A surprise (political) party in Australia's election
Canberra — A four-week-old political party is dominating the final stages of the Dec. 1 federal elections in Australia. The Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP) has staggered the main political parties by the size of the support it has gained in its short existence. According to the latest polls, it seems likely to put at least two senators in the new Parliament.
The NDP is not contesting seats in the House of Representatives, so its vote will not directly affect the outcome of the election of the new government. In the House, the ruling Labor Party still holds a commanding 50 percent popularity in the polls.
But the NDP's popularity is causing serious concern because it could shift the balance of power in the Senate. The most worried are the Australian Democrats, which, with five senators, hold the balance of power between the ruling Labor Party and the Liberal-National Party opposition.
A single-issue party, NDP opposes the mining and export of Australian uranium , the visit of United States nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships, and any nuclear defense ties between Australia, which has no nuclear bombs itself, and the US.
Its most likely winner is Peter Garrett, who is standing for a Senate seat in New South Wales. He says the party will not be voting on issues which are not connected with the nuclear disarmament issue.
''We are not a party that has been set up to be a third or fourth voice in Australian politics,'' he says. ''It is fundamental that we don't get caught up in the political comings and goings and backslidings.''
Mr. Garret, a lawyer who is the lead singer in a rock band called Midnight Oil, is attracting most of his support from people in the 18 to 25 age group. However, his party is also getting votes from across the political spectrum, from the far left of the Labor Party, to supporters of the Liberals. The Australian Democrats claim they are the only party with a good record on nuclear disarmament, and they are concerned that the NDP has been created to take away votes which otherwise they would have picked up on the issue.
The NDP's Garrett has made it plain that he will not be pushed into developing policies on nonnuclear issues. He wants to attract every possible supporter on the nuclear issue, without adopting divisive policies which would make voters think twice about whether to support his party.
The NDP's main candidate in Victoria is a former Labor senator, Jean Meltzer, who was a member of the Socialist Left, the left wing of the Labor Party.
Both the Labor Party and the Liberal-National coalition have attacked the NDP because it is a single-issue party.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke said that a rock star, like anyone else who was a candidate for the highly paid job in the Senate, had an obligation to give his views on a broad range of issues. The prime minister defended his government's record on nuclear disarmament.