John Gowland, Militant Left (CWI Australia)
The backdrop of the Australian federal elections centred around two issues: climate change and falling living standards.
Australia has had a continued growth rate for the past 30 years, mainly on the back of mineral exports to China. In the last few months, there has been a marked fall of living standards, with prices rising much faster than incomes.
As of today, the two major parties in Australia are the pro-capitalist Liberal Party with 35.8% (56 seats) and the pro-capitalist Australian Labor Party (ALP) on 32.8% (74 seats), which has just enough to have a majority.
ALP Prime Minister Albanese is claiming five non-aligned MPs who will not vote against Labor. The remaining third of votes went to independents and, less so, the Greens.
There will be small shifts in some of the final percentages, as late votes are counted, but they will not affect the outcome. The ALP will govern quite easily with the support of the Greens, and some of the ‘teal independents’. The teal independents are effectively Liberals, both ‘blue and green’, because they campaigned on the environment.
This is not a very democratic system of deciding on a government. The ALP got fewer actual votes percentage-wise than the Liberals. The Greens got 12% of the vote but only three seats, and were the only party to increase their vote over the last election. Both the ALP and the Liberals lost votes compared to the last election – the ALP by a slight margin but the Liberals by 5.6%.
The ALP and many of the right-wing union leaderships have ossified into unapologetic pro-market positions. They suffer from myopia, unable to envision a society that is truly democratic. They do not concretely pose the radical socialist measures needed to actually increase equality or lift the poor out of a world of debt and home insecurity. The word ‘socialism’ never crosses their lips, and they accept their role is only to ‘modify’ Australian capitalism.
Capitalism of any country cannot be modified to suit the majority; it is a predatory economic system where the rich reap ever more profits at the cost of falling living standards 98% of people. As Karl Marx pointed out, capitalism is a vampire, sucking every last drop of blood from the masses.
The ALP has long since joined the Liberal Party as the gatekeepers of Australian capitalism – even refusing to challenge Australia’s 131 billionaires to pay their taxes! ExxonMobil Australia booked a total of $15.6 billion and paid not one cent in income tax.
There is fundamentally no difference in policy between the parties. The small differences in policy statements let Labor squeeze a victory, although the media are running the story that it was a significant victory for Labor.
One of the biggest changes for Labor was its support from female voters, who supported the party’s commitment to making childcare more accessible, enabling more women to work. There was also a commitment by Labor to support wage increases to fall in line with price rises of around 5% rather than stick to the present 2.5% yearly wage increases.
A large part of the rising cost of living is related to mortgages and the ever-growing costs of buying a home. House prices are now so high that it is too high for young working couples to get a mortgage. Both sets of parents are now helping young couples pay the deposit and help with the mortgage repayments. For decades, financial advisors have encouraged Australian families to buy a second home for their future. Every interest rate rise means higher mortgage repayments.
With inflation increasing, the reserve bank has just raised interest rates and is warning of further two more increases in the next year. This would have a devastating impact on families unable to continue to pay their mortgages. This is at a time when all the big four banks are raking in huge profits, expecting to report over A$11 billion in the coming weeks. Australia’s richest people have been announced for 2022 by The Australian’s ‘The List’. With a combined net worth of A$520 billion, it has been record-breaking for 250 of Australia’s most wealthy people, up from A$470.07 billion in 2021.
The third policy commitment by Labor was to tackle climate change more vigorously. Not one of these three policy commitments was explained in detail. There are no costing estimations as to how these changes could be implemented. The Labor government could pass laws that forced the increase of wages but there is evidence to show they will do this. In fact, all previous and existing Labor national and state governments have restrained wages to 2.5%. So, there are no concrete plans to carry through any of these three major policy changes.
Nonetheless, these policy proposals are the most relatively ‘progressive’, as small as they are, since the Gough Whitlam Labor government in the early 1970s which was pushed left and made significant reforms.
US imperialism in the region
The Australian ruling class, with the ALP as its vessel, still chooses to support USA imperialism, even though it reduces the revenue Australia makes from China. China has, in the last two years, introduced some very high import duties on Australian goods. This has almost put an end to the export of wine and other foods and beverages, which were rapidly growing, to China. Some of these export businesses have found alternative markets but others have not.
For the first time in 30 years, Australian families are facing a nightmare of huge increases in prices of food and fuel, and mortgage hikes. And all with stagnating income.
Militant Left calls for:
- Renationalisation of the Commonwealth Bank (CWB)
- Reduce deposits affordable to all
- A massive construction programme of well-planned high-quality public housing
These measures are desperately needed to end the housing crisis. But we also need bold socialist policies to end the cost-of-living crisis, environmental destruction, and dangerous militarisation in the region. Militant Left in Australia argues that this requires building a new mass party of the working class in Australia and fighting for real socialist change – a planned economy, democratically run and managed by the working class – to bring about fundamental change.