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Issue #1738      July 6, 2016


Voting in Australia – system change needed

Counting of the votes in last Saturday’s federal election was due to begin again in earnest as the Guardian went to press. The precise result and even the question of which major party will form government is not yet known. Nevertheless, a number of important lessons are clear to the people of Australia. Firstly, the coalition has not received a “mandate” for its reactionary agenda including the establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the scrapping of penalty rates or the privatisation by stealth of Medicare. The other lesson is that more and more voters are becoming immune to the message of the major parties as almost a quarter of Australians opt for the Greens, minor party and independent candidates.

This choice was made despite dire warnings from the leaders of the Coalition and Labor that only they could deliver “stability”, i.e. the unopposed implementation of the neo-liberal agenda. Australians are increasingly unhappy with the lack of genuine alternative. The voting in this election confirms a trend discernible in comparable countries. The surprise Brexit vote and the strong showing of under-rated candidates in the US presidential contest are examples of this critical approach on the part of voters. Another important lesson is that not all the expressions of independent thinking will favour left and progressive forces. The new federal parliament in Australia will have several new right wing and downright reactionary figures among the brace of first time members and senators.

The job of the left and progressive forces to create a clear, persuasive and united alternative is still ahead of us. It is an urgent task to prevent a further drift to the right, including the extreme racist right. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) does not believe the major force for radical change in society and the economy will come from the houses of parliament. Progress has and always will be the result of the mobilisation of masses of people in their workplace and their community forcing change upon the country’s legislators. However, until new truly democratic structures for administering society are created under socialism, parliament itself will remain an important field of struggle for the interests of workers and other exploited people.

The political environment in countries like Australia is hostile to left and progressive parties and movements. The education system, the media, the whole ideological apparatus of the capitalist state is directed against the message of change in favour of people and planet before corporate profit. This mechanism is extremely powerful but constantly comes into conflict with people’s lived experience. No amount of slick advertising and media manipulation will disguise the crumbling services and strained household budgets confronting many Australians.

There are many other obstacles including the bureaucratic hurdles set for participation by smaller parties in the electoral process. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to change at the current moment is the system of representation in the Lower House of parliament. The single member electorate system regularly throws up undemocratic outcomes. In the federal election just conducted, the Greens polled roughly ten percent of the vote but will probably only have one out of the 150 members of the House of Representatives.

For many years the CPA has advocated major reforms to the voting system. It supports multi-member electorates, compulsory preferential voting at all levels of government, fixed four-year terms of parliament, all candidates to be given equal free time on public radio and TV services, a reduction in the size of deposits demanded of candidates, a reduction of the voting age from 18 to 16 years and the elimination of public funding of election expenses and the right of recall of representatives by petition.

The CPA proposes these changes for discussion and campaigning by left and progressive people excluded by the voting system as it stands. Of course, the major parties of capital won’t embrace these changes but, given the dissatisfaction with the limited Lib/Lab “choice” evident at Saturday’s poll, the time to press for them has well and truly arrived.

Next article – The Common Tern – Turnbull claims election success

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