Social Democracy in Focus, Issue 5

20 April 2015

The NSW Election, a win for policy-based campaigning

The NSW election, held on March 28, did not prove three times lucky for Labor Oppositions seeking to unseat first-term Coalition governments. Unlike its peers in Victoria and Queensland, the Liberal-National government of Mike Baird comfortably won the poll, albeit with a majority cut by about half compared to its 2011 landslide win.

The big winners of the election were Mr Baird himself and the Greens. Mr Baird’s personal popularity, based on a level-headed, down-to-earth style, allowed the Coalition to move beyond damaging corruption allegations and win despite a signature policy of electricity privatisation that remains unloved in the electorate. The Greens’ careful targeting of a small number of seats and issues, combined with impressive on-the-ground campaigning, saw the party lift its Parliamentary numbers to eight.

The principal loser of the campaign was Labor. While senior party figures are putting on a brave public face, in private they concede that the result is deeply damaging. Seats that were once Labor heartland, like East Hills and Oatley, remained well out of reach despite an overall swing to Labor. In inner city seats like Balmain, Newtown and Sydney, the fear is that Greens and progressive independents have displaced Labor for good.

The result contains lessons for all players in Australia’s depressingly dysfunctional political system. Both Mr Baird and the Greens benefited from clearly articulated and distinctive policy positions, communicated consistently in advance of the poll. For Mr Baird, this was power privatisation and ongoing investment in roads and public transport. For the Greens, it was support for public education and transport, and opposition to coal seam gas.

Labor, despite four years to prepare, failed to offer a clear-cut policy alternative, instead choosing to focus on opposing unpopular government policies like cuts to TAFE and health. On the proposed WestConnex tunnel, a critical inner-city issue, it was unable to announce a clear position until three weeks before the election, by which time the Greens had long won the debate.

If there is a silver lining for social democrats, it is that the combined progressive vote of Labor and the Greens roughly equalled the combined Liberals and Nationals.  However, if existing electoral trends continue, it may be that in future Labor will only be able to win government in coalition with the Greens.

On the critical issue of power privatisation, it is still not clear whether Mr Baird will have the numbers in the Upper House to carry the day despite the policy’s unpopularity.  If he does, The real losers of the 2015 poll will be household consumers, who’ll pay higher energy prices, and users of public services, who’ll see ongoing cuts as the state’s finances are further weakened.

Addressing the gender gap

In our first issue of Social Democracy in Focus, we looked at the significance of the Andrews government appointing nine women to its Cabinet – that’s getting close to half the Cabinet. We’ve now seen the flow on effects of how progress in equality can be achieved when men and women work together to close the gender gap.

Last week, the Victorian government announced that board appointments must be at least 50 per cent women.  This will apply to all Victorian courts and all paid Government board positions. This will ensure that female representation, which had fallen on major government boards in Victoria in the last few years, will become the norm.  It increases the diversity of people on Victoria’s governing boards, and ensures a larger talent pool from which to draw.

Another first for Victoria we noted back in our first issue was the creation of a Minister for Family Violence, and now the Victorian government has followed through on a key promise of its election campaign and established a royal commission into family violence.

According to VicHealth, violence against women remains the biggest contributor of ill-health and premature death in women aged 15 to 44.  The focus of the Commission will be on improving a system that is currently struggling to cope with the sheer volume of people affected.

It is hoped that the Royal Commission will bring meaningful policy change to a system that has failed to respond adequately to domestic violence, and moreover, that Victoria will become a national leader for better protecting families from violence.