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The Greens - ignore at one's peril

Date

Remember the republicans who campaigned for a ‘No’ vote in the 1999 Republic referendum?  They wanted a directly elected president and they promised a vigorous campaign for a “real republic” after the referendum was defeated. Did we ever hear anything further from them?  Of course not.  They were full of hot air.

I’m in politics to achieve outcomes.  In the real world that means accepting a few painful realities.  Achieving progressive change can be very hard.  Sometimes you have to settle for partial improvements, or wait for more opportune times.  I’m a direct electionist, but I supported a ‘Yes’ vote in 1999.

Last weekend the Greens won 21% of the vote in the Tasmanian State election.  They will now exercise a critical influence in shaping the new government.

This is a portent that Labor ignores at its peril.  Because we are the Greens’ real target, not the conservatives.

My seat of Melbourne has been vulnerable to the Greens since 2001.  I now hold it by only 4.7%.  Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek are only slightly more secure in Grayndler and Sydney.  There are three Labor seats in my area at risk of falling to the Greens in the forthcoming Victorian State election.
Why is this happening?

The Greens are harvesting growing support from a particular demographic that first emerged as a key part of Labor’s support base in the late 1960s.  The quirks of our electoral system make them a genuine threat once they get around a quarter of the vote, because they then get ahead of the Liberals, and benefit from Liberal preferences.

Essentially the rising Green vote is a product of increasing tertiary education. Green voters are typically either tertiary educated or undergoing tertiary education. Their support is heavily concentrated amongst tertiary disciplines that are focused on much more than just making money.  

Unlike most Australians, these voters tend to be secure and comfortable enough to be able to put aside immediate self-interest when assessing their political options.  

Unfortunately for Labor, their viewpoint is increasingly at odds with the perspective of Labor voters who aren’t tertiary educated. On issues like asylum seekers, gay marriage, forests and civil liberties, such differences can often be stark.  It’s these differences that the Greens seek to exploit.

To win government and implement reform, Labor has to do a lot more than appeal to its most progressive supporters.  Retaining the implicit support of a majority of the Australian people requires compromises that tend to upset Labor’s natural supporters.  Without any responsibility for stitching together a governing coalition or actually implementing any change, the Greens are able to ruthlessly exploit the opportunities created by such disappointments.

Whatever Labor does, it’s never quite good enough for the Greens. Even when we’re withdrawing troops from Iraq, repealing Workchoices, apologising to indigenous Australians, or legislating to tackle climate change, they still attack Labor for their own cynical political purposes.  If the Greens had voted with Labor, the Senate would have passed the Government’s climate change legislation, because two Liberals crossed the floor to vote with us.  We’re now left with no legislation at all.  The Greens’ political posturing took precedence over the need for action on climate change.  The Greens’ policy would have absolutely no chance of getting through the Senate, even if Labor supported it.

The real impact of the Greens is exposed by the fact that the Liberals direct their preferences to them.  In my area, they routinely get almost 80% of Liberal preferences.  This split in the progressive vote is a godsend to the conservatives, as it draws resources away from the main national contest.  It isn’t Liberal seats that are threatened by the Greens.  Just like the progressive 'No' campaigners in 1999, they end up in de facto alliance with arch-conservatives like Tony Abbott.

A secret Greens report on the campaign in my electorate in the 2004 election made it very clear what their agenda is.  It stated:  “Since we had to rely on the expected high flow of Liberal preferences to win, our broad goal was to attack the ALP vote and allow the Liberal vote to be preserved.”  It also admitted that the Greens Victorian campaign committee had directed that “getting rid of the Howard Government was not explicitly part of the campaign strategy.”

The Greens are not some kind of benign ginger group loosely allied with Labor.  They’re not a middle ground party keeping both major parties honest, like the Democrats.  And they’re not a group of idealistic activists changing the world.

They’re just another political party.  And they’re no less cynical or manipulative than any of the others.  They relentlessly feed off Labor’s need to make compromises in order to marry progressive reform with majority government.  All their energies are directed to attacking the Labor Party, not the conservatives.  It might seem like a good idea to support those who yell the loudest in favour of progressive causes, but it’s unlikely to produce good outcomes.  For all our flaws, Labor remains the only worthwhile option for achieving progressive change through parliamentary politics.  It might sometimes be a bit piecemeal and gradual, but it beats the hell out of doing nothing.

165 comments so far

  • If Labor didn't systematically destroy the environment, pander to big business, branch stack, get in bed with developers and corrupt the democratic process then you might have a point Lindsay.

