Labor has managed to hang onto power in Queensland despite early predictions of a One Nation-led right-wing resurgence.
The combined vote of the major parties was the lowest for a century, as discontent saw votes bleed to both the left and right.
What saved Labor was fear of a Liberal National Party-One Nation alliance. Labor successfully reminded the public of LNP leader Tim Nicholls’ record as treasurer in the previous LNP government of Campbell Newman, which sacked 14,000 public servants and tried to privatise $42 billion worth of assets.
Labor also vowed to go into opposition rather than make a deal with One Nation. They rejected One Nation’s “values” and warned of chaos if the LNP relied on them to form government. This made Labor look distinctly different.
One Nation tried to present itself as a friend of workers and as an alternative to the Labor and LNP establishment parties. Unlike the WA elections, where One Nation preferenced the conservatives, in Queensland they preferenced against all sitting members, both Labor and LNP. Pauline Hanson toured the state campaigning from her so called “battler bus”.
Queensland unions played a crucial role in exposing this populism. Although One Nation’s racism towards Muslims, refugees and immigration was rarely challenged, the unions produced leaflets, held meetings and organised counter-protests reminding workers how One Nation had voted for anti-worker laws in the federal parliament. In particular they highlighted One Nation’s support for cuts to penalty rates.
This limited the loss of votes from Labor to One Nation. Most of One Nation’s votes came from the LNP. And because of One Nation’s preference policy, they didn’t automatically flow back to them.
While the One Nation “shock-wave” didn’t eventuate we can’t be too complacent. They did win a seat and received nearly 14 per cent of the overall vote, averaging over 20 per cent in the seats where they stood. In some traditional Labor-leaning working class seats near Brisbane, more than one in four, sometimes one in three, voted for a party that regularly denigrates Muslims.
The Greens ran candidates in all 93 electorates but concentrated most of their resources on the three inner city Brisbane seats of Maiwar, South Brisbane and McConnel where they had a chance to win.
While they made gestures at addressing cost of living concerns, their campaign was focused around the Adani mine.
Two old parties?
The Greens correctly preferenced Labor ahead of One Nation and the LNP on their how-to-vote cards, but in their drive to unseat Labor in two of the inner city seats, most of their propaganda targeted Labor. By labelling Labor as no different to the LNP and as one of the “old parties” The Greens failed to make it clear that they were first and foremost opposed to the LNP.
While it is true Labor takes significant donations from big corporations, unlike the LNP, much of their funding and activists come from the union movement and many workers still see Labor as their party. It is a mistake to ignore Labor’s base.
The unions are not just mindless foot soldiers for Labor. Over the years they’ve run strong grassroots campaigns against both the LNP and Labor governments opposing privatisations and more recently demanding industrial manslaughter laws.
There were other ways that Labor was different to the LNP. Labor shifted on the Adani mine, saying that it would not facilitate a federal government loan. It used this to present itself as against the mine, although it still supports it going ahead. But Labor did oppose the building of another coal-fired power station.
By failing to differentiate Labor from the LNP, The Greens seemed to ignore the central threat of an LNP-One Nation government.
We need a left alternative to Labor, but The Greens have created an unnecessary division between themselves and Labor’s union activist and voting base.
While they increased their state-wide vote to 9.6 per cent and got over a third of the vote in South Brisbane, and could still win Maiwar in Brisbane, outside of the inner city they are not seen as an alternative for those disaffected with Labor’s embrace of neo-liberalism.
Labor won the election. But the big end of town will pressure them to bring state debt under control, and to deliver the Adani mine. One Nation will be waiting in the wings to channel disaffection in a racist direction.
Union struggle will be crucial to resisting any Labor sell-out and attempts to make workers pay. Now more than ever we need a fighting left alternative to Labor that can relate to workers, fight racism and draw the disaffection to the left.
By Mark Gillespie