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Issue #1484      8 December 2010


2010 – Crisis year for the two-party system

It began with the election of the Rudd government. Australian voters were sick of the neo-liberal agenda forced down their throats during Howard’s three terms as Prime Minister. Privatisation, the stripping of workers’ rights in the workplace and confrontation with their unions, more US wars, the slashing of democratic rights, the callous treatment of asylum seekers, inaction on climate change, the further dispossession of Aboriginal people, a widening gap between the county’s haves and have-nots – these were the trends working people entrusted Labor to turn around.

But voters were cheated all along the line. The same program was rolled out under Rudd with only slightly different “spin”. The usual thing for the electorate to do in the circumstances is to punish the incumbents by returning the opposition to government – the so-called “revolving door” of Australian politics.

The results of the 2010 federal election broke with this pattern to a notable extent. The Coalition did not pick up the votes of electors fleeing Labor. Independents benefited but the big winners were the Greens. They got a member in the House of Representatives and will hold the balance of power in the Senate from next July.

This time the alternative major party did not ride the wave of disillusionment back into office. People’s memories of the Howard years were too fresh and it was clear that recently installed Prime Minister Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott were both serving up a rehash of the same old neo-liberal recipe. The controlling hand of corporations over government was more visible than ever with the deposing of both Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd.

The two-party stranglehold was loosened and the Greens arrived as the third major force in federal parliamentary politics. Is the trend established and will the progressive parliamentary challenge continue to grow steadily? Will it be reinforced in the states? Only time will tell but the signs are positive. The Greens polled well in the recent state election in Victoria. Once again voters had to wait to know the fate of the government in a poll that did not show clear support for either of the two established parties of capital.

The threat to the century-old power sharing arrangement between the outright conservatives and their decreasingly social democratic alternative is clear. Panic has gripped some of the players. The ALP in Victoria may seek to damage the Greens at future polls by putting them last on the ballot paper – to the obvious benefit of the Liberals and Nationals. The message is plain. As Greens MP Greg Barber put it, “keeping the Greens out is more important than cutting the Coalition’s majority.” The Libs had already acted on their foreboding and preferenced Labor ahead of the Greens at this state election.

These developments at the parliamentary level arise out of the harsh realities facing working people today. The penny is beginning to drop that neither of the major parties is sincere in promising to defend the people’s living standards, their services or security. If it was unclear before, it now obvious that they both serve monopoly interests. Voters are looking for alternatives in unprecedented numbers.

This shift is not reflected in the number of seats taken by representatives of this desire for change, for resistance to the diktat of the big corporations. Alongside the many campaigns taken up to defend peace, people’s jobs, public services, democratic rights, the environment and so on, parliamentary reform has to become a priority for those seeking progressive political change.

A task for Communists is to explain to working people that the changes taking place reflect the current crisis of capitalism globally. Governments in capitalist countries like Australia are not free agents deciding independently how to meet the needs of the community.

They are bound to represent the interests of a small grouping of the super wealthy who want to privatise what remains of public property and to put the cost of systemic crises onto the backs of workers. This understanding is a vital to the success of a future alliance of left and progressive forces that will ultimately challenge capitalist domination. The building of a strong Communist Party of Australia is the guarantee of a final break with the cynical political process that has dominated Australia for over a century.

Next article – End of year message

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