DAVEY HELLER – The Australian election: the working class moves leftward under conditions of crisis

Jun 13, 2022
Australian International flag
The response of the corporate press to the election result has been decidedly muted which reflects their confusion about how to respond to the changed electoral landscape. Image: Pixabay

The Federal election showed that despite appearances, including the anti-vax rallies and the best efforts of the press, the working class has shifted to the left rather than the right during the last two years of crisis. The election delivered a severe blow to the project of consolidating far right politics through electoral processes. The Liberal Party is hopelessly split due to the ruling class divisions over climate change. It has effectively lost its base in the upper middle classes of the cities. The far-right minor party vote largely did not eventuate.

The collapse of the Liberal Party vote must be viewed in the context of efforts of a section of the ruling class, led by the Murdoch press, to turn the party into Australia’s very own “MAGA-lite” party of militarism, nationalism, and social reaction. This involved purging centrist Liberals, a process culminating in the 2018 Parliamentary coup installing the far-right Pentecostal Christian Morrison. This was part of the international capitalist trend to move bourgeois democracy to the right towards authoritarian or even fascist rule in response to the deepening capitalist economic crisis.

The fissure over Climate Change dominated this election. What the media refers to as the “Climate wars” is really an inter-ruling class struggle between the renewable energy and coal lobbies to advance their own profit interests.

Australia is the second largest coal exporter in the world. Scott Morrison’s 2017 Trumpian stunt brandishing a piece of coal in Parliament symbolised his championing of the coal lobby. However, a different section of the ruling class, closely connected to a powerful sector of finance capital is salivating at the prospects of profits from renewable power and the web of offsets and other market mechanisms.

Each of these factions had their very own oligarch pumping money into the election. The coal lobby had the repulsive figure of Clive Palmer, a coal billionaire who pumped $100 million dollars into his personal political project the United Australia Party. He sought to repeat the trick of 2019 of funnelling the far right “anti-establishment” vote back behind the ruling Coalition.

The renewable energy lobby oligarch was Simon Holmes a’ Court, the son of Australia’s first billionaire. A’ Court poured seven million dollars into a movement to elect the Teal candidates. Although running as independents, the Teal candidates were effectively rebranded centrist Liberals who campaigned largely on platforms of tackling climate change. They became more than a climate protest vote but a way for the upper middle class to push back against the Liberal Party’s increasingly reactionary stance on social issues such as treatment of Indigenous Australians, feminism and transgender rights. Similar progressive concerns saw the Greens pick up four new seats in Brisbane, taking them from both Labor and Liberals. This result is of enormous significance as it means that the push towards a “MAGA-lite” version of the Liberal Party has effectively cleaved off their traditional base of support amongst the affluent, most educated areas of the major cities.

In contrast the $100 million investment from the coal baron Clive Palmer in his United Australia Party failed almost completely in its aims. The election saw surprising results like an Indigenous Socialist Alliance candidate outpolling the United Australia Party in a Far North Queensland electorate! Despite paying to graffiti “Freedom” slogans across billboards, newspapers and the internet, the party largely failed to turn its anti-public health measures-based campaign into votes.

In fact, the backlash against the Liberals in West Australia and Victoria indicated deep hostility towards the Federal Liberal Party for undermining the (now abandoned) public health measures of the states. Whilst the ALP State Premiers MacGowan and Andrews have now joined the “let it rip” brigade, for the first 18 months of the pandemic the Federal Liberals tried to turn these two Premiers into the personification of “dictatorial” public health measures. Despite the banner headlines and the rabid anger from the mobilised far right “freedom” mobs, the election showed the supposed implacable hatred of public health measures was not deeply felt in the electorate.

The failure of the far-right to pick up votes went beyond the UAP. Pauline Hanson was almost beaten in her efforts to get into the Senate by the Legalise Cannabis Party!

The section of the ruling class who seeks to foster far right rule as a response to the growing economic crisis and drive to imperialist world war will need to either redouble efforts to build such a movement outside Parliament or try to salvage the Liberal Party under Dutton for the project.

Whilst the election was a disaster for the Liberals, the leftward trajectory of the electorate did not result in a swing to the ALP. This is not a surprise given their right-wing campaign which did not offer any significant concessions to the working class. Labor’s primary vote dropped slightly from the last election. It is only because they did better than the Liberals on preferences that they won enough seats to form government. The combined primary vote for the Labor and Liberal parties was at an historic low. It’s clear the dominance of the two-party system in Australia is breaking down.

The slanted election coverage of the corporate press indicated most of the ruling class favoured a return of Morrison. This is not because they doubted the commitment of the Labor Party to either austerity or the US alliance. New Treasurer Jim Chandlers is already softening up the electorate for budget cuts, warnings of a “dire” budget situation, and Albanese was barely sworn in before committing to confront China at the QUAD meeting. However much of the ruling class felt a far-right Liberal Government would be better placed to handle the inevitable working-class backlash to this agenda. During the election the issue of inflation and the cost of living came to prominence. The risk for the ruling class is that the ALP and the trade union bureaucracy will be unsuccessful in keeping a lid on workers’ demands as they increasingly enter industrial struggles. The response of the corporate press to the election result has been decidedly muted which reflects their confusion about how to respond to the changed electoral landscape.

The volatile class relations will only deepen. The ALP Government under Albanese is a weak one. Despite his protestations in a time of economic crisis it is not possible to increase both wages AND profits. It is not possible to maintain the profits of the fossil fuel industry AND transition rapidly to renewable energy. And is not possible to balance war tensions with your major trading partner without causing chaos!

It has a wafer-thin majority off the back of a low primary vote. As in the US there is a risk that an ineffective government will lay the groundwork for a return of the threat of the far right within and without Parliament. Alternatively, the election may herald the start of a real left-wing fightback against the agenda of austerity and war.

Davey Heller is a socialist from Melbourne and long-time campaigner for Left-wing causes including anti-war, refugee rights, environmental protests and workers’ struggles. He is a former secondary teacher who studies history at Monash University and currently works in the environmental field. He currently writes for a blog called classconscious.org. You can follow him on Twitter @socialist_davey .

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter

 

How often?

Thank you for subscribing!

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter

 

How often?

Thank you for subscribing!