The Guardian November 14, 2001


Editorial:

The race card wins

The Howard Government succeeded in clawing victory from what was certain 
defeat just a few months ago by whipping up the basest racist sentiments, 
by beating the war drums and promoting militarism, and by mouthing jingoist 
sentiments. For some time it has been apparent that Howard's campaign 
against "political correctness" was in fact, a campaign to promote the most 
conservative social attitudes including racism and xenophobia and forcing 
women out of the workforce and into the home.

To justify the campaign demonising asylum seekers, John Howard and his 
Ministers have resorted to outright lies. In two recent incidents they 
claimed that children of asylum seekers had been thrown into the water from 
a boat headed for Christmas Island and then, that refugees had deliberately 
set their boat alight off Ashmore Reef in an incident in which two women 
died. 

[These incidents require a full-scale investigation to reveal the 
disgraceful behaviour of Howard and his Ministers.]

Having mounted the racist tiger and thrown Australia into an illegal and 
unjustified "infinite war" in the interests of US world domination, the 
Howard Government will push these policies further and faster in the 
future. This course is also being used to divert attention from the 
gathering economic crisis that is now affecting the economies of all the 
developed capitalist countries.

No answers

The issues of jobs, education, housing, health, social security, peace, the 
need to promote tolerance and maintain multiculturalism will not go away 
and struggles around these issues will intensify in the future. But the 
Howard Government will apply policies demanded by the big corporations that 
will not satisfy the needs of the Australian working people.

At the same time the new Howard Government will become more authoritarian, 
anti-democratic and anti-working class. They will implement more cutbacks 
to social services. They will intensify their attacks on public health, 
public education and social welfare and attempt to impose new anti-trade 
union legislation.

There is, however, strong opposition to the war and many people reject the 
racist agenda which has already created an atmosphere of intolerance and 
bigotry.

On the eve of the election a number of prominent public figures, including 
former Liberal and Labor Party leaders, Malcolm Fraser, John Hewson, 
Neville Wran, Margaret Reynolds and Tom Uren, and Dr John Yu, Richard 
Woolcott, Tim Costello and others, published statements denouncing both the 
Liberal and Labor Party leaderships for their policy towards asylum 
seekers.

Missing from this collection of public figures, however, were current 
serving politicians of these two parties, with the one exception of Liberal 
MP Julie Bishop. Not a single trade union leader was to be found in the 
list. Any politician from the ALP and the Liberal Party that voiced any 
misgivings was immediately silenced by the Party machines. 

With a few principled exceptions, trade union leaders remained closed-
mouthed over the war and the vilification of asylum seekers. They believed 
that by remaining silent they were helping the Labor Party. The outcome has 
proved this attitude to be a mistake.

Now that the elections are over critical statements are being voiced which 
would have been better had they been heard in time to help bring about a 
different electoral outcome.

ALP right-wing

The responsibility, however, lies squarely with the right-wing ALP 
leadership. Kim Beazley immediately supported the exclusion of asylum 
seekers and their transfer to Pacific Islands. He gave unquestioning 
support to the US war. The Labor Party helped the Howard Government rush 
through allegedly anti-terrorist legislation but which is actually a severe 
restriction on the democratic rights of all citizens.

While the Labor Party attempted to give attention to a number of "bread and 
butter" issues, inadequate as their policies are, the Party ignored the 
necessity of countering the racism and war policy being promoted by the 
Government. This was the Labor Party's Achilles heal.

The right-wing Labor Premier of NSW, Bob Carr, had already contributed to 
the racist campaign by his charges of "gang-rape" by youths of "Middle 
Eastern appearance". This goes some way to explain why the swing against 
Labor was greater in NSW than in other States and why what should have been 
safe Labor Party seats have been lost.

The racist campaign was effective among many blue-collar workers whose 
outlook was swayed by the fear that "foreigners" will take away their jobs 
and that asylum seekers are merely "queue jumpers".

No attempt was made to explain the circumstances that are impelling 
millions of people from a number of countries to escape war, poverty, 
unemployment and persecution.

All considerations of fairness, humanity, concern for others, morality and 
tolerance were thrown out of the window.

One supposedly "left-wing" Labor Party Senator told an audience of workers 
to forget about the asylum seekers and to forget about the war as nothing 
could be done about these issues because, as he put it, Australia's 
policies were being determined in Washington and London. This was an out-
and-out capitulation to the Howard agenda without any attempt to counter 
the vile spread of racism and the involvement in war.

As a consequence, the political climate has been moved to the right to the 
applause of the Liberal Party and its followers and to the dismay of all 
progressive and labour movement supporters who stand for a humane attitude 
to refugees and who oppose supporting the Us and its war plans.

The capitulation to reactionary, conservative policies  which in fact is 
a complete bankruptcy of leadership  has led tens of thousands of workers 
to give their political allegiances to their most dangerous class enemies 
in this election.

The problems that this has created for the whole of the labour movement 
will be felt for a long time and will remain until forces emerge that will 
contest and defeat the right-wing agenda and remove the stultifying grip 
that the right-wing leadership exercises both nationally and particularly 
in NSW.

The Labor Party's percentage of first preference votes is the lowest 
recorded for the ALP since the Depression of the 1930s when the Labor Party 
introduced the infamous Premier's Plan which cut workers wages and social 
welfare. The policies followed by Beazley in this election are equally 
disastrous for the ALP and the labour movement as a whole.

