The 2016 federal election saw Labor and the Liberals hit historic lows in their primary votes in line with a trend apparent since 2007. The ALP recorded their 2nd lowest primary vote since the Great Depression, while the Liberals recorded the 3rd lowest primary vote in their history. Correspondingly the vote for minor parties and independents was the highest the country has ever seen. Despite this, the Greens achieved just a +1.6% swing.
The findings of two major social surveys The Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion 2016 and Australian National University’s Trends in Australian Political Opinion provides further analysis of the raw primary data.
Taken together the two major social surveys show the following:
From 2007 to 2016, the percentage of people ‘satisfied with democracy’ has dropped from 86 percent to 60 percent in 2016.
The percentage of people ‘not satisfied with democracy’ has increased from 14 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2016.
The percentage of people who believe that government is run for a ‘few big interests’ has increased from 38 percent to 56 percent.
The percentage of people who think ‘people in government look after themselves’ has increased from 57 percent to 74 percent.
It can be argued that the policy platform offered by the Australian Greens acknowledges this dissatisfaction and offers reforms to address it. However, if we use our static federal electoral support as a metric, the Australian Greens are not providing the inspiration the electorate is looking for. The recent disappointing result in Tasmania confirms this.
The Scanlon survey found that since 2007 the percentage of people who believe that the system of government needs ‘major change’ or ‘should be replaced’ has increased by 8 percent to 42 percent. A breakdown in demographics and voting intentions demonstrates that Labor and independent voters (two of our biggest targets) are above this average with 50.1 percent and 56 percent respectively.
In the US, the UK and elsewhere, inequality, slow job growth, job insecurity and huge jumps in the cost of living have undermined belief in the political mainstream.
Australia is not isolated from this trend. Inequality has been on the rise since the 1960s and has grown markedly deeper in the past few years alongside dissatisfaction with politics.
Popular movements including those around Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have harnessed this loss of political legitimacy to offer an alternative vision that seeks to undermine, disrupt and bring major change to the current economic and political system.
Here our party, furthest left on the political spectrum, and with a stated commitment to social justice, is best placed to replicate the same approach and some of its successes. There is a growing tendency within the Greens have to take a cautious approach to social reform, casting the party as part of the political mainstream seeking achievable reforms.
A refusal to substantially challenge the political system, means we underplay one of our core pillars. Despite hard won gains by the environment movement, rates of degradation are increasing, for example Australia has one of the highest land clearing rates in the word and Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are increasing.
It’s clear that individual consumer choices, corporate responsibility programs and regulation by a political system dependent on corporate money won’t avert environmental catastrophe. The current system places corporate profits above all else including people, the environment and climate. We need to openly challenge this system.
We are the party best placed to respond to this appetite for the major change to preserve and regenerate our natural environment and deliver major economic and social reforms.