The Greens had an excellent federal election. They achieved a national swing, won House of Representative seats, and boosted their numbers in the Senate to create a virtual Labor-Green majority (an absolute majority if new independent ACT senator David Pocock is included).
But the Greens have still not received the attention that result deserved. Apart from the new government and opposition, attention has largely gone to the new teal independents.
The teals fascinate the Australian community. What they stand for is clear: climate action, an integrity commission, equality for women in Australian society and politics. They defeated major figures in the government, including treasurer and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg and high-profile junior minister Tim Wilson. They include among their ranks some highly articulate professional women, including Zoe Daniel, Sophie Scamps, Kylea Tink and Dr Monique Ryan, and big Liberal family names Allegra Spender and Kate Chaney. Importantly, they won seats in identifiable areas of the two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. That counts in generating media publicity.
The Greens, by contrast, offered a much broader and more diffuse platform. The community was not as sure what they were on about, apart from climate action. They defeated no one of huge importance; most notably Labor frontbench member Terri Butler, but even she was not very well known. The three House of Representatives seats the Greens won were in Brisbane, and didn't receive as much publicity.
Senate results are never accorded as much attention either on election night, when they are virtually absent from the count, or in the weeks following as results slowly drip in. Only this week has the Senate result become clearer. For a party that is still predominantly a Senate party, this means less attention.
Collectively, the image of the Greens is fuzzy in the eyes of the community. The leader, Adam Bandt, has a reasonable profile, perhaps equivalent to a junior or shadow minister. The Greens' senators are almost entirely unknown. Sarah Hanson-Young (SA), Jordon Steele-John (WA) and deputy leader Dr Mehreen Faruqi (NSW) come to attention on specific issues. Their lower profile reflects not their individual abilities but the fact that the Greens are a united team who speak mainly through their leader.
It also reflects the fact that the Greens played no day-to-day role in the Senate in the last parliament. They joined Labor in exile in opposition, while the balance was held by the remaining crossbench senators. Those best known were Jacqui Lambie, Rex Patrick and Pauline Hanson. They were the ones whose vote counted as the Morrison government searched for a majority, and they achieved prominence in the media as a result. Some became household names.
With 12 senators, the Greens will now achieve greater awareness and prominence as the new parliament and government gets underway. They will have a level of voter support in the community, and a consequent political leverage, like the Nationals. They will not be in Coalition, of course, and will lack the spoils of ministerial office which go along with being a junior Coalition partner.
But they still occupy an uncertain position as outsiders in Australian politics and society, despite the growing acceptance of climate action. Their search for greater representation makes them a threat to the major parties, while their radical, secular anti-establishment program makes them a threat to established institutions such as corporate and rural Australia, conservative churches, and private education providers.
While the Nationals are in many ways like the Greens - but on the other side of politics and largely in the House of Representatives - the former's century-long existence means that they are far more established and "domesticated". The Nationals are also corralled geographically in rural Australia, and insulated by their no-competition agreement with the Liberals. They are tucked safely away, while the Greens are electoral competitors to be feared by the major parties in the inner city.
The mainstream media tends to either disregard or demonise the Greens. The teals experienced the same treatment during the election campaign from the conservative media, but their impeccable social credentials gave them some protection not afforded to the Greens.
As a part-movement, part-political party, the Greens have led the way in community campaigning. That is now shared with the Voices For movement and the teal independents, though there are differences in approach which deserve further investigation.
The new Labor government may offer a new dawn for the Greens. They will not be forgotten much longer as a serious new relationship is built. The newer Green faces will become much better known. It is an opportunity for the Greens to make their contribution to a more positive and less confrontational style of politics. They will be able to demonstrate a new commitment, in which the perfect does not stand in the way of the good.
The times should suit the Greens, because the community has shifted in the directions they have long cared about. They should have some common-cause allies among the teal independents. They, too, include many new faces to introduce to the Australian community.
But the new parliament will also be a test for the Greens' unity, resolve and sense of purpose. They are a broad church, concealing differences between moderate and radical approaches to solving social problems.
The Greens must be clear about what role they want to play over the next three years.
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