Australia: a socialist alternative in the Victorian state election

Support the SEP campaign

Socialist Equality Party (Australia)
1 November 2006

The Socialist Equality Party calls on working people and youth around the country to support our campaign for the Victorian state election on November 25 and our candidate Will Marshall for the Melbourne electorate of Broadmeadows.

The SEP is fighting to build a socialist political movement in opposition to the entire official political establishment. Our aim is to unite the Australian and international working class in a common struggle against the economic and political system responsible for war, repression, poverty and ecological disaster.

The SEP’s program is the only one that advances the interests of the working class. We oppose the criminal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Howard government’s neo-colonial interventions throughout the Pacific. Our campaign is directed against the escalating assault on democratic rights and the never-ending attacks on living standards that have produced unprecedented levels of social inequality.

With the full support of the media, Labor, Liberal, Democrats and Greens are attempting to suppress any genuine discussion of the critical issues confronting ordinary working people. Whatever their tactical differences, all of them support the bogus “war on terror”, the US-led war on Iraq and Australia’s aggression in East Timor and the Solomon Islands. None of them wants a genuine debate about the catastrophic consequences of the Howard government’s promotion of militarism and nationalism, above all for the youth.

To the extent that there is any official election campaign at all, it will be dominated by political mudslinging and fear-mongering, accompanied by a few carefully targeted and token spending promises. The Bracks Labor government already has the full backing of big business and the corporate media to win a third term in office.

As far as the vast majority of voters are concerned, the election will resolve nothing. The deep-seated opposition and hostility felt by millions towards the foreign and domestic policies of the Victorian and federal governments finds no expression within the current political system. A new mass political movement of the working class must be built on the basis of a socialist program and perspective.

Our candidate, Will Marshall, 43, has been a member of the SEP and its predecessor, the Socialist Labour League, since 1987. He currently teaches at Footscray City Secondary College, and previously taught at Broadmeadows Technical School for five years. Marshall is a regular contributor to the World Socialist Web Site, specialising in education and the political and social crisis in the South Pacific. He stood as an SEP candidate for the Victorian Senate in the 1998 federal elections.

Due to anti-democratic electoral laws, which place a series of obstacles in front of non-parliamentary parties—including the requirement to register at least one year in advance of the Victorian election—the SEP will not be listed against Marshall’s name on the ballot paper. These laws are expressly designed to block any genuine political challenge to the two-party system.

The role of the Bracks government

Australian politics is now dominated by a de facto alliance between Liberal and Labor. What the Liberal-National government proposes at the federal level, the state Labor governments impose. There are no longer any significant differences between the two parties over foreign or domestic policy. Federal Labor leader Kim Beazley tries to outdo Prime Minister Howard on militarism, “Australian values” and attracting corporate support. Meanwhile, without the support of the state Labor leaders, the federal government could not have enacted its vicious anti-terror laws, anti-refugee policies or public spending cuts.

Within this process, the Bracks Labor government has played a vital political role. Installed as opposition leader in 1999, Steve Bracks set out from the start to assure big business that Labor would continue the right-wing pro-market policies of the Liberal Kennett government. His New Solutions platform pledged to maintain a budget surplus, slash corporate taxes and charges, and provide lucrative opportunities for business by launching “private-public partnerships”.

Labor won the 1999 election and, since then, has kept Bracks’s promises by winding back social spending and “opening up” Victoria to investment. Bracks has been at the forefront of the new “cooperative federalism”, setting out the agenda for a new Third Wave of economic restructuring, privatisation and deregulation in collaboration with Prime Minister Howard and the other state premiers at the Council of Australian Government (COAG) in July.

Expressing the gratitude of the corporate elite, the Australian Financial Review recently named Bracks the fifth most powerful person in Australia—after Howard, Rupert Murdoch, the Reserve Bank governor and the federal treasurer. Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout has described him as “an absolute standout”, while Melbourne’s major daily, the Age, runs regular promotional features on the Victorian premier and his policies.

An international program

The SEP stands for the international unity of the working class against all forms of nationalism, racism and ethnic and religious chauvinism.

Workers in every country confront similar problems, which have their common source in the irresolvable contradictions of the capitalist system. War, attacks on democratic rights, unemployment, poverty and the destruction of the natural environment are global problems that require global solutions.

The objective basis for a rationally planned world socialist economy has been vastly strengthened over the past three decades by the development of globalised production. The extraordinary advances in science, technology and productive technique have the potential for dramatically improving the lives of all.

But the constraints of private profit and the nation-state system have created the opposite. Workers in different countries are pitted against each other in a relentless drive to cut labour costs. Rivalry between the major capitalist powers for markets, raw materials and cheap labour is fuelling economic conflict, competition for spheres of influence and a renewed drive to world war.

