Simpol-Australia rides high as 60 federal-election candidates sign on
Election review for It's Simpol, Winter (November) 2004
--journal of the International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (SPO)
Written in position of ISPO Coordinator for Australia. [Download publication]
Australia's October 2004 federal election resulted in return of the pro-corporate Howard Government for a fourth term in Canberra. This has been explained as much by workers' appreciation of good economic times as by a lack of effective opposition. Either way, it is bad news for social and ecological values.
Because of the steady convergence of the major parties' policies, Australian elections are increasingly being contested by independents and minor parties, which numbered well over 30 in this election. And it was mainly from among them that Simpol-Australia managed to sign up 60* candidates pledging to implement SP. It is noteworthy that one signatory (John Cherry, Australian Democrats, Queensland) is a sitting senator; another (Tom Wilson of Victoria) belongs to a major party, the ALP; and, above all, that Rachel Siewert of The Greens (WA) has been elected to the Senate with the backing of SP voters.
The national contest was essentially between John Howard's conservative Liberal Party (in coalition with the smaller rural National Party) and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) which has pursued its own pro-corporate agenda for two decades and which, in fact, launched programmes of trade liberalisation, privatisation and, eg, harsh treatment of refugees, when in government during the 1980s.
Issues included the Government's 3-term incumbency (since 1996), Australia's disproportionate membership of the "willing" Middle-East invasion forces and the growing domestic gulf between the incomes and opportunities of rich and poor. However, the Howard Government cleverly reduced the choice to one between productive economic management and Labor's unhappy track record of having driven interest rates to between 15% and 20% when in government. Besides, the ALP lacked credible leadership and frontbenchers with experience in office
Significance of the Senate
For social reformers, the worst news is that the Government has achieved majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, enabling unencumbered passage of its neoliberal agenda and, undoubtedly, future revision and repeal of past measures representing the views of a 'hostile' Senate whose balance will be reversed on 30 June, 2005. Unlike the House of Lords, The Australian Senate has power to reject or amend money bills and to delay or block supply bills. It has authority over its own procedures, including a powerful inquisitorial committee system. Except in the event of a 'double dissolution' of both houses, senators are elected for a 6-year term at half-Senate elections conducted three yearly.
Democrats and Greens
The brave enterprise of the Australian Democrats as a third party formed in 1977 (preceding the UK's Liberal Democrats) started to self-destruct during the 1990s because of its members' inability to retain control of what had been a very promising policy agenda. The party's senators, at one time numbering nine, made very astute use of the committee system and professed to exercise a "balance of reason". At times, the Democrats were able to amend or block extreme measures with the support of the ALP. Alas, earlier leaders of stature gave way to others more susceptible to seduction by major-party players, exposing the Democrats to erosion of independence and, finally, to active support for a regressive, pro-corporate taxation regime. Voters have justly savaged the party for this, culminating in defeat of all three senators who were re-electable in 2004.
On 1 July, 2005, the Democrats will lose party status in the Senate, being reduced to only four senators with terms ending in 2008, at which time the party will undoubtedly disappear. The resulting vacuum in the progressive side of politics is being filled by emergent Greens under the federal leadership of long-term Tasmanian stalwart Bob Brown. The Greens picked up two new Senate seats, after confidently expecting to win three or four. Notably, they narrowly failed to secure the Queensland seat lost by Democrat Senator John Cherry--which passed to the Coalition, thus sealing a Senate majority for Mr Howard, the first obtained by either major party since the mid-1970s.
Preparing an SP campaign
The 2004 election was for 150 House of Representatives vacancies and 40 (of a total 76) Senate seats. Each would be contested by a field of 7 or more candidates, making for a total 'target audience' in the order of 1400. Several months before the election was called, we had three active SP coordinators covering the eight vast states and territories. We resolved to seize the moment and start lobbying all parties and candidates rather than await the next opportunity three years later. It was decided, as a minimum, to target each candidate by direct mail and follow up with other contact methods according to opportunity and resources. Of equal importance to securing pledges was the goal of spreading the word about SP through direct, party and media avenues.
Our lack of 'official' SP policies caused us some doubt about whether election candidates could commit generally to SP. For this reason, we also invited them to sign up for a particular local initiative, viz, that Australian citizens be empowered to petition directly for specific constitutional change. As it turned out, 60 candidates pledged to implement SP as against 24 who were prepared to sign the constitution pledge. Full details of the pledges and respondents are posted at http://members.iinet.net.au/~jenks/OzSimpol/ .
Since contact details for all federal parliamentarians are available online, two mailings to the incumbents were done immediately (in July). The addresses of all other candidates would have to be obtained from their parties, from websites or, as a final resort, from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) following closure of nominations. It turned out that the data was placed on the AEC website in a manner which made it fairly easy to adapt to merge-mailing, and there was ample time (around 4 weeks) in which to complete the task long enough before polling day to allow advertising of the results.
Greens prominent in SP adoption surge
The first completed SP pledge was received from Senator John Cherry (Australian Democrats, Queensland) with whose office there had been some earlier special communication. Soon after, Senator Len Harris (One Nation Party, NSW) returned a signed pledge for the constitution initiative (but not for SP). There was no other positive response from a sitting member, though some gave their reasons in letters of reply.
The Western Australian Greens undertook to circulate our material to all their 19 candidates, which resulted in the Stop Press announcement of four returned pledges in the last (Autumn) issue of 'It's Simpol'. But, soon after, a blanket pledge was made out for the entire party by its lead Senate candidate Rachel Siewert. The Greens (WA) thus became the first Australian political party to sign on to SP. (In Australia, Greens are primarily organised at State level--and subscribe to a federal affiliation with The Australian Greens.)
Though currently without a federal parliamentarian, The Greens (WA) provided the party's first-ever senator in 1987 and had two other senators in 1993-99. Now, Rachel Siewert was successful at the October election and will take her place in the Senate on 1 July, 2005.There are five Greens in Western Australia's Legislative Council (Upper House), so the party's pledge is very significant for the establishment and prestige of Simultaneous Policy throughout the world.
Late in the campaign period, I spoke with the Australian Greens' leader, Senator Bob Brown and gave him a copy of John Bunzl's 'The Simultaneous Policy'. It was unfortunately too late for our message to directly impact on every Greens candidate, but this will certainly happen before the next federal election. Another Greens Senate seat has been narrowly won by Christine Milne in Bob's home state of Tasmania. Other possible seats have been narrowly lost, notably in Queensland.
The tight margins make it a certainty that SP voters will be making a difference in future elections. The experience has also shown that incorporation of Simpol-Australia may be a worthwhile objective in 2005.
*Originally written as 59 candidates--but a 60th pledge was received immediately after the election
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