View from the Street: Say, why are the Greens trying to kill themselves?

Seriously, do we need to have some sort of intervention? Your news of the day, reduced to a snarky rant.

Labor's Western Woes

There have been a lot of things lately that would, under normal circumstances, seem problematic for the re-election prospects of Malcolm Turnbull: plans to send children to island detention camps without warning, stalling on marriage equality for nakedly political reasons, the on-again-off-again promise-threat of a GST rise, the ongoing plans to privatise elements of Medicare, that sort of thing.

"This is all part of our strategy, because… sorry, what do you mean, the point of chess ISN'T to get rid of all your pieces?"
"This is all part of our strategy, because… sorry, what do you mean, the point of chess ISN'T to get rid of all your pieces?" Photo: Jay Cronan

Even the polls have been less than positive, showing a steady decline from wide popular support to the current safe but unspectacular lead that would be unfavourably compared to that of his predecessor.

And none of it really matters, because the chance of the Coalition losing the next election appears vanishingly small.

At least, that's the opinion of veteran Labor backbencher and human anagram, Gary Gray.

He's the third WA Labor MP to decide they've had enough, joining Melissa Parke and Alannah MacTiernan in deciding not to contest the next election, and in his defence his argument is that historically few governments have been turfed out after one election.


"I think it's highly unlikely that an opposition, at any time, wins a first-term election," Gray said on Wednesday. "The next election campaign will be tough for Labor and it needs the next generation coming through… it needs people with a 30 or a 40 in front of their age."

And history bears this out. Only one federal government has ever been dismissed without a second term: Labor's Jim Scullin. And that probably would have ended differently had he not come to power the day before the 1929 stockmarket crash that heralded the Great Depression. That'll put a crimp in anyone's style.

But the mass departure of their WA MPs isn't the least of Labor's problems. There's a much larger one looming.

The thrill of the Upper House

This column's gone on about the proposed changes to the Senate ballot a lot over the past year or so, most recently with reference to the news that the Coalition, the Greens and Nick Xenophon had cut a deal to change to above-the-line preferencing in a move that would almost certainly wipe out the independents and microparties, and mightily benefit the Coalition, Xenophon and possibly Labor to a smaller degree in the upper house.

And V from the S needs to offer an apology for arguing that the Greens were supporting the change because it would likely give them the balance of power.

That was a possible scenario last year, when the Abbott government's electoral woes seemed likely to haemorrhage upper house support, but now it's hard to crunch the numbers in any way that doesn't give the Coalition a clean sweep of both houses if Turnbull should choose to call a double dissolution. And why wouldn't he?

In fact, according to a scenario hashed out on current numbers by microparty preference wranglers Graham Askey and Peter Breen, the Coalition is predicted to hold 40 seats in the Senate, Labor would remain on 25, the Greens would shrink to eight, and Nick Xenophon would pick up three.

And this should worry anyone who thinks that politics is a bit too important to be a winner-takes-all grudge match.

It's good to talk

See, the great thing about having two houses of Parliament is that governments very rarely get to control both of them, meaning that the legislation that passes has to be argued, defended, scrutinised and often compromised upon in order to pass. And that helps to prevent terrible ideas from becoming law.

Julia Gillard managed to get a record amount of legislation through Parliament despite Labor having a minority in both houses because the legislation was discussed and, when necessary, there were compromises. The relative paucity of laws passed by Abbott and Turnbull has nothing to do with the "feral Senate" and everything to do with their lousy negotiation skills - so it's no surprise they'd like to stop having to think about it.

Not to be rude to those in the North, but Queensland's unicameral system means that any party that gets power in its own right gets to do whatever it wants in the state. At best that's seen wild swings from Labor to LNP from one election to the next, with governments spending much of their time dismantling whatever the last one put in place rather than creating any sort of long-term plan - and that's without quietly coughing things like "Joh Bjelke-Petersen" and "Fitzgerald Inquiry".

But this is secondary to a rather urgent question, which is this: are the Greens secretly determined to destroy themselves, or what?

Timing is everything

The party is reportedly set to meet with Mathias Cormann against about the ballot changes next week with a view to legislating on them as soon as possible, and the argument from Greens deputy leader Lee Rhiannon is that this is a matter of principle. Which is fine and all, but in the political sphere being principled is generally seen as important, sure, but secondary to not being jaw-droppingly stupid.

More specifically: at a time when the environment is at the absolute forefront of global concerns, why are the Greens apparently cool with abdicating responsibility for fighting for it?

After all, there's no confusion about how seriously the government takes environmental concerns. They've been approving coal mines in agricultural areas, planning to expand coal shipping through the Great Barrier Reef, forcing the CSIRO to cut funding to climate monitoring, and prevent environmental and citizens groups from making legal challenges against developments.

Oh, and they're still hoping to axe the Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority (who "Environment" Minister Greg Hunt has kept from doing anything useful, getting them to do an emissions trading review while merrily insisting that emissions trading "will not be back in my time, in our time, in my belief in the next 20 years while the Coalition has any say in the matter").

Given everything at risk, are the Greens seriously going to make themselves politically irrelevant as a toothless minority party while simultaneously giving the government carte blanche to do whatever irreparable harm it fancies to the environment for at least three years?

And Greens? Maybe you should have a little chat to the Australian Democrats about the wisdom of cutting politically-unpopular deals with the Coalition.

Assuming you can find any, of course.

The cocktail hour: quick, deploy the kittens!

Alright, everyone: pour something strong and potent and let's watch kittens together until the feeling subsides.

Let's see if tomorrow seems any better, team, and cheers.

Andrew P Street's book The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott is out now, and available through Booktopia.

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