The Coalition has retained government. At the time of writing it has 74 seats, Labor has 66 and various independents and minor parties, including a Green, hold another 6.
Five seats are in doubt with 4 potentially going to the Coalition. This would give it 78 seats in the new Parliament, enough to provide a Speaker and still have a majority.
Of the others, the Coalition can count in any confidence motion on the vote of Katter, Starkie and Steggall at least, giving them enough leeway to survive for a while, before their internal divisions (over climate change for example) pull them apart just as those climate change divisions have been doing since 2009.
How is it possible the Coalition has retained power? I thought after the leadership changes, the infighting, the inaction on climate change, and the stagnation of wages, among other things, that the polls and betting agencies were broadly right about a Labor victory. In my more pessimistic analysis I thought Labor would win 76 seats. I was wrong. Completely wrong.
On first party votes the swing against the Coalition was 0.7% and against Labor was 0.8%. Despite this the coalition gained 3 seats and Labor lost 4. Right wing parties like One Nation and United Australia Party helped win it for Morrison and co. Palmer’s $60 million in advertising was well spent, for the Coalition.
In Tasmania the swing against Labor was 3.9%. Despite the swing against the Government being 1% there, they picked up 2 seats compared to Labor, who lost two.
On top of that, the swing to Labor in Victoria of 1.8% was not strong enough to deliver any new seats to the Opposition (other than those already factored in because of the redistribution).
South Australia and Western Australia have remained unmoved in terms of seats.
To blame Palmer for the loss, or Murdoch, or whoever, is to blame the symptom for the disease. The position of the Queensland mining branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union on the Adani coal mine captures the problem. In April it demanded Labor candidates in Queensland sign a pledge supporting for coal industry jobs.
The end result of Shorten prevaricating on Adani and sections of the Queensland working class accepting the lie that coal mines mean jobs was a primary vote of 26.7% for Labor in Queensland, a disastrous result. Its national primary vote of 33.3%, itself disastrous, looks almost good by comparison. It isn’t.
Labor has a problem. It is only receiving one in three votes, a result that raises questions about its future direction, if not its future.
The main explanation for the defeat has been that Labor’s policy program was too ambitious. This is nonsense.
It paints a few minor tax changes, some fiddling with greenhouse gas emissions and a bit of spending on cancer patients as momentous. As I pointed out in discussing Labor’s franking credit proposal, Labor’s cack handed seeming attacks on the 1% were more an attack on a range of people including workers and those less well off. They advanced these policies because they are trapped in the logic of neoliberal budget surpluses.
Indeed, being trapped in the logic of capitalism is the problem for Labor. But how could workers vote for their class enemy?
Well, the ACTU Change the Rules campaign reinforced the lie that change comes from above and not from below. Vote Labor and all will be good. It will not.
The quality of workers’ lives under capitalism in a period of global recession depends on the level of class struggle. Low class struggle means low class consciousness. Couple this with an identified trend away from unions the further you move away from the major centres of population and you have a recipe for disaster in places like Queensland.
Strikes and other forms of class struggle challenge the dominant (neoliberal) worldview that your boss is your friend and that strikes do not work or win. They make working class ideas acceptable and show that workers united can win their demands and ultimately run a new world.
In this environment campaigning around voting to change the rules does nothing to inject the one factor that can win a better life for workers, class struggle.
As Australia prepares to enter an economic downturn, there is one choice for the union bureaucrats – class struggle. The alternative is continued irrelevance.
And could Labor win back workers in Queensland for example? Yes, a bold progrm that rejected Adani, and that promised a decade long transition to renewable energy with pay and jobs for miners and similar guaranteed in the new industry, would be a bold start. But the ALP is not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the UK. It is not even Bernie Sanders.
There is a choice for workers – class struggle or ongoing immiseration. My hope is that workers organise irrespective of what the grey men and women of the union bureaucracy want and strike for higher wages, to defend current old jobs and create new ones and to build a new world based on renewable energy.