The globalisation of production has also, however, immeasurably strengthened the objective unity of the international working class. This finds its political reflection in the development of mass movements that cross national borders and boundaries. The global demonstrations that spontaneously erupted in February 2003 against the Iraq war were the largest international protests in history, involving more than 20 million people.

The SEP and its sister parties in North America, Europe and Asia are fighting to unify working people around the world, on the basis of an international socialist program. The SEP’s election campaign is based on three fundamental planks: the struggle against militarism and war; the defence and extension of democratic rights; and the fight for social equality.

Withdraw all Australian and foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan! End the Australian interventions in the Pacific!

The illegal US-led occupation of Iraq is aimed at extending American domination over the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. All the lies used to justify the invasion have been exposed: there were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein had no links with Al Qaeda, and, far from democratic government, the Iraqi people face catastrophe. An estimated 655,000 innocent Iraqis have been killed, more than one million have been displaced and the country’s economy and infrastructure are in ruins.

The Howard government has been a direct accomplice of the Bush administration’s crimes. It has provided both military and political assistance, in return for Washington’s backing of Canberra’s aggressive interventions in East Timor and the Solomons. The Australian government functions as a grubby subcontractor to the US, with its payoff being American support for its own sphere of influence in the Pacific.

Labor, the Democrats and Greens have all lined up behind the eruption of military aggression. Beazley’s recent “differences” over Australian troops in Iraq are purely tactical. He continues to support the US occupation, but wants the Australian forces redeployed in the Pacific region, to better defend the interests of corporate Australia. All the parliamentary parties back Howard’s neo-colonial operations in the Solomons and East Timor and his recently announced designs on Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji. Labor also supports the ongoing militarisation of Australian society, including the expansion of the army. A whole generation of youth will bear the catastrophic consequences.

The campaign for a new militarism has been accompanied by the promotion of “Australian values”, a euphemism for patriotism and the glorification of war. Its purpose is to create a social base for war by scapegoating the most vulnerable sections of society. Every day brings new provocations against Muslims. One only needs to substitute the word “Jew” for “Muslim” in the rantings of the government, Labor and the media to recall the dark days of Europe in the 1930s.

The SEP demands the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Australian and other foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise, we demand the recall of all Australian troops and officials from East Timor, the Solomons and the rest of the Pacific and oppose Howard’s blueprint for military expansion. The SEP calls for Bush, Howard and their co-conspirators to be put on trial for their war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defend and expand democratic rights

The so-called “war on terror” has become the pretext for an escalating attack on basic democratic rights. In the past five years, the Howard government had brought down no less than 37 new counter-terrorism laws—more than any other country—an average of one new law every seven weeks.

This has only been possible because of the backing of the state Labor premiers. Bracks was among the first to pass enabling legislation that gave legal force to the barrage of “counter-terrorism”, sedition and censorship laws. “Terrorism” has been defined so widely it can cover political protests and industrial action. Centuries-old protections against tyranny have been overthrown to introduce arbitrary detention without trial, a vast surveillance apparatus by ASIO and other security agencies, semi-secret trials and the outlawing of organisations by ministerial fiat.

The Bracks government had a direct hand in the terror scare drummed up last year to ram through a new raft of anti-terror laws. Thirteen young men from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, including Broadmeadows, have been languishing in high-security prisons for 12 months without trial. The anti-terror legislation has opened the way for ASIO and police infiltration, provocations and frame-ups of the sort perpetrated against Jack Thomas, who has been placed under a “control order”—virtual house arrest—despite being acquitted of terrorism charges.

The purpose of these laws is not to prevent terrorism—violent acts have always been outlawed under the criminal code—but to create a climate of fear, opening the way for the further erosion of democratic rights. The scare campaign against asylum seekers has been followed by the “war on terror”, which will soon be directed at suppressing political and social unrest. The laws being enacted represent the legal scaffolding for a police state.

Bracks has made “law and order” the centrepiece of his government’s agenda. Police have been given a vast range of new coercive powers, including holding searches on the street and in schools, and conducting interrogations. Police numbers have been boosted to 11,000—1,400 more than under the Kennett government. The Bracks government has mobilised the police against anti-globalisation protests and against striking workers at Feltex and BHP Steel—on behalf of the Howard government.

The SEP demands the repeal of the state and federal “counter-terrorism” legislation, the dismantling of ASIO and the other security agencies and the closure of all immigration detention centres. We insist on the immediate release of David Hicks and all prisoners incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay and other secret US detention camps.

