Western Australian Senate Group AF ~ Socialist Alliance

Oh, I cannot tell you how pleased I am to find that the Socialist Alliance is running candidates at this election!  I missed them on the Victorian Senate ballot last year, I truly did.  As a connoisseur of slightly bonkers minor parties, it’s always good to see the Left side of politics truly participating in this game.  There are only so many sarcastic things one can say about right-wing parties before it all gets a little same-ish.

Of course, the Socialist Alliance disappointed me a trifle at the 2010 election by actually producing a raft of fairly sensible policies, so it’s always possible that the Left is still lacking that frisson of what-on-earth-am-I-reading-here and please-stop-making-my-side-look-stupid that makes the Senate ballot paper such a delight.  But I am not afraid.  If the Socialist Alliance becomes too sane, someone else is bound to step up to the bar.  And, all humour aside, I actually do like the idea of having several good parties to choose from at the top of my ballot paper.  If the Socialist Alliance becomes one of them, all the better.

Let’s start with their voting ticket to see what it tells us.  Something tells me we will be seeing Greens, Pirates and perhaps WikiLeaks prominently represented…

… and yes, here we go: the Greens get slots 3-8 on the ballot paper, followed by the Pirate Party and – how did I not think of this? – Save Our ABC.  Maybe my Oma *was* right about them…  HEMP and Voluntary Euthanasia are up next, followed by WikiLeaks, Animal Justice and the Sex Party.  Every party that either is the Loony Left or tends to be considered that way is getting top billing here.  At this point, we reach the ALP, and can assume the vote won’t get much further.  This is actually a surprisingly sane ticket, actually.  Unsurprisingly, this lot don’t have much time for the various Christan parties (opium of the masses, and all that), though the DLP gets top billing out of that particular pack, no doubt for its old Labor roots.  The Liberals can be found around about the early 40s, because the Socialist Alliance is saving its real dislike for the right-wing fringe parties.  The bottom of the ticket is held by Stop the Greens and independent Teresa van Lieshout, with Freedom and Prosperity, Rise Up Australia and Family First all scoring in the 70s.

On the whole, this ticket looks to me like a very useful scoring system for where our current political parties stand on the Left-Right spectrum, with far left at the top and far right at the bottom.

Moving along to their website, I am chuffed to see that they have a special section to keep up to date on Sue Bolton, Moreland’s very own Socialist councillor.  I definitely feel the love!  (And I see Fremantle also feels the love, with their very own Councillor Sam Wainwright.  That’s fun – I had no idea that Freemantle shared Moreland’s socialist tendencies.  Hail, sister city!).

The Socialist Alliance’s main news page is very excited about March in March, International Women’s Day, and the fires in Morwell, as well as Venezuela’s socialist revolution.  I’m not too sure about that last one, but I’m in agreement with the rest.  And I cannot *tell* you how nice it is to be reading a political website that doesn’t make me wince.

This is kind of a huge website, because these guys have been around for a while.  In the interests of getting this written before next week’s election, I’ll skip the primer on Socialism and the Resources and Campaign pages, and stick to the About page and the policies.

The Socialist Alliance wants you to know that they are “an anti-capitalist party, formed in 2001 by eight socialist groups that saw an urgent need for greater left unity to fight attacks on the rights and living conditions of workers and the poor.”

This is not surprising to anyone who has any notion about what socialism is, though I suppose given the tendency of political parties to have names that mean the opposite of their actual policies (Liberal Party, anyone?), it’s quite refreshing.  The Socialist Alliance goes on to explain that:

The socialism we support is based on five principles:

Solidarity and collaboration – not dog-eat-dog competition and rivalry
Environmental sustainability – living in harmony with the planet
Participatory democracy – not just voting for “representatives” every three years *
Social economy – putting people’s need before corporate profit
True equality – between peoples, nations, religions and the sexes

(* I’m pretty sure that this is shorthand for “please don’t mistake us for the nutjobs over at the SEP – we do not endorse overthrowing the government through revolution”)

A nice touch is that the membership rates are tiered depending on your level of income, though it seems that you are the one who gets to declare what category you feel you fall under.  From each according to their abilities, and so forth…

Moving over to the policy page, I nearly burst into tears because it’s after ten on a work night, and they have *so many policies*.  Forty-four, to be precise.  Oy.  I’m going to group them by kind, because otherwise we will all be here all night, and you won’t read this anyway.

Let’s start with all the policies that are about war, revolution, and countries other than Australia, because there are lot of these, and these are probably their least sensible policies, so I’m inclined to get them out of the way.  Broadly speaking, the Socialist Alliance is anti-war (which tends to exploit the working classes), but pro-revolution.  I can sort of see where they are coming from here, but there’s a part of me that finds it a little odd to be so anti-massed violence in one context and so thoroughly enthusiastic about it in another.  Anyway.  The SA supports the Filipinos who want to bring down the government and the West Papuan Independence Movement, and they are delighted by the Arab Spring, but are against ‘imperialist military intervention’ and the way that  ‘the Western imperialist ruling class has attempted to use its control of the global media to appoint spokespeople for the uprisings’.  Unsurprisingly, the Socialist Alliance doesn’t much like the increased US military presence in Australia, either.

