Tomorrow’s election in Victoria is shaping up to be a major crisis for the political establishment, not just in that state but nationally. The election campaign for parliament in the country’s second largest state has degenerated into a humiliating spectacle of mutual recriminations and dirty mudslinging. Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition, the mechanisms of capitalist rule since World War II, are largely discredited and have lost much of their mass popular support.
The Victorian election campaign, like almost every recent election in the country, exposed the immense gulf between a political and media establishment that serves the corporate elite and the feelings of working people.
When the election was called last month, it was largely portrayed in the official media as little more than a formality. Prime Minister Daniel Andrews’ Labor government was expected to be easily re-elected after two terms in office amid a historic coalition crisis, which saw its worst result in May’s general election in some seventy years.
Within weeks, those smug calculations were turned on their head. Media polls are notoriously unreliable, but a plethora of them over the past few days tell the same basic story. Primary support for Labor and the coalition is almost identical and it is becoming increasingly unlikely that either will be able to form an independent majority government.
A Resolve Strategic survey conducted for the Age The newspaper, for example, found that Labor and the Coalition each received 36 per cent of the primary vote. The poll shows that 28 percent of voters can vote for “third-party” candidates, including the Greens, smaller parties and a host of independents.
Their numbers have reached record highs, another sign that the power of the two-party system is waning and the electorate is fragmenting. A record 740 candidates are standing for the Legislative Assembly, the lower house of the state legislature, compared with 507 in 2018 and 543 in 2014. For the Legislative Assembly, the upper house of the state legislature, there are 454 candidates available, compared to 380 four years earlier.
As in the federal election, some “blue-green” independent candidates are trying to garner support by posing about the climate crisis while defending the profit system that is at the root of it. The Greens are trying to win several relatively affluent seats in central Melbourne and are calling on Labor to agree power-sharing in the event of a minority government, underscoring once again their character as an establishment right-wing party.
Other independents and smaller parties are speaking out on a variety of grievances related to the environment, the infrastructure crisis and a host of other issues. Some are associated with the right-wing anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown movement, which has been actively incited by sections of the corporate elite as a battering ram against public health measures to combat COVID.
Whatever the outcome, by far the most significant aspect of the election is the Labor Party crisis. The Resolve Strategic poll found the biggest shift compared to the 2018 election was a seven per cent drop in Labor primary support. Separate polls have indicated that Andrews’ own seat could be in jeopardy.
The shift is hardly the result of strength on the part of the Victorian Coalition. It’s in ruins, with a host of contestants embroiled in scandals. Their leader, Matthew Guy, is a widely despised figure associated with reactionary “tough crime rhetoric” and opposition to popular COVID safety measures. He was ousted by the Liberals after presiding over their resounding loss in the 2018 election.
The trend of falling Labor support reflects the May general election. Labor recorded the lowest primary code since 1934 and received the first preferential votes from less than a third of the population. She was only able to claw her way into office because of the implosion of the coalition.
As the WSWS explained, the general election confirmed that Labor had lost all mass working-class support after decades of implementing the dictates of the financial elite by cutting jobs, wages, working conditions and benefits. It is rightly viewed more and more as a party of big business, indistinguishable from the Liberals.
Labor’s difficulties in the Victorian election are of national importance, not only because they confirm this fundamental assessment. The Andrews government, the longest-serving state or territory government, has played a crucial role for the Australian ruling class over the past year.
Andrews had been linked to lockdowns and other COVID-suppression measures during the first two years of the pandemic. These guidelines were reluctantly implemented in response to calls from health workers, teachers, and epidemiologists, and included a variety of business-friendly exemptions. However, they have limited illness and death and have repeatedly succeeded in stopping the transmission of the virus.
While governments hacked and undermined the repressive measures for months, the crucial turning point came last December. This month, all state, territory and federal governments passed an open “let it rip” policy that has resulted in more than 13,000 deaths and the infection of the overwhelming majority of the population.
Andrews was the key. He worked in a triumvirate with former Coalition Prime Minister Scott Morrison and far-right New South Wales Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet to push through a full return to work for profit, including the dangerous reopening of schools. Morrison and Perrottet could not have implemented this agenda alone. As Perrottet has publicly stated, Andrew’s past references to the pandemic were crucial.
The Victorian Labor government has also been at the forefront of attacks on workers’ wages and conditions linked to the ‘reopening’. Earlier this year, with critical support from the Australian Education Union, she pushed through a collective agreement that limited public school teachers’ pay rises to less than 2 percent a year, with inflation exceeding 7 percent, and cemented intolerable conditions.
In view of this balance, the state election, like its nationwide predecessor election, remained without serious political discussion. Andrews and Guy have largely dodged the topic of the pandemic. Both have made meager health promises that, even if implemented, would do nothing to reverse the collapse of a hospital system that is among the country’s most under-resourced.
Guy, an advocate of privatization and a passionate free-market marketer, points to the right-wing nature of the Labor campaign and criticizes Andrews for not doing anything about the state’s failing public health system.
The real agenda of the party that forms the government is hidden from the people. But it is discussed in the pages of the financial press. Her comment focuses on Victoria’s enormous national debt, which is expected to reach $165.4 billion in 2026, more than the debt of New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania combined. The liabilities are the result of lockdown spending focused on large government grants to businesses and business-focused infrastructure projects.
An editorial in the Australian Financial Report This week, calling for the ouster of the Andrews government, she proclaimed: “What is needed is a pro-business, fiscally responsible, Kennett-style agenda focused on getting the state out of its COVID-19 hangover and out.” Getting out of deficit and debt.”
Jeff Kennett’s coalition government, installed in 1992, led a major slash-and-burn operation. It privatized state assets including the Gas and Fuel Corporation and State Electricity, closed 19 public hospitals and more than 30 schools, and wiped out 50,000 education jobs. The government implemented a series of “reforms” in the interests of property developers and corporations.
The financial press editorials calling for the end of the Andrews government have expressed no confidence in Guy and the coalition. Nor have they seriously questioned Andrew’s well-established pro-business credentials. Instead, it is feared that after two terms in office and widespread anger at the social crisis and the fallout from the ‘let it rip’ agenda, he and Labor are practically lemon squeezed.
What is shown is a deepening crisis of capitalist domination. The next Victorian government will be forced to implement far-reaching austerity measures. But so is the Labor federal government, which crept into office with a historically low share of the vote. She immediately dropped her campaign promises of a “better future” to explain that working people are making “sacrifices” including years of cut real wages and cuts in social spending.
Economic commentary on the Victorian election also no doubt aims to send a message to the Federal Labor Party that it must push ahead with the actual implementation of this agenda.
But the plans of the ruling elite, dictated by the deepening crisis of world capitalism, face a major obstacle: mass working-class opposition and their re-entry into the great social struggles. In conditions of a collapse in Labor support and a crisis in the discredited and corporatized unions, there is a resurgence in class struggle that heralds far greater upheaval.
The Victorian elections will solve nothing for workers. The task is to build the socialist leadership in the working class for the struggles arising against austerity, war and rising authoritarianism.