The Liberal-National Coalition, after being behind in the polls for years, has won the Australian general election. With 78, seats the Coalition have a majority in the lower house to pass legislation, but will have to rely on cross-bench support in the Senate (upper house) to get their legislation through.
Both the Coalition and Labor’s vote shares are down slightly when compared to the previous election. With second preferences counted, there was a 1.5 percent swing to the Coalition across the country, instead of a predicted 2 percent swing to Labor. The only consolation on election night was Tony Abbott, the former Liberal Prime Minister, losing the safe Liberal Warringah seat to an independent.
The Labor Party had a disastrous night. The opinion polls had consistently pointed towards a Labor win. This proved to be wrong. Opinion polling mistakes are not peculiar to this Australian election, it is also a phenomenon overseas (as in recent UK elections and referenda, for example). But, because of what the polls said, toward the end of the campaign, Bill Shorten became overconfident and acted as though the Labor Party had already won.
Labor's difficulties were not just caused by the overconfidence of Shorten, but the Labor manifesto in general lacked coherent socialist policies. At best, it offered piecemeal reforms for workers that were not well articulated and based on what capitalism could afford. The biggest issues were on climate change, pensions and the economy, and the policies all boiled down to tinkering with the existing system.
No doubt, stopping the pension franking credits for wealthy retirees would mean a fairer distribution of taxation, but as far as workers are concerned, it does not solve issues such as ending the means-testing of pensions or reducing the age of entitlement back down to 65. Neither did the party offer meaningful welfare reforms like increasing benefit levels, which are now well below the poverty line.
Additionally, a policy on climate change is definitely needed in Australia, as elsewhere, but a policy based on the market will not deliver the necessary changes, nor will it convince workers who work with fossil fuels to vote Labor. This was evident in Queensland, where mining electorates returned Coalition MPs as they feared for their job security, and Labor were reduced to four seats in the state.
The Coalition offered no real policy initiatives to the electorate. Scott Morrison argued that they are a safe pair of hands for the economy and that you don't want to risk the economy with the tax-and-spend approach of Labor. This had an echo, and enabled the Coalition to recover from the political meltdown they faced in the run up to the election.
The Coalition Government will be emboldened by the win. It will attempt to intensify cuts to public services and the social wage as the economy stagnates and the failings of the capitalist system are put firmly onto the shoulders of the working class.
Reinvigorate Labor with socialism!
How will Labor deal with such a perspective? The election results led to the resignation of Labor leader Shorten. His left-wing opponent in the previous election, Anthony Albanese, immediately announced another bid for the leadership. It seems that the right wing will not even stand against him and so he will likely be the next leader of the party. However, what he’s actually proposing to do politically remains to be seen. In media interviews, all he seems to be able to talk about is how he is someone who can talk to workers and bosses; that he is looking to find a consensus, and possibly invest in infrastructure. He has said next to nothing about how to improve the lot of ordinary Australians.
What is required is for the Labor Party to adopt bold policies that include the call for nationalisation of the top 100 Australian companies, including banks and insurance companies, and for workers' control. This approach will reinvigorate the Labor Party from top to bottom; like what has happened in the British Labour Party under Corbyn, which is now the largest political party in Europe, with half a million members. This shows the way forward for Labor in Australia.