This week, independent socialist councillor Steve Jolly announced he would contest the 2018 Victorian state elections as a candidate for the Senate. A member of the newly-formed Victorian Socialists party, Jolly needed to get 500 enrolled Victorian voters on the books as members, in order to qualify for the ballot.
It took him just three days to hit that goal.
If he wins, Jolly will be Australia's first socialist parliamentarian since 1943—when Fred Paterson of Queensland became the only open communist to get a seat in state parliament. But does Jolly have any real chance? Well, his run comes at a strange moment in history; on the heels of history campaigns by Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbin in the UK.
Speaking to VICE, Jolly said he believes there is a global political crisis in western capitalism, which has created demand in Australia for a genuine left alternative to our two-party system. "[My campaign is] the first time in Australia that the left is tapping into the anti establishment mood on a large scale," he said.
“In America and Europe you’ve seen the rise of far right but also a new left with figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. In Australia, it's been unusual as it's just been the far right with Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi, who have tapped into that discontent."
From his resume though, it doesn't seem like Jolly is jumping on the socialist bandwagon to win votes. He's been elected four times as a Yarra City councillor—the council that recently attracted the ire of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when it unanimously voted to drop all references to Australia Day and cancel its annual citizenship ceremony.
During his time as a councillor, Jolly has been a favoured target of Victorian far right groups. Once they tried to storm Richmond Town Hall in protest of the socialist firebrand. Another man, described by The Age as a "Nazi," was charged with making death and rape threats to Jolly. The 38-year-old man left a message on Jolly's mobile at 4:15 AM on July 29, 2017, saying simply: "Hey Stephen Jolly, I'm going to fucking rape your face."
Jolly's campaign has become something of a rallying point for Australia's left, which has faced its fair share of infighting over the years. Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance—those two groups best known for waving fliers in your face outside the library at uni—have backed him and the Victoria Socialists. Victorian unions, community groups, and public housing associations have also jumped on board. As has the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association, which has already donated $6,500.
On the incumbent Andrews government, Jolly says he's opposed to what he perceives as its more “reactionary” elements. Having campaigned against the recent selling off of Victorian public housing, he instead wants to focus his campaign largely on fixing the state's housing crisis.
Jolly says he is also firmly opposed to the increasing militarisation of Victorian police, rising rates of incarceration in the state, and the recent “vilification” of African migrant communities by the Liberal opposition and media. He's also a strong advocate for drug law reform, having successfully campaigned for a safe injecting room in Richmond as a councillor.
“There is pushback in Australia on the ground against neoliberalism and privatisation, ordinary people are pissed off at the one percent,” Jolly told VICE. "But this is not reflected politically, no one represents that movement in parliament—they all support the current system. This campaign is going to open up the floodgates, we are in with a red hot chance of getting a socialist elected to parliament for the first time since the 1940s."
It remains to be seen whether Jolly can ride this anti-establishment moment all the way to becoming Victoria’s Jeremy Corbyn. Either way, his run is an interesting addition to what's already shaping up to be a particularly intense and politically polarised state election.
Follow Liam on twitter