Labor’s being challenged on the left by the Greens, along with progressive independents, and increasingly, campaigners are being called to defend Labor’s sometimes conservative decisions to their inner city audience.
It’s a difficult conversation to have, especially as members of Labor’s Left. We tend to agree with these progressive voters. We identify with them. They’re our people. And we do think Labor could be doing more for asylum seekers, for LGBTI rights, and for the environment.
It’s easy to understand how people could vote for the Greens or a progressive independent. But the one thing we wish they would know is that they’re hurting progressive politics.
The Greens’ Electoral Achievements
The Greens started 43 years ago. At least that’s how far back they trace their lineage, but it wasn’t until 20 years after inception that they cobbled themselves into a national party.
It’s a cheap shot I know. But I am surprised that they would want to claim to be 43. Because in almost half a century, they have managed to secure one seat in the house that forms Federal Government. One seat. Out of 150. They are 0.67 percent of the parliament. They are 1.32 percent toward forming Government.
They’ve struggled in lower house seats throughout the states too. They will have ecstatic reactions upon gaining one seat that may only be temporary. And every election, much like evangelical preachers, they predict that it’s part of a new trend; that the tide is turning in their favour. But after half a century, we have to ask: is it though?
They have steadily increased their vote and steadily increased their representation. Steadily. But if you combine the third-party-progressive-populist-protest votes for the Australian Democrats with the Greens over the last 40 years, you see that this increase has been glacial, and at times lapsing (paper by the Australian Parliament on the Greens). Only at the last Federal election did the Greens eclipse the Democrats’ record of Senate representation.
Time to Ask What’s Wrong
Just sayin’, Labor became a national party in the same year as federation, and then won majority Federal Government nine years later in 1910.
That’s not another cheap shot. That’s just an illustration of how ineffective the Greens have been in creating a broad consensus across a large part of Australia.
Yes, we don’t have proportional representation that would mean more Greens MPs, but that’s a lazy excuse for a party that is selling something that over 80 percent of Australians aren’t buying. After half a century, you’ve gotta stop blaming the customers for their lack of taste and start asking what’s wrong with the product.
Queensland Election and Plastic Candidates
In the Queensland election, the Greens took the concept of ‘parachuting in a candidate’ to a whole other level. They didn’t parachute; they unashamedly used phoney candidates. Candidates lived and worked as far as 1,823km away from the electorate they were purporting to represent.
The patronising name the Greens gave for these people was ‘opportunity candidates’; giving voters in the area the ‘opportunity’ to vote Greens. Dr. Sandra Bayley, one of the 6 candidates profiled by the Courier Mail who all live at least 289km from the electorates they’re ‘standing’ for, said she’s “a city candidate for a country seat.? How nice for the country.
But it’s a good money spinner, with the party doing very little but receiving $4.35 per vote in electoral funding. That is understandable. But this indicates that the Greens don’t represent a broad cross-section of Australians. And could hardly care to.
Labor can’t take a self-righteous stand in inner city or progressive areas and ignore the rest of Australia. There has to be compromise, negotiation, and generally, a sensitivity to the interests of all Australians.
The Greens Making Labor Better?
But perhaps the Greens will help pull Labor more to the left? And provide a better voice for the small number of people they do represent?
For the first point, no. We’re likely to see the opposite. Because the progressive, inner city voices once inside the Labor tent—negotiating, compromising, representing—could lose to the Greens or independents. The progressive voice represented by a Greens MP or independent will be outside with little possibility, or even intention, of being at the table of government.
As for the second point, representing people’s positions and representing their interests are two different things. We don’t need to be reminded of the fact that we would have an emissions trading scheme now if it weren’t for the Greens hankering for a ‘better deal.? Something is—actually—better than nothing. It was politically convenient for them to be sanctimonious on climate change. And how’s that working out for Australia? We’re the worst in the world on climate change.
Diverting Resources, Dismounting High Horses
Elections are expensive things, in terms of volunteer hours and funding. Labor is fighting on two fronts, spreading its resources thinly between conservatives on one side, and Greens on the other.
I’m personally an example of that spread resource. Last Federal election, I was able to travel to the Blue Mountains to support a progressive, local woman, Susan Templeman.
For the NSW State election next month, I’ve been campaigning closer to home for Verity Firth in Balmain and Edwina Lloyd in Sydney. While I appreciate the convenience, we would be far better off bringing the Labor message to conservatives in outer urban seats; the kind of people the Greens dare not speak to for fear they need to dismount their high horse.
What—and Who—is at Stake
Penny Sharpe in Newtown, along with Verity Firth in Balmain, are experienced, progressive and serious negotiators who you would want in Government. And they are both running races against Greens candidates.
Verity got ethics classes into public schools, negotiating within her party and across the community. Penny has worked across parties to make same-sex adoption and parenting rights a reality.
These are progressive voices that the Greens would seek to keep out of Government and out of the Labor party—how can that make Labor more left or the country?
Politics is at times frustrating and reform is slow. So have your protest vote if you must, just don’t be deluded into thinking you’re achieving anything.
These are the views of the author and don't necessarily represent the views of any of the candidates mentioned.