Saturday, February 22, 2014

New senate election in WA with Abbott on warpath and no serious opposition

The High Court declared last year's senate election in WA void on February 20 at a time when the government is in damage control about the refugee crisis on Manus Island in which the government lost control of the detention centre and a refugee was killed by Papuan police. In response to this crisis, the Labor "opposition" has barely said "boo".

Western Australians will head to the polls, possibly as early as March 29, to select six senators because the vote in September was incredibly close and 1300 votes went missing. Therefore it is impossible to determine the last two senate spots from that election.

The exact date of the election is not year clear and will be determined by the WA governor, likely at the recommendation of the prime minister.

Coalition senator Michael Ronaldson has told media that "the people of Western Australia ... will rightly be aggrieved that the actions of the Australian Electoral Commission will force them to vote again in a fresh election". This follows a narrative presented by establishment media and politicians that voting is a chore that ordinary people should seek to avoid.

By contrast the Socialist Alliance has been enthusiastic about the prospects of a new election given the unpopularity of the Abbott government.

"Numerous opinion polls have cast doubt on the Coalition's ability to retain the three senate positions they won at the September election," Socialist Alliance candidate Alex Bainbridge told Green Left.

"The reason for this is that people have been able to see at first hand that the policies of the Abbott government represent a sharp escalation of the attacks on ordinary workers, the environment and social services compared to the similar attacks implemented by the previous Labor government."

Mainstream media commentators are trying as hard as possible to present the new election as a challenge for Labor whereas Antony Green – among the more neutral commentators – has written that "[f]or the Abbott government the Court's ruling is a blow... A re-election could put one of the Liberal's seats in doubt."

"While it can't be denied that the democratic nature of our electoral system is virtually negated by the corruption of big money and the major influence of corporate media, any doubts about the electoral outcome should be determined by the people via a new election," Bainbridge said.

A new election makes it very likely that the Greens' Scott Ludlam and Labor's Louise Pratt – arguably the most progressive Labor senator in WA – can both retain their seats.

The loss of one of the three Liberal seats – even if it were won by the Palmer United Party – would make it harder for the Abbott government to get's its reactionary agenda implemented.

The Socialist Alliance will be running an energetic campaign with candidates Bainbridge and Chris Jenkins.

"We don't have a lot of chance of winning but we are running seriously and genuinely asking people to support our campaign," said Bainbridge.

"People in power – both Labor and Liberal and their corporate masters – have misused that power. Now we face the challenge of building a new society in which social and environmental problems can genuinely be solved," he said.

"This means breaking the power of the big corporations and pushing for grassroots pressure for climate action, wealth redistribution, social justice and genuine democracy.

"It is not going to be an overnight victory but Socialist Alliance is the only party that is putting this message forward and anyone who cares about our future should consider giving us support."

[This article by Kamala Emanuel was written for Green Left Weekly #998.]