Politics: Federal Election – Meet the Socialist Alliance

Pausing only to note that we have passed the halfway point on this seemingly endless journey through the smaller, crazier parties in Australian politices, it is my pleasure to introduce to you The Socialist Alliance, also known hereabouts as ‘please stop being on my side because you are making my side look like raving lunatics’. Though in this election there are so many candidates for this particular honour at both ends of the spectrum that I have a feeling the Socialists are going to wind up looking fairly sane by comparison.

Their Senate Group Voting Ticket is pretty much as you’d expect; preferencing the radical independents in Group B, then the Greens, the Sex Party and Labor. Bottom of the ticket are Building Australia, the CEC (coming up next), and finally One Nation. In fact, this is a pretty respectable ticket, and loony lefties could do worse than to vote above the line for this lot – especially since it is safe to assume they won’t be getting anyone into the Senate anyway.

But what are their policies, I hear you ask? Well, like many other small parties, the Socialist Alliance likes to have all its policies in individual PDFs, designed to drive me completely crazy. However, they also have the good manners to have a summary statement of their policies up front. My plan, therefore, is to look through the summary statement, and then download a few of their longer policies – hopefully a somewhat representative sample – in order to see whether detail is a good thing or a bad thing with this lot.

In brief, then, the Socialists do believe in climate change, and want “immediate and large-scale public investment for 100% renewable energy by 2020; fund by taxing the corporate polluters and billionaires; support a Resource Super Profits Tax as part of this process”. They want to tackle housing shortfalls with a community housing program, and reduce rents and mortgages to no more than 20% of income (definitely a policy that invites further inspection). Healthwise, like all my favourite parties, they want to boost funding for preventive healthcare and mental health, add dental care (have you noticed that dental care seems to be a big thing this election? I don’t recall anyone even mentioning it last time around.), legalise abortion, and stop subsidising private insurers. They also want better public transport, including a high-speed, intercity railway line, which I believe was also mentioned by several other parties including the climate change loonies, but I can’t remember because I have a cold and it is filling my head with cotton wool.

The socialists want to lift welfare payments above the poverty line and provide a living wage for full-tie students, and they call for job creation in housing, public transport and renewable energy. I think this is quite a smart policy, actually, so I’ll be looking into it in more depth. They want to boost funding to community based childcare and aged care networks, and expand disability services. Again, I’ll want more detail on this.

They want to repeal the Northern Territory intervention laws, and so they should, and they want to abolish racist welfare quarantining. I think I need to find out more about what this is, actually. And they want to close the the gap in Aboriginal health, education and housing by 2020.

On the international front, they want to ‘bring back all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan; isolate apartheid Israel; end ANZUS; boost development and climate change aid to poor countries.’ Um. I’m in favour of international aid and bringing back the troops – assuming we can do it without making more of a mess than we have already (I am anti-war and anti-those particular interventions; on the other hand, once you intervene in someone’s internal affairs, I think you have a responsibility to fix your messes before departing, and not leave them worse off. At the moment, I’m not convinced that’s where we are). I’m a bit more concerned about their policies on ANZUS and Israel; I have many issues with Israel’s policies, but also a degree of sympathy for Israel’s fears. I do think that whole corner of the middle east is an unholy mess, but I also think that there are no simple solutions, and that, in the long term, the only workable solutions are going to have to come from within, not from the outside. And I have no idea how you make that happen. But I’m not sure that quarantining will help, because Israel is quite paranoid enough already without being given reason to feel itself picked on.

Actually, on their detailed policy page, they also have an enormous number of policies regarding different countries, most of which amount to solidarity with the oppressed and a general call for the US to mind its own business in latin america, the middle east, and so forth. But they are not just anti-US; they also want Morocco out of the Western Sahara, and they want Australia to stop making treaties with Indonesia, since Indonesia has never actually prosecuted anyone over atrocities in East Timor. You can read the individual policies yourself, but they seem to be pretty consistent in tenor, and I’m torn between liking them and feeling that perhaps I need to visit the Amnesty International website before making any judgments, because I don’t *quite* trust this lot to be objective.

Not surprisingly, the socialists want to scrap all anti-union laws, and generally improve workers’ rights. They also want pay equity for women, and stronger laws against sexual harrassment

They want to close detention seekers and end deportations of asylum seekers, which is always going to make me happy, and in fact, they are really, really good on asylum seekers, so I’ll just quote you the opening part of their full policy:

1. End the Liberal and Labor bipartisan policy of keeping refugees out of Australia under the guise of attacking “people smuggling” and “border security”. Ending this policy would include the following measures:

1. Abolish the concept of a “safe third country” which is used to screen out those who would otherwise be assessed as refugees;
2. Return Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier islands and Cocos (Keeling) islands to Australia’s migration zone;
3. Immediately resettle all UNHCR-assessed refugees stranded in Indonesia and Malaysia, neither of which is a signatory to the UN refugee convention;
4. End the deals with the Indonesian, Malaysian and Sri Lankan governments to stop refugees coming to Australia under the guise of “stopping people smuggling”.