The primary vote for Labor in NSW was the lowest (percentage) since 1906 
when the party was five years old. NSW Labor's workers' compensation 
legislation, privatisations, school closures, hospital waiting lists and 
references to ethnic gangs did not help.

Bright spot

The significant bright spot emerging from the elections is the substantial 
increase in the vote for The Greens and the possibility that they will win 
three Senate seats, including leader Bob Brown's Senate seat.

Bob Brown in Tasmania secured a 14 percent quota, thereby retaining his 
seat in his own right  without relying on preferences.

Across the country The Greens polled over 400,000 votes for the Lower 
House, but no seats.

Their success indicates that those who campaign on principle, who oppose 
racism and stand for a humanitarian attitude to refugees, who oppose the 
war and advance other progressive policies can win support. 

While the vote for the Democrats remained relatively stable they may lose 
one of their present nine representatives in the Senate.

The new leader of the Democrats, Natasha Stott Despoja, failed to make the 
same firm, unambiguous stand on the vital issue of asylum seekers and the 
war against Afghanistan as the Greens. Furthermore, many voters have 
neither forgotten nor forgiven Democrat support for the GST and Peter 
Reith's anti-union industrial legislation.

An opportunist attitude is dominant, with the Democrats attempting to 
balance between clearly contending social forces and policies. "Keeping the 
bastards honest" has been abandoned in an attempt on the part of the 
Democrats to become "mainstream".

As Bob Brown aptly put it, "If you stand in the middle you get run down by 
traffic in both directions."

In practice the Democrats are pursuing policies that are acceptable to the 
mass media and the ruling class. Politics has to be made of sterner stuff!

The overall outcome once again illustrates that the electoral system for 
the House of Representatives favours the two-party system and has been 
constructed to ensure that smaller parties are kept out.

The Labor Party has won 67 seats (that is 44.6 per cent of the total) with 
only a 38.4 per cent of the first preference votes. The Liberal/National 
Party Coalition will hold 80 seats (that is 53 per cent of the total) while 
their first preference vote totalled only 42.3 per cent.

Just under 20 per cent of voters did not vote for either the Labor Party or 
the Coalition parties which continues the trend apparent in both Federal 
and State elections for some time.

However, this 20 per cent has no representation in the House of 
Representatives except for the three seats won by independents  Bob 
Katter (Qld), Tony Windsor and Peter Andren (NSW).

Electoral reform

The situation calls for urgent amendment of Australia's federal election 
laws with the introduction of a system of proportional representation into 
the House of Representatives voting system, a system which already applies 
in the Senate.

Despicable media role

The role of the privately owned mass media during the elections 
substantially assisted the Howard campaign. Most daily newspapers ran 
editorials calling for the re-election of Howard.

They played a despicable role in the promotion of racist attitudes to 
asylum seekers. None seriously attempted to oppose the spread of racism and 
the transportation of refugees to what are no less than prison islands.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph, a newspaper specifically designed for 
workers to read, ran a front page headline on election morning  "As 12 
million Australians go to the polls today they are again confronted by the 
election campaign's BURNING ISSUE". Below this headline was the picture of 
a refugee boat.

Six years of conservative Howard Government has created an Australian 
society which is less fair, less tolerant, less humane, and one in which 
the standard of living of the majority is going down. The inequalities 
between the rich and the poor have increased. It is a society that is less 
secure and confident of its future.

The Government's policies are being questioned or opposed by the countries 
in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere. Australia has joined the US in 
its campaign of pressure and threats against other countries. The 
triumphalism and arrogance that was evident in the speeches of Howard and 
Costello on election night will not be lost on those who observe such 
matters.

It will take many years to overcome this conservative legacy. Australia is 
rapidly become a pariah nation, and this will have serious economic as well 
as political consequences in the future.

The dominant right-wing Labor Party leadership is unlikely to either change 
its ways or to opt for any significant change of policy direction. This is 
indicated by the promotion of Simon Crean as the likely successor to Kim 
Beazley. The election of Crean would signal that right-wing policies have 
prevailed and this will, over time, result in a continuation of the decline 
of the Labor Party.

CPA vote

The left vote, apart from that won by The Greens, remains insignificant. In 
the NSW Senate elections, the Communist Party has, at the present stage of 
counting, secured 1,144 votes while the Socialist Alliance has 1,085 votes. 
In the SA seat of Port Adelaide, Michael Perth had received 571 votes at 
the time of going to press  a slight decline on his result three years 
ago.

This situation obscures the fact that the policies of the Communist Party 
on many issues have a widespread relevance and resonance in the community. 
However, an accumulation of national and international events continue to 
obstruct the progress of the communist movement in Australia. There is also 
the unceasing anti-communism of the media.

Many continue to believe that the communist movement is "dead" and that 
socialism "does not work". Neither of these assertions are correct but the 
relatively small size of the Communist Party, its limited resources and the 
limits of its activities means that many neither see nor hear of the 
policies or work of communists.

The comment, "I thought you had gone out of existence", is still all too 
frequently heard. The discovery that that is not the case is often followed 
by the comment that the Party's continued existence is a good thing.

There is a reservoir of support for communists as a result of their 
commitment and accumulated work over many years. This remains a firm 
foundation upon which to build in the future.
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