They support the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people, the Tamils, Aceh and Tibet,  and condemn the governments of China, Morocco and Indonesia for human rights abuses and Australia for the ‘theft’ of East Timor’s oil. They are against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and feel that Australia needs to curb its imperialistic tendencies.  They are also deeply unhappy with the USA’s tendency to meddle in Latin America, and Australia’s habit of going along with what the US does (and I think they really have two very good points there), and have policies about Colombia, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela, as well as a general policy in support of the Latin American Revolution. And, of course, they want to boycott Israel over Palestine, and have many, many opinions on the subject in general (though they do, at least, go out of their way to express support of Israeli refuseniks and human rights activists, which I don’t think they were doing last time I checked this website).

I should add that I agree that these are all important issues, but I’m not sure they required twenty separate policies to address this, especially as many of these policies run to about two sentences.  And honestly, the odds that the Socialist Alliance are going to be getting anywhere near running Australia’s international policy this century are pretty slim.  I’m not sure that focusing on this is a good use of there time.

The Socialist Alliance has policies on what I think of as the three core issues of health, education and housing.  Unsurprisingly, they feel that these should be accessible to all, and I have to agree with them there, as these are all fundamental needs which, if not met, make participation in society all but impossible.  Some of their more interesting policies in education include universal access to quality childcare, free, quality, secular education with no up-front fees, a living wage for students, and full funding for literacy and ESL programs.  These all sound like excellent policies, but I wonder where the money will come from.  (Ah – looking at some of their other policies, the goal is to decrease military spending, and throw the money saved from this into social policies.  I approve.  Though I do wonder if our defense spending is big enough to cover all this ground.)  In healthcare, notable policies include adequate funding for mental health services, an extension of Medicare, and multidisciplinary community primary healthcare centres.  Under housing, they want to greatly expand public housing, eliminate negative gearing, and provide low-interest home loans and rent assistance for those in need.

The Socialist Alliance have a Charter on the Environment (they like charters – we will have more of these shortly), as well as a number of related policies.  I’m going to quote their introductory paragraphs below, because they demonstrate both a good grasp of the problems and some practical ways to address them, along with a rather endearing rhetorical style that occasionally reminds me of Peppone from the Don Camillo books:

Capitalism destroys habitat and renders species extinct, yet the survival of animal and plant life is essential for human progress and should not be counterposed to so-called “development”. We are bombarded with chemicals in our food, water and air. We are assailed by poisons at work, at home and in our communities. In our hands, technology will be used for human progress; in the hands of capitalists, it is used to plunder our world. The destruction of the once-mighty Murray-Darling river system, the mobilisation of megatonnes of salt which threatens not only agriculture but many rural towns (and, in time, cities); the lunacy of open-cut and acid leaching uranium mines; the huge volume of asbestos released from decaying cement sheeting and insulation – these are disasters which may take centuries to rectify, even in a socialist Australia.

“Capitalism” and “sustainability” are mutually exclusive concepts. Only socialism is sustainable. But it is necessary to stop the destruction of our world now, as a matter of urgency. Socialist Alliance demands the commencement of a comprehensive environmental restoration and employment program, fully funded by a tax on corporate bank transactions; including full training and award wages for all workers; preference to be given to displaced timber and agriculture workers, rural unemployed, Indigenous communities and displaced small farmers. Where possible and appropriate, such restoration programs should be established in consultation with traditional owners and/or local Indigenous communities.

I adore the line about ‘even in a socialist Australia’.  Anyway.  They have a pretty predictable set of policies here, which are fleshed out in individual policy pages.  My favourite policy in this group is their policy on public transport, and their determination to reduce car dependency.  They want to create a long term strategic plan to fill the gaps in our public transport, but also to expand bike tracks, increase accessibility for people with disabilities, and make public transport safer.  They also want to reverse the privatisation of public transport, and ideally make public transport free.  This doesn’t sound terribly economically feasible, but they claim that we are already heavily subsidising public transport run by private companies, so they think the costings would not be too bad.  I do note a lack of comment about transport in remote regions where public transport isn’t really feasible – presumably some areas will have to remain car dependent just by virtue of their sparse population?

Other policies include policies on climate change – cutting emissions, phasing out coal and building renewable energy sources, as well as increasing energy efficiency and reforestation (as well as organic farming).  They want to create a lot more green jobs, and want to provide training for people currently working in polluting industries to move into these green energy areas.  They share the reservations of many regarding Coal Seam Gas, and have some fairly thoughtful policies on water conservation and sustainable agriculture.  Their policy on coal and steel is also fairly nuanced; they acknowledge that we do still need steel, which requires coal to produce, and want to fund research into finding out just what our needs really are, and whether there are ways to meet them and reduce them as needed.  I don’t think I have either the space or the knowledge to do it justice, so this might be a good policy to read in full if it’s something that interests you.