The SEP indefatigably defends civil liberties and democratic rights. All discrimination based on nationality, ethnic background, religion, gender or sexual preference must be outlawed. All forms of immigration restriction must be abolished so that workers have the right to live, study and work wherever they choose, with full legal, political and social rights. Women must have the unrestricted right to abortion.

End social inequality

The political representatives of capitalism have no solution to widening social inequality. Millions of people, especially the youth, have found their hopes of a decent education, secure jobs, affordable housing shattered by the dictates of global capital, in the form of wage-cutting, privatisation, and “user pays”.

Despite the media’s efforts to cover up the ugly truth, Australia is a deeply divided society. The Business Review Weekly’s annual rich list recently revealed that the combined income of the 200 richest Australians jumped by 22 percent over 2005-06 to reach a massive $101.5 billion—an average of more than half a billion each. At the other extreme, millions of Australians, including many children, have fallen below the official poverty line, barely surviving from day to day.

The accumulation of obscene wealth by a tiny handful has been at the direct expense of the majority of working people. Vast profits have been made through a relentless process of restructuring and downsizing, all with an eye to speculative windfalls made through takeovers, mergers and the stock market. Corporate executives and directors win huge bonuses by cannibalising society’s productive capacity, which had been built up by generations of workers.

The gulf between rich and poor has steadily widened. In the June 2005 quarter, the wage share of gross domestic product (GDP) for workers was a near-record low of 53.2 percent, compared to 61 percent in the early 1980s. Official Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) statistics show that company profits for the June 2005 quarter reached a record 27.4 percent of GDP, up from 22.6 percent in the mid-1990s. In 2006, CEOs earn 63 times more than average workers, compared with 10 times several generations ago.

The Howard government claims to have reduced unemployment. But the official statistics mask the fact that real unemployment is around 17 percent, not 5 percent, when all those who want to work, or want more work, are counted. Secure, full-time jobs have been axed to make way for an increasingly casualised, part-time, poorly paid workforce—the expanding army of “working poor”. The destruction of large sections of manufacturing is particularly evident in Broadmeadows, where job cuts and closures have hit workers at Ford, South Pacific Tyres, Nestle, Autoliv and Kraft.

The state governments have slashed social spending to fund tax cuts and other financial incentives for business. In Victoria, Treasurer John Brumby recently bragged that the government had announced $4 billion worth of tax cuts to make the state “a more attractive place to invest”. This has required an ongoing assault on public health care, education, housing and transport. As of June, more than 36,000 people were on the elective surgery waiting list and another 20,000 were waiting for specialist appointments to get on the list. Each night, 20,000 Victorians have no roof over their heads. Some 35,000 are on waiting lists for public housing.

Not only the officially classified “poor”, but the majority of working people carry out a daily financial juggling act. Between June 1993 and June 2003, median house prices in Victoria more than doubled from $145,000 to $359,000, sending rents and mortgages through the roof. Credit card debt has skyrocketed as people try to bridge the gap between income and bills. This has led to the cancerous growth of gambling, with state governments and private operators preying on the desperation of those who can least afford it.

The government can offer young people no future. Education, like every other social facility, has been subordinated to the laws of market. Public schools have been starved of funds, forcing parents to pay huge fees to send their children to private schools. Those who manage to enter tertiary institutions face a lifetime of debt as a result of ever increasing tuition fees. Without an education, young people are condemned to a life of dead-end jobs, punctuated by unemployment.

Broadmeadows is a microcosm of these broader processes. A third of people in the electorate live below the poverty line. The official jobless rate is 13.4 percent, but the actual figure is far higher. The area combines run-down public housing estates—where 95 percent of households depend on welfare benefits—with newer private developments, where young families are burdened with huge mortgages. Only 30 percent of Broadmeadows students stay in school until Year 12, less than half the state average. Broadmeadows has no public hospital, with the nearest acute hospitals in Epping or Melbourne city, more than 10 kilometres away.

The socialist alternative

The SEP fights for the following policies:

* Public ownership: Against the waste, mismanagement and short-term profiteering that inevitably result from the private monopolisation of society’s productive capacity, we advocate the transformation of all large industrial, mining and agricultural corporations, together with the banking and financial institutions, into publicly owned enterprises. Small shareholders would be fully compensated, while large shareholders would receive publicly negotiated compensation.

* Jobs: To guarantee full employment, with well-paid, satisfying and secure jobs for all, a massive program of public works must be established to improve living standards for all. To help create jobs and allow workers to participate in political and cultural life, the working week must be reduced to 30 hours, with no loss of pay. All workers should receive at least five weeks’ annual leave.

* Social security: Poverty must be ended, together with the exploitation of the unemployed as a pool of cheap labour. Every working person must be guaranteed an income sufficient to raise a family in comfort. Those who cannot work—the disabled, the elderly, single parents, and the ill—must be provided with the equivalent of a living wage, so they are able to live a dignified, decent and comfortable life.

