Sunday, May 16, 2010

Buswell-Carles affair shouldn't distract us from building opposition to Barnett

Truth is stranger than fiction! What else can describe the extraordinary revelation by Fremantle Greens MP Adele Carles on April 25 of her four-month affair with Liberal Party MP and now ex-treasurer Troy Buswell, and her subsequent resignation from the Greens on May 6?

For some commentators in the corporate media, the pity of the whole thing is that Buswell’s “considerable talents” will go to waste and his potential to succeed Colin Barnett as premier has been undone by his bad judgment.

Actually, Buswell's departure is a blessing. He has a deserved reputation as a sexist boofhead for his harassment of female staffers because of the infamous “bra snapping” and “chair sniffing” episodes.

The real tragedy of the saga is that it dramatically strengthens the hand of the ALP in its bid to take back the seat of Fremantle. This would shift politics back to the right; to the detriment of every campaign for workers rights’, the environment and social justice.

Labor got a well-deserved kick up the bum in the 2009 by-election, won by Carles, for having taken the residents of this “safe” seat for granted.

It was always going to be a tough battle for Carles to hang on to the seat in a general election, deprived of the special hype and big bungles by Labor that surrounded the by-election, in which the Greens claimed their first lower house seat in Western Australia.

However, she would have had the benefits of incumbency and the starting point of a high primary vote in 2009. Also, the ALP’s performance as a so-called opposition to the Barnett government had been underwhelming to say the least.

But with the fall-out from the affair and without a party to support her, it’s pretty hard to imagine Carles will be re-elected.

The Greens now face the uphill struggle of winning the seat with a new candidate who may have to compete with Carles, as well as overcoming Labor. The ALP power brokers could not in their wildest dreams have imagined this piece of good fortune falling in their laps.

Carles was quick to point out that her affair had never compromised her vote in parliament. To her credit, she has been one of the most outspoken critics of some recent cases of police brutality and the state government’s proposal for draconian police “stop and search” powers.

However, Labor will inevitably seek to cast doubt on her preparedness to stand up to the Liberals, and unfortunately, in a sexist society such as ours, this sort of judgment weighs more heavily on women.

Furthermore, the reality of this double standard means that, regardless of her real policy record and performance, many progressive voters who would have dismissed an affair, will not be able to get past her decision to pursue an extended relationship with a man whose disrespect for women is so well known.

A sad irony of this is that on a whole range of policy positions, it’s really Labor that’s routinely “getting into bed” with the Liberals.

Labor has already indicated it will support the government’s Public Sector Reform Bill, which proposes to sub-contract or privatise a huge swathe of human services. In a letter to a Civil Service Association delegate, Peter Tinley the Labor member for the neighbouring seat of Willagee confirmed that, "Labor will support the Bill in Parliament and will also move a number of amendments that will strengthen the Bill".

Under Barnett’s plan, public servants whose jobs are outsourced will be compelled to enter the private and not-for-profit community sector, even if this means taking a 20% pay cut. While Labor's amendments would soften the “take a pay cut or face the sack” provisions of Barnett's legislation, they don't oppose the march to privatisation as such.

In all the noise and gossip about the Carles-Buswell affair, the failure of the ALP to oppose outright this assault on public sector workers has gone fairly unnoticed; which is just how Labor likes it.
Carles resigned from the Greens, telling the media that she was unhappy with the way the other Green MPs, particularly Giz Watson and Alison Xamon, had pushed her to go public about the affair against her will.

They disputed this version of events, saying that although they had urged her to end the affair when they found out about it at the start of the year, it was Carles’ decision to go public with it.

I won’t pretend to know who said what in the Greens’ internal decision-making processes, or judge how they handled this issue. They were clearly in a very awkward and damaging situation. Furthermore, the affair was rapidly becoming public knowledge anyway.

Whatever the case, Carles' decision to resign from the Greens doesn't help the situation.

In the meantime, the Barnett government is continuing its assault on public sector workers, allowing the state’s network of rail freight lines to crumble into the dust, destroying our civil liberties and accelerating the suicidal rush to climate catastrophe by bringing five more coal-fired power stations online.

You’ll struggle to find much mention of all this in the corporate media at the moment.

But despite the setback and distractions of recent events, this needs to be our major focus.

We in the Socialist Alliance are willing to work with everyone, including Carles and the Greens, to build the biggest community opposition we can to stop the regressive policies of the Barnett government.

[This article is by Fremantle councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright and was written for Green Left Weekly #837. Wainwright was also the Socialist Alliance candidate in the 2009 Fremantle by-election.]