Unsurprisingly, the Socialists are big on equality of all kinds. They have a charter for women’s rights, which makes me very happy, and practical policies to address issues such as access to childcare, dependent child payments and maternity leave (24 months!  I can’t see this one flying, frankly, though it’s a lovely idea).  While I think that these policies would help many women, I am also a bit concerned that they seem to reinforce the notion that child-rearing responsibilities are women’s work, which is likely to make things worse in the long run.  The Socialist Alliance wants to fully fund family planning services, including abortion, which should be legal.  Oh, and they want to provide free menstrual / sanitary products, which is a big improvement on having to buy the stuff and then pay luxury tax on it.  They also condemn racism and reject “the false argument that banning the hijab is about promoting women’s liberation. Many of those who support such a ban show no such concern over sexist advertising or women’s low pay. “  Quite.  They view wearing the hijab or not wearing it as a woman’s choice.

They  oppose “sexism, racism, ageism, and discrimination against people with disabilities within the lesbian and gay communities, as we do in the broader community”, and want to enact enforceable anti-discrimination legislation to protect people of all genders and sexualities.  They support marriage equality.  Their section on transgendered people’s rights looks like it was probably written by someone who is transgendered, as it covers a lot of the complaints I’ve heard from transgendered friends about the way trans people are treated by our health system and elsewhere.  Their policies about intersex people also look well-thought-out to me.

The Socialist Alliance would also de-criminalise sex work and end discrimination on the basis of occupation.  Though they don’t say how they will do that last bit.

The Socialist Alliance also has a Charter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights, focusing on reconciliation and compensation, recognition of rights and building awareness, and social and economic equality, as well as sovereignty, treaty and land rights.  I am not well educated on this issue, but again, it looks like a reasonably comprehensive set of policies.  I would have liked to see something about community consultation in there, because I do wonder how much of this charter has come from actual discussions with Aboriginal people and how much of it comes from people who have excellent intentions but may not actually know what is going to be helpful on the ground.

The policy on people with disability is another very comprehensive one, with the general mood being about promoting participation for people with disabilities in all areas of life.  Aids and equipment are ‘an entitlement, a right’, and should be fully subsidised, access to education, both in terms of physical accommodations, sufficient integration aides, and early intervention all receive significant attention.  They also want to “set targets for access and participation of people with disability in employment to address the current inequity,” including requiring larger businesses to identify dedicated job positions for people with disabilities.  I’m honestly not sure whether that’s going to be a good idea in the long term, because I can see it creating a lot of resentment towards the people who get these jobs if it isn’t done right – and it’s also going to make it harder for people with disabilities who are really good at what they do to be respected for this.  But again, this is not an issue I have personal experience of, so maybe I’m missing something here.

I’m running out of steam here, I’m afraid, so I’m going to address the last few policies quite briefly.  The Socialist Alliance wants to reform our welfare system and make it less punitive, which I think is a fine idea.  And – look at this:

We call for a guaranteed independent income for all at a living wage, and a welfare system capable of providing to each according to their level of need.

I win at Socialism Bingo!

Sorry, it just makes me happy when they use the traditional phrasing.

You will be astonished to learn that the Socialists have a Charter of Worker and Trade Union Rights.  I’m not going to bother analysing this one, because we all know what it says.  (I’m not having a go here, but it’s more interesting to look at policies that are less well-known or less typical)

Lucky last is the policy on refugees, and it’s a good one.  They want to close detention centres and process refugees in the community; end deportations and off-shore processing, give asylum seekers access to social security, health, housing, education, employment and, in short, the rights that other Australians have, and provide free English classes for migrants and refugees.  They also want to make the process of assessing claims more transparent, and bring in a fully independent merits review tribunal so that refugees can appeal against negative decisions – including providing access to all levels of judicial appeal.  I could go on.  They certainly do. Of their thirty policies, I am only uneasy about two – they want to end the ASIO security checks, and I do think there is something to be said for *some* level of screening to happen; and they also wan to withdraw the requirement to pass a health checkup in order to get a visa.  I think this is aimed at allowing people in even if they are ill or disabled, but I’m not sure what the implications of this might be to infectious disease issues.  (In fact, the one and only form of detention I do support is quarantining people for a couple of weeks if need be to screen for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.  This, to me, is the point at which our duty to Australian citizens outweighs the rights of refugees – but this is a temporary measure only.)

And that’s about it.  A bit of a marathon, I’m afraid.  Overall, one gets the sense that the Socialist Alliance is like a more enthusiastic, less practical version of the Greens.  And honestly, for all that I love the Greens, I don’t think they suffer from an *excess* of practicality (though they are improving).  If I were voting, they would score pretty well on my ticket… but I don’t think I’m quite ready to put them first just yet.

The revolution will have to wait.

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