The Liberals’ election rout in Victoria is also a massive defeat for Scott Morrison and the federal Liberal Party.
Morrison is on track for electoral humiliation next year. The Victorian election result is a blow to Morrison’s hopes that ramping up fear about terrorism and immigration might save him in the federal election. The party’s racist scare campaign about crime and “African gangs” failed completely.
Statewide Daniel Andrews’ Victorian Labor government won a swing of 4.9 per cent, with thumping gains of 10 per cent in marginal seats in Melbourne’s south-east.
Liberal leader Matthew Guy (backed by Peter Dutton) ran hard on law and order, claiming that crime was “out of control” as he tried to drum up panic about a supposed crime wave by Sudanese and African gangs. But there was actually a 7.8 per cent drop in crime in the last year.
He also seized on Shire Ali’s Bourke Street attack, saying he would “make sure every Melburnian is safe” and claiming the Liberals would make changes that would have stopped his release on bail.
Guy ran a hard right campaign, promising to scrap the Safe Schools program, reintroduce religious education in government schools and shut Richmond’s safe injecting room within a week of the election.
It all went nowhere. The Liberals even came close to losing heartland seats in wealthy Brighton and Hawthorn, in a near repeat of the humiliation in the recent Wentworth by-election.
The move by the right of the Liberal Party to dump Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister also damaged the Liberal vote. Labor produced billboards linking Matthew Guy to Scott Morrison and the right-wing insurgents Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott who plotted the leadership change. The result is sure to reignite the tensions within the Liberals in Canberra, as the right manoeuvres to retain influence and “moderate” Liberals panic that moving to the right risks losing them votes in inner city seats.
As the Liberals federally head for oblivion, even the right-wingers are fighting amongst themselves with former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett calling for Victorian party heavy Michael Kroger to resign. And NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also indicated that Scott Morrison “was not needed” to campaign in the state election due in March next year.
Labor’s shift to the left paid off. Its campaign on infrastructure and funding for hospitals, schools and TAFE won it support. Daniel Andrews promised an extra $1.3 billion in health spending to employ 1100 additional nurses and midwives and upgrade community hospitals, as well as a 50 per cent renewable energy target.
But the most important element of Andrews’ win was the mobilisation by the union movement for his campaign—most crucially when tens of thousands marched to Change the Rules on 23 October.
On election night, Andrews described Victorian Labor as “the most progressive government in the nation”. But his promises to expand services do not go far enough. While he promised to build 80 new schools, the teachers’ union estimates an additional 1600 teachers will be needed each year for the next decade. And Victorian government schools have the lowest rate of per student funding in the country.
It is going to take union struggles in the months ahead to win more teachers and more funding.
Explicit anti-racist mobilisation was also important. Andrews made concessions to the Liberals’ law and order scare, toughening bail laws last year. But he dropped the “anti-association bill” that would have targeted black youth, in the face of anti-racist rallies backed by the Sudanese community. Active anti-racist mobilisation will continue to be needed against police brutality and discrimination against the African and Aboriginal communities.
There is however an important lesson for Labor federally—the need to avoid concessions to the racism and neo-liberalism of the Liberals, and push further to the left. Andrews explicitly supported Safe Schools and set up the Richmond safe injecting room. His government provided support to the Let Them Stay campaign in 2016 to keep refugees transferred from Nauru in Australia.
The tragedy of The Greens
The Greens had a disastrous campaign with multiple candidates and staff members found responsible for sexist comments and one candidate accused of rape. But the scandals don’t explain the decline.
Ged Kearney’s win for Labor in the federal seat of Batman in March should have been sufficient warning. Logging old growth forests is an outrage, but simply campaigning on bike paths and forests won’t win seats from Labor—environmental demands need to be connected to jobs and public transport. Until The Greens seriously adopt a working class orientation in order to win over Labor’s voting base and its base in the union movement, they are going to keep going backwards.
It was noticeable that there were no Greens triangles at the teachers’ walk-off for refugees on 20 November.
The Greens were hoping to win seats from Labor in inner city Richmond and Brunswick. But at the time of writing, Labor has won in Richmond, although Brunswick is too close to call. However, it seems likely that Lidia Thorpe will lose Northcote. In the upper house The Greens went from five seats to one.
The Victorian Socialists’ Steve Jolly polled 4.6 per cent in the Northern Metropolitan upper house region but was unable to win a spot. (Each upper house region elects five members so the quota is around 16 per cent.) In the lower house a Victorian Socialists’ candidate also won 7.75 per cent in Broadmeadows where unemployment is 25 per cent.
The Liberal wipe-out in Victoria is a shot in the arm for everyone who wants to finish off the Morrison Liberal government.
We will vote to get the Liberals out as soon as we get the chance. But it is by mobilising hard in the weeks and months ahead that we can kick out the Liberals, not just to get a Labor government, but to build stronger movements for union rights, the right to strike, for increased funding for public schools, for green jobs and renewable energy.
We need an immediate call for nationwide Change the Rules rallies. And we need to build on the teachers’ walk-off for refugees in Brisbane and Melbourne by making sure the refugee rallies on Palm Sunday 2019 to close Manus and Nauru are the biggest yet.