Labor's failure to offer alternatives loses NSW election

Socialist Alliance campaigners in the NSW election

The ALP lost the NSW election with its small-target strategy, its refusal to challenge the privatisation agenda and its sly accommodation to racism.

Despite a state-wide swing of 3.4% against the Liberal-National Coalition, the Berejeklian government has won a slim majority for another four-year term to “finish their agenda”: more privatisations, service cuts and handouts to corporate mates.

While the swing against Labor was small (1.1%), it did not offer a clear political alternative to the Coalition.

The small rightwing parties — the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) and Pauline Hanson's One Nation — were the beneficiaries of the increasing alienation from the major parties, and the political process.

When immigration is being presented as a reason for the decay of services, housing unaffordability and congestion, is it any wonder that their vote increased?

The SFF also benefitted directly from Labor's unprincipled preference deal with it in the huge rural seat of Barwon. With three lower house seats the SFF is likely to have more sway with the Coalition.

Labor's refusal to take a clear stand on WestConnex lost it support in the inner city, and helped the Greens re-win Balmain and Newtown with increased majorities.

Labor's attempt to use The Greens NSW internal debate against Balmain Greens MP Jamie Parker backfired, and leader Michael Daley's racist remarks about “Asian PhDs” taking the jobs of “our kids” and pricing locals out of the housing market mean his days are numbered.

The Greens came close to winning in Lismore – where a successful anti-unconventional gas campaign has effectively put the industry on hold — but Labor's Janelle Saffin has taken the seat from the Nationals.

Small swings against the Greens in some parts of the state could be connected to the party's fractious debate over direction. Greens members and supporters either shifted back to Labor or to the supposedly “neither left nor right” Animal Justice Party, Keep Sydney Open Party and Sustainable Australia Party.

Sustainable Australia took a share of the anti-immigrant vote. The KSOP came in for a lot of criticism for giving second preferences to Sustainable Australia.

While Labor did have some good policies, such as free TAFE courses for some trades, banning unpaid internships and enforcing better pay and conditions for gig workers, these were overshadowed by its capitulation to right-wing popularism and its failure to commit to stopping the Liberal's multi-billion-dollar infrastructure and privatisation scams, such as WestConnex.

Labour also thought it could buy the votes by some campaigners by promising lifelines — the set-to-be-demolished Sirius Building and the historic Windsor Bridge — without a commitment to a huge expansion of public housing and scrapping pro-developer planning rules.

A more independent and militant trade union movement would have made a difference to Labor's fortunes.

It would certainly have rejected Labor's accommodation to racism and its small-target strategy. Many unions mobilised their members for pre-poll and on election day without challenging Labor in any way. In this sense, they were complicit in Labor's loss.

While the Legislative Council vote is still to be finalised it is already clear that One Nation and the SFF have been given a bigger platform for their dangerous right-wing non-solutions.

The vote for Socialist Alliance in Newcastle, where Steve O'Brien is a well-known campaigner, rose slightly. In Parramatta, Susan Price's vote is likely to be about the same as in 2011 (discounting the donkey position it had scored).

Socialist campaigners reported a greater receptivity to the “People before Profit” message during the campaign and at pre-poll, and greater interest in discussing real solutions to the housing affordability crisis, homelessness and public transport alternatives.

It remains to be seen what sort of numbers the socialists attracted in the Legislative Council given that the underfunded NSW Electoral Commission has decided (or been directed) to prioritise the count for seven minor parties including One Nation.

The federal Coalition has been given a leg-up by the Berejiklian government win. If federal Labor follows in the footsteps of its NSW counterparts it could well do the same: snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Even though Australia is not yet experiencing the same degree of economic pain as other rich countries are, more and more communities are feeling the pain from neoliberal measures.

The left needs to continue to organise with communities fighting back: that is the only answer to right-wing popularism.

[Pip Hinman and Peter Boyle are members of Socialist Alliance.]