The Guardian February 21, 2001


Editorial:
Voter Backlash

The results of the West Australian and Queensland elections are a 
dramatic rejection of the policies of the economic rationalists who are 
responsible for the hurt and the anger that is steadily building up in 
Australia. It has been felt most severely in the countryside at this stage. 
But it is also being felt among workers in the cities.

The loss of government by the Liberals in WA and the virtual wipeout of the 
Liberal and National Parties in Queensland are a well-deserved repudiation 
of their policies. No doubt there are some other factors involved, but it 
is the policies of both Liberal and Labor Governments  the "free market" 
policies dictated by the big corporations  that are the bottom line 
issues. They are the cause of the debacle that has overtaken the right-wing 
parties.

The State election results herald a crushing defeat for the Howard 
Government in the coming federal election. The Australian Democrats are 
also feeling the backlash. They are not going to escape the consequences 
for their backing of the GST and the anti-union Workplace Relations Act.

No amount of talk about the elections being decided on local rather than 
Federal issues, or that in Queensland the people just wanted stability of 
government, can hide this fact. High petrol prices, the closure of banks, 
post offices, employment centres, tax offices and other services, along 
with the privatisation of Telstra and the loss of many thousands of jobs, 
have resulted in much of Australia's rural population left to deal with a 
growing crisis.

Farmers are hurting. The deregulation of the dairy industry and the move to 
monopoly ownership in agriculture in general is forcing long-term family 
farms off the land. Farmers are also facing the consequences of erosion, 
salination and degredation of the land, the outcome of weak-kneed and 
ineffectual actions by government to prevent environmental damage.

Although the Labor Party is holding victory celebrations, the fact is that 
the increased vote for the ALP in WA amounted to only one percent, with 
many ALP representatives being elected by the flow-on of mainly Green 
preferences.

It was a different story in Queensland where the ALP increased its primary 
vote by about 10 per cent. The reason for this was the personal stand by 
Peter Beattie on the issue of the voting rorts that were the stock-in-trade 
of some Labor Party members (and Liberals as well, no doubt).

Rather than attempt to cover up and protect the crooks in its own ranks, 
Beattie went into damage control, declaring that they had to be cleaned out 
of the Labor Party, and so came across as an honest man. Compared to these 
issues the question of preference exchanges with the One Nation party is a 
mere sideshow.

Cult campaign

Once again the situation has been marked by the attempt of the mass media 
to resurrect Pauline Hanson as a political figure. The daily newspapers and 
electronic media are conducting an out-and-out cult-of-the-individual 
promotion in the lead-up to the federal election.

Hanson and her inner-circle of ultra-nationalists are insidious and 
opportunistic: Hanson poses as an opposition figure to the establishment, 
while hiding a vicious, racist anti-people program. This why she wraps 
herself in the flag and trumpets her opposition to all existing elected 
politicians; as the mouthpiece of these rabid opportunists, Hanson rails 
against the greedy banks and "foreign" corporations, thereby winning the 
support of some among the working class.

However, many of her supporters are not racist and vote for One Nation 
believing it to be a genuine protest against those responsible for their 
present extreme difficulties. She seems to offer them a way out.

The promotion of Hanson by the media, which recognises that there is a 
growing opposition to the policies of the major parties, aims to ensure 
that the discontent is channelled to the political right and not toward the 
left and progressive forces.

Thus, the same mass media that is promoting Pauline Hanson, ignores the 
increased vote won by the Greens in both WA and in Queensland. The Greens 
won five seats in the WA Upper House to Hanson's three. In WA it was Green 
preferences rather than those of One Nation, that helped the Labor Party 
across the line.

In Queensland the vote for One Nation actually slumped by over 10 per cent. 
In the previous Queensland election, One Nation got 11 representatives 
elected. On this occasion, it was just three. In Queensland the Green vote 
varied from 2.5 to over 10 percent. It was Green preferences that resulted 
in the near defeat of the National Party leader, Rob Borbidge, a result 
that forced him to resign immediately from politics. But, as in WA, so in 
Queensland, the Green vote is being ignored by the mass media.

While there is a clear voter backlash against the consequences of the 
economic rationalist policies of the major parties, the causes of the 
problems are not yet recognised by most. It is the oil companies as well as 
the Federal Government that are responsible for high petrol prices. It is 
the banks that charge high interest rates.

It is the processors that demanded and got governments to agree to the 
deregulation of a number of key agricultural industries, and it is the 
economic system of capitalism that is responsible for the widespread damage 
to the environment.

In this respect the policies of the Federal Labor Party will not overcome 
these problems either. Federal Labor intends to keep the GST, and although 
at present Labor is criticising the policies of the Howard Government that 
have resulted in high petrol prices, the ALP has no intention of limiting 
the power of the oil companies.

Neither will a Labor Government reverse the present privatisation program. 
The Labor Party is wedded to the present corporate structure and does not 
accept that this is the real reason for the difficulties facing the working 
people of town and country.

The unfolding situation provides an excellent opportunity for the trade 
unions and the progressive-minded community activists and organisations to 
strengthen their support for country people by making contact with their 
organisations, discussing their common problems and attempting to work out 
policies to deal with them.

The state election results can be seen as the beginning of a great 
awakening to the real causes of the present problems facing millions of 
people in Australia, and in many other countries around the world. The 
problems are the same and the causes are the same and they demand similar 
policy answers.

Unless, and until, the power of the big corporations is shackled and 
replaced by the power of the people, no real solution will be found. The 
unemployment, destitution and collapse of businesses which have existed for 
generations, the neglect of services ... all have a common cause. While 
these problems mount ever higher and more pressing the corporations make 
vast profits on an unprecedented scale.

That is the challenge which has been brought into the open by the massive 
protest vote registered in WA and Queensland. There are now large numbers 
of people who are lashing out at the policies of the economic rationalists.

When brought together into a left and progressive alternative political 
force it will change the present unacceptable direction of the political 
parties that have brought the present situation about.
Back to index page