2. End the policy of mandatory detention, close all detention centres and free all asylum seekers imprisoned within them. Allow asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are being processed.

There’s more, but that was the part I wanted to hear most.

In a similar humanist vein, they want to scrap ‘anti-terror’ laws and adopt a bill of rights. Also, they are pro-gay marriage (and want to introduce a refugee category for those who are being persecuted based on their sexuality) and full rights for trans and intersex people, and interestingly, want to extend the right to vote down to the age of 16. In addition, they want to scrap ‘learn or earn’ (which I need to read more about, because this is not familiar to me), boost funding to youth services and wages, and make public education free to tertiary level.

OK, let’s go back to some of the more detailed policies, starting with Youth. And, oh dear, while I don’t think they really *mean* to say ‘we want to brainwash your children!’, I can’t help raising my eyebrows at the following:

…young people have the power to play a radicalising and explosive [!!!] role in the struggle for a better world and it is from them that the socialist movement and the Socialist Alliance will be strengthened and renewed.

As such, the Socialist Alliance seeks to involve young people in the struggle for socialism.

To this end, the Socialist Alliance recognises the importance of the socialist youth organisation and affiliate Resistance. As an independent youth organisation, Resistance plays a specific and complimentary role [Andrew thinks this means they sit around telling each other how cool they all are] in the struggle for socialism. It enables young people to work together and lead struggles around their own demands wherever these struggles take place, to acquire political and organisational responsibility and experience and learn their own lessons.

As such the Socialist Alliance is committed to working with and building Resistance among young people by:

# Discussing youth work on the Socialist Alliance leadership bodies;
# Collaborating with Resistance to work out initiatives, priorities and how we use our combined resources;
# Supporting and working closely with Resistance members to assist in their political development; and
# Encouraging Resistance members to join and get active in the Socialist Alliance

The trouble is, I do think it is important to get younger people interested and engaged in politics, for the very reasons the Socialist Alliance do – they do tend to be some of the first affected by government policies on education, housing, welfare, etc, and it is important to learn to stand up for your rights. But… I wouldn’t have phrased it quite like this. I think I’ll file this as ‘a sound policy, unfortunately worded’.

As for their policy on women – I’ve just read it through, and really, I don’t want to summarise it here because I can’t do it justice. It’s fabulous. I think it’s the best policy I’ve seen on any subject this election. It has everything I could want from a policy on women and several things I hadn’t thought of. Honestly, it makes me want to vote for them despite their rather scary views on international relations. Really, it’s gorgeous. Go read it, especially if you are female – I think it really raises the bar on what a policy on women should address.

I note also that they have a policy on the hijab that amounts to ‘the only people deciding whether muslim women should wear hijab are muslim women themselves’. They also condemn racism against people of middle-eastern appearance or muslim beliefs, and point out that the people who go on about how oppressive the hijab is to women are strangely silent on subjects like equal pay, sexual harrassment, or advertising that demeans women. I have to say, I opened their policy titled ‘hijab’ with some dread, but I think they have their heads screwed on straight on this one.

Their policy on Indigenous Australians is, I think, very nearly as good as the one on women – I’m less able to judge it, being less educated on the subject. It lays out the history of white/immigrant Australia’s treatment of the Aboriginal population, and then moves forward into what needs to be done. Among other things, they want to roll back the Howard Government’s NT intervention, and replace it with the *actual* recommendations from the Little Children are Sacred report, the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory Emergency Response and Development Plan, as well as the recommendations in the 1997 HREOC Social Justice Report. Unsurprisingly, they are opposed to the paternalistic approach to Aboriginal welfare generally, and call for indigenous community involvement in education, health, and housing issues. They also want to ‘repeal the Native Title Act, abolish all racist land laws and renegotiate Indigenous Land Rights as part of a constitutionally entrenched Treaty, binding on Federal and State governments’. Perhaps the best summary paragraph is this:

Funding for programs that have been shown to reduce social and economic disadvantage must be kept up and increased. Any real plan to achieve social and economic equality for Indigenous people must include the following measures, developed and overseen by the appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations. Aboriginal control over the administration of Aboriginal affairs must be the practice, not just on paper.

I feel bad about not writing more about their housing policy, which is really very interesting, and I’ve now linked to it above, but I don’t really have the knowledge to analyse it usefully. I will say, the Socialist Alliance goes into a lot of detail in all the policies of theirs which I have read, and includes both the principles / history behind them and the actions – both short- and long-term in some cases – which they would like to take. I think they have matured a bit since the last election, and are verging on being people I’d vote for. Maybe in another 3 years? On the other hand, I see very little evidence of costings or financial thinking here; while they aren’t throwing lump payments of money around like Family First, they do want to undertake a lot of expensive projects, and I’m not sure how these would be paid for. Once again, though, I’d be happy to see them being the voice of idealism in the Senate, even though I’m not sure I’d want them forming a government quite yet.

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