* Education, health and social services: Billions of dollars must be poured into upgrading, expanding and staffing public hospitals, schools, universities and child care facilities so that these services are equipped with the latest technologies and freely available to all. The running down of public housing must be halted, new high quality homes constructed, and rents and house payments reduced so that no worker pays more than 20 percent of their income for shelter.

* Arts: Funds must be poured into the arts and culture to give all working people access to theatres, orchestras, cinemas, museums, libraries, public television and radio and art and music education. The subordination of cultural life to private profit, accompanied by the glorification of militarism, brutality and backwardness, must be replaced by the encouragement of all forms of artistic expression, with decisions on grants and subsidies made by committees of artists, musicians and other cultural workers.

* Environment: The drought that is currently afflicting much of Australia is just one example of the mounting ecological disasters being produced by the anarchy of the profit system. Its resolution requires not only the provision of short-term aid to hard-hit rural communities, particularly to those most in need, but the tackling of far broader long-term issues including the rational conservation and use of water, and steps to address the potential catastrophe of global warming. Any solution requires democratic planning and genuine global collaboration—an impossibility in a society governed by private profit, the market and the nation state.

None of the immense problems facing working people can be resolved without making deep inroads into the vast reserves of private wealth accumulated in the hands of a few. The machinery of parliamentary democracy obscures the fact that the levers of economic power are controlled by a corporate elite that makes autocratic decisions behind the backs of ordinary people that nevertheless determine their fate. Genuine democracy requires control by ordinary people over economic decision-making, working conditions and the circumstances of their daily lives.

Ultimately, true democracy can be achieved only through the political mobilisation of an informed and articulate working population in the struggle for socialism. The SEP advocates the establishment of a workers’ government, which will represent the social and economic interests of working people and give them full democratic control over the decisions that affect their lives.

For the political independence of the working class

The SEP fights for the political independence of the working class from the establishment parties, which all serve to defend the existing social and political order. We totally reject the proposition advanced by various middle class protest outfits, such as the Socialist Alliance, that Labor is a “lesser evil” compared to the Liberals. The experiences of the last two decades have decisively demonstrated that the ALP and the trade unions have completely collapsed as organisations that in any way represent even the most short-term interests of the working class. They cannot be revived.

The record of Labor and the unions is a graphic example of the universal collapse of all parties based on the program of national reformism and economic regulation. Under the impact of globalised production, the Labor and union leaders have abandoned any defence of the eight-hour day, penalty rates and leave entitlements, as well as public health care and education, in order to assist in attracting investors and appeasing global markets.

Victoria has a long history of militant working class struggles. But the bitter experiences of the past twenty years demonstrate that strikes and demonstrations, no matter how radical and militant, will achieve nothing if confined to appeals to the powers that be. Last November, half a million workers around Australia, including 240,000 in Victoria, protested against the federal “WorkChoices” industrial laws. But when Howard refused to budge, the union leaders shut down the movement and called on workers to wait for a federal Labor government. Meanwhile workers are being intimidated and victimised across the country.

The Greens offer no genuine alternative for working people. Far from opposing the profit system, the Greens make futile attempts to pressure corporate boardrooms and governments into becoming more socially and environmentally responsible. Like Labor, the Greens did not oppose the Iraq war on principle, but called for Australian troops to be deployed closer to home. Accordingly, they have enthusiastically embraced Howard’s aggression throughout the Pacific, and the government’s military interventions in East Timor and the Solomons. Anyone attracted to the Greens should carefully study their record in Germany, where, as part of the government they implemented regressive economic policies and dispatched German troops to the Balkans and Afghanistan.

The SEP seeks to refashion society from top to bottom on the basis of socialist principles. Such a task is inconceivable without the building of an independent movement of ordinary working people to actively intervene in political life and fight for their class interests. The essential precondition for the education and mobilisation of the working class is the construction of a new mass political party based on the principles of socialism and internationalism.

Our movement embodies the critical lessons of the decades-long struggle by the most courageous and far-sighted representatives of the working class for socialism against all forms of political opportunism. The greatest personification of this tradition was Leon Trotsky, co-leader of the Russian Revolution, who waged an unyielding political struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union, which abused and betrayed the great ideals of socialism. The SEP in Australia and its sister parties around the world constitute the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)—the continuation of the World Party of Socialist Revolution founded by Trotsky in 1938.

We urge all those who oppose war and militarism and who want to fight for democratic rights and social equality to participate in the SEP’s Victorian election campaign. Support the struggle for a socialist alternative, contact the Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Web Site and make the decision to join and build our party.