waging of war on people in the Muslim world.
The rumblings from Senator Cory Bernardi about breaking from the Liberals to form a new conservative party might cause Malcolm Turnbull some angst, but it is also quite ominous. The last thing we need is an Australian version of France's Marine Le Pen; someone with the authority, resources and leadership skills to unite the far right behind a coherent project. Perhaps Bernardi is not capable of assuming that mantle, but with every passing day the likelihood that someone will step forward to play the role increases.
No amount of shouting at Hanson and company or mocking their idiocy with Facebook memes will make them go away. They are the inevitable spawn of Labor and Liberal policy. Only an inspiring and credible vision for Australia, one in which there is a secure and dignified life for all, can suck the oxygen away from these racist expressions of rage and despair. Unfortunately we are still a long way from conquering that ground.
So why did the Greens vote stall? Why has it not continued to grow in the face of the two-party decline? They seem both unable, and more importantly unwilling, to shake off their nice middle class image. Winning the support of inner-city tertiary educated workers is not the problem — rather it's the failure to go further and connect to people in the suburbs, blue collar workers, shift workers, people working for shit money in the hospitality industry, pensioners and more. They just do not speak to the lives of Australian workers.
But it is not just the imagery that is the problem. Richard Di Natale has made clear his desire to participate as a junior partner in a Labor or Liberal government, and building the Greens vote is the means to this end. Being seen to be a "respectable" partner in government is more informant than transforming it. While the Greens have deservedly picked up votes from those disgusted with Labor's capitulation on refugee rights and other issues, Di Natale has simultaneously reinforced a tendency to try to situate the Greens as part of the very system that people are sick of.
This was illustrated when he declared the Canadian Prime Minister as a model for the Greens in government. Justin Trudeau may get all the symbolic things right, but he has no more intention of confronting the catastrophic Alberta tar sands industry than Labor and Liberal have of stopping new coal mines. Anyone who cites Trudeau as their inspiration ahead of Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein from the US Greens or Jeremy Corbyn really has missed the moment.
Everyday job insecurity and the housing affordability crisis will grind on, and with it the likelihood that Australia will someday soon experience a recession every bit as devastating as those that we have seen elsewhere. In those conditions the volatility we have already felt in Australian politics will accelerate. Such a crisis will dramatically polarise politics to the right and the left. Those that sit on the fence will be swept aside.
Which way the Greens will go is not resolved, but it is clear is that we cannot afford to wait and see. We cannot afford to let the far right get the jump on us. We need to start forging a credible anti-capitalist pole in Australian politics right now. Socialist Alliance is not large enough to convey this message to a big audience, but in Fremantle our vote while still very small, nearly doubled. This in an electorate where the Greens and Labor vote also grew. This is an indication that there already is and certainly will be a growing section of the population looking for a left wing alternative.
We need a political project that embodies the possibility an adequate response to runaway global warming, a serious redistribution of wealth and a dignified life for all. It will need to draw on the best of the socialist tradition, left wing Greens, militant unionism, community campaigns - and most of all our collective experience of struggle. Socialist Alliance doesn't pretend to have all the answers when it comes to pushing that process forward, but we're 100% committed to it. Please join us to help make it happen.