    Commenter
    west brom
    Date and time
    March 25, 2010, 5:24AM
    • Like the religious constituency, the Greens are a bottomless well of unfulfilled demands. As Graham Richardson learnt back in the 80s, there is no way to satisfy them, short of dismantling the whole capitalist system, so there is no point even bothering. They have simply taken on the mantle of affluent disaffection that was discarded by the Marxists after the events of 1990. Will the Green movement eventually collapse like Soviet communism? Watch the climate change blogs for some positive signs.

      Commenter
      JonJ
      Location
      Blaxland
      Date and time
      March 25, 2010, 5:41AM
      • Hi Lindsay,
        Myself, and most, if not all, my friends will be voting Greens this election. I voted Labor in the last 3.

        I am voting Greens because your government continues to push for the stupidity that is Internet Censorship
        I will vote for Greens because even if the Greens DON'T win then my preference will go to Liberal... and despite the fact that i abhor Abbott, i despise Censorship and Nanny State-ism even more.

        You in the Labor party had such chance to take Australia in another direction and instead you became lHowardV2.0. You promised to think outside the box - and failed.
        At least i KNOW the Greens will think outside the box... and this country needs a shake-up.

        Anthony Albanese is the one who will lose his seat because of my decision and your party's actions. Don't blame the Greens, don't blame us... blame yourself for your Conservative thinking at a time when Australia wanted to grow up.

        Commenter
        Legion
        Location
        Ashfield
        Date and time
        March 25, 2010, 5:43AM
        • Let me do a bit of re-editing here. "For all our flaws, Labor remains the only worthwhile option for achieving progressive change through parliamentary politics. They're just another political party. And they're no less cynical or manipulative than any of the others. "

          Ah, that's better. Thanks for the reminder, Lindsay, and after fifteen years of Labor's progressive reforms here in New South Wales, good luck in the next election.

          Commenter
          Stephen Sewell
          Location
          Parramatta
          Date and time
          March 25, 2010, 5:58AM
          • Well said!! If any one event exposed The Greens for the ugly opportunists that they are then look at their posturing during the entirety of the climate change and ETS efforts. They were so happy to play footsies with the Liberals in a range of 'committees'. Always demanding their way or no way (with no risk of electoral backlash). And finally when ETS legislation could have been passed, when faced with the choice of doing absolutely nothing to address climate change in the real world, or voting for (at least) a start to address what would seem a core concern of theirs, they chose nothing. They wear the moral high ground so long as there is no risk, and are more than happy to play with the Liberals so to simply thwart significant efforts (ETS) which would take away from their own limelight. They are a truly pathetic , cowardly, privileged and opportunistic group of politicians.

            Commenter
            Mark
            Date and time
            March 25, 2010, 6:02AM
            • This from the Minister for Finance and, yes, "Deregulation."
              If that's what "progressive change" looks like from within Labor, count me out.

              Commenter
              Pat Donald
              Date and time
              March 25, 2010, 6:17AM
              • You were once considered a progressive, Mr Tanner, as were Ms Gillard and other members of the Left. Now you're just like any politician: only interested in your own survival. Principles be damned. You deserve to lose your and I hope you do. Until the ALP allows members to cross the floor without penalty then the votes will continue to flow to the Greens. Oh, and let's see a lot less religion involved in ALP actions: gay marriage, no internet filter etc etc do matter to a lot of people.

                Commenter
                Peter
                Location
                Blue Mountains NSW
                Date and time
                March 25, 2010, 6:25AM
                • After watching greens obstructivism in the last few years I certainly no longer see greens as a viable option in any parliament.

                  In stead of comparing Greens to the environment and social issues I compare Greens to the proverbial colour of money, confirmed by their links to the Liberal Party.

                  Commenter
                  cb
                  Date and time
                  March 25, 2010, 6:34AM
                  • A vote for the Greens is a vote to change the Labor party. Without the risk of being outflanked on the Left the Labor party would happily abandon any core left principles to compete with conservatives for the so called middle. The Left factions of the Labor party are irrecoverably tarnished by their capitulation to the dominant right - just look at Gillard and her school funding regime. If the Greens compromised on principle they would go the same way as the Democrats.

                    Commenter
                    Matt
                    Date and time
                    March 25, 2010, 6:35AM
                    • If you want to be able to afford a home, you might have to vote the Greens (rather than Labor).

                      Commenter
                      No homes for Aussies
                      Location
                      Melbourne
                      Date and time
                      March 25, 2010, 6:39AM

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