The One Thing We Wished Greens Supporters Would Understand


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.

Ivory Towering

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.

Showing 34 reactions

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  • commented 2015-04-06 10:15:44 +1000
    Excellent post Clinton. Disappointed, but not surprised, by the irrational responses from people who just don’t get it. The cracks are already appearing, so they’ll either see the true cost of their protest vote or develop a life long hatred for politics.
  • commented 2015-04-02 17:31:03 +1100
    Hi Political Left,

    While Clover Moore’s contribution on a whole range of issues, and in particular LGBTI rights, was of benefit to NSW politics, you may want to broaden your views a little when you make statements such as “I wonder how long would it take for Labor to introduce such a concept to Australian public that the gays should be allowed to adopt just like the straight couples.”

    NSW was far behind a number of other jurisdictions, notably the ACT, Tasmania and WA, who had allowed LBGTI individuals to adopt as far back as the 80s and were passing legislation allowing same sex couples to adopt around the same time Clover was introducing it.

    Labor had “introduced” the concept long before you started paying attention it seems.
  • commented 2015-03-30 16:59:30 +1100
    Hi Political Left. First of all, we lost the election. And by ‘we’ I mean Labor, you, the Greens and ‘progressive’ ‘independents’. The conservatives won.

    Alex Greenwich and Jenny Leong are fair game. I’m sick of the line, ‘how dare you people (read: politicians) attack a much loved independent/Green (read: not a politician)’.

    I look forward to holding Ms Leong to her commitment to stop WestConnex.

    Oh, and Labor’s vote in Sydney was the highest in a decade and a half.
  • commented 2015-03-29 23:48:31 +1100
    Hi Clinton, this is a good and passionate article; but I think you are missing some serious points about how political change and progressive conversation starts in a society. I do think that both Labor and Greens have an important part to play in progress but you are dismissing the part that Greens and the independents play very easily.

    There are many many examples here but I am just going to make a couple of statements to state my point. Most of the time independents and Greens can bring the progressive ideas to the parliament, because Labor is so involved with negotiating with Liberals or within themselves what to sacrifice in a legislation to get a progressive resolution passed rather than what is the right thing to do. For example when Clover Moore put an amendment to the Adoption Bill 2000 that would legalise same sex couples to adopt in NSW, the amendment was rejected by every single Labor and Liberal MP in the lower house and upper house and one yes vote came from an independent (herself) in the lower house and only Greens voted yes in the upper house. A big loss, but this is the first time the concept was introduced in the Parliament. This bill was passed in 2010.

    I wonder how long would it take for Labor to introduce such a concept to Australian public that the gays should be allowed to adopt just like the straight couples. There are many examples like that, I really appreciate what Julia Gillard did for this country during the 3 years she was around, however my frustration with her was always she never spoke up loud and clear enough in regards to what Australian people supposed to hear, not in refugee rights, not in LGBTI rights not in environment. People need to hear from someone what is right and just even though society is not ready for that change at that point in time. Unfortunately not since Keating, any Labour leader managed to be that progressive leader for our society.

    I do think that Labor does not know how to campaign. They are losing all of the educated electorates one by one to independents and Greens, inner city, university neighbourhoods . . .etc.

    I agree with you elections are expensive and time consuming. Last night’s results should be really difficult for you to digest, every single candidate you mentioned in that article lost the election. If you are blaming Greens diverting resources away from the real areas where it should be focused what is the logic behind supporting a candidate against a progressive holding a seat with a margin of 10%. Deciding to pick that fight requires so much money and imagination that resources should not really be a problem for inner city Labor.

    Let me do a disclosure here so that you know my alliances. I don’t support parties like I support a sport team. Federally, until now I always supported Labor in lower house, Greens in the upper house. This state election I supported the Independent in Sydney, and I was horrified the watch the campaign run by your candidate. In my view she ran an erratic campaign against loved, respected and progressive member. She ran an ugly personal campaign where she accused him and his supporters to be conservative liberals, attacked him for raising too much money, she took a very complex issue like “lock out” laws and try to make it a populist issue (have you seen her vote in Potts Point booths); she tried to use vulnerable people in Millers Point ( have you seen her vote in Abraham Mott Hall) when I heard that she is not giving Labor preferences to Alex, I was so concerned this candidate who lacks principle will be handing a safe progressive seat to a Liberal candidate I signed up to volunteer for Alex on election day.

    She increased Labor vote in this seat by 2% where statewide Labor vote increased by 8%. Effectively her campaign cost Labor 6% in this seat. Seeing Tanya P. , a politician I voted every time I had a chance, giving how to vote cards for someone like Edwina, was so disappointing for me that I probably can never vote her again. That is one vote, but seeing 400 volunteers ( mostly progressive, left wing, should be Labor voters) being so excited about Alex’s victory but so bitter about Labor just can not be good for for Labor’s future in this area.

    I remember like yesterday reading an article in SMH where Kristina Keneally was saying how Alex is the best option for Sydney during 2012 election ( google it, I am sure you can find it) I thought there you go, a women who can raise above the party politics. In 2 years Alex could not change this much . . . from being endorsed by Labor Premier to not even getting 3rd preference after Greens. This is ugly party politics that everyone is talking about.

    So I agree with you Labor can negotiate well in the parliament (better than Greens and independents, Julia proved this to all of us in 3 years) but they have no understanding of how to represent progressive constituents and how to engage them.

    So I would like to hear your view on a couple of things; In your view, did Sydney Labor campaign for NSW election hurt Labor for future elections including the Federal elections? Do you think Tanya would be in danger if east Sydney progressive voters are mobilised by Alex and join forces with west Sydney (Sydney as in the electorate) Penny Leong voters ( 49% primary) next election after Labor’s treatment of these candidates in this election?

    Both Liberals and Greens give second preference to Alex, now 43% of Alex voters have a choice on the left and right but I do not think Labor is one of them. Sad for Labor, short sighted, embarrassing and sad for Labor.
  • commented 2015-03-20 17:25:22 +1100
    The point is that even if the Greens had supported Rudd’s original legislative package (or if they had actually been members of the Labor Party), it still would not have passed the Senate, given Fielding’s climate-denial-driven opposition and Xenophon’s support for the Coalition’s preferred model. Although Liberal Senators Troeth and Boyce crossed the floor to support the further-diluted package in December, in the unique context of the change of Liberal leadership the preceding day, there’s no indication whatsoever that they were prepared to do so to support the original package.

    Had Labor preferences been directed towards a Greens candidate instead of Fielding in 2004, then the Greens’ votes would have mattered independently of the crossbench, and your criticism would be valid.
  • commented 2015-03-20 12:40:51 +1100
    Stephen, yes, he was also terrible. But that doesn’t excuse the Greens’ actions. They need to be held to account for their woeful decision. If those Greens Senators were Labor Senators we would have cleaner air today. Yes, maybe the Greens holding out for a better deal means we will have a better system in the future. But we have nothing now.
  • commented 2015-03-20 08:06:37 +1100
    “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.?”

    You still need to be reminded that Steve Fielding existed, however. And that Labor got him elected.
  • commented 2015-02-28 10:26:31 +1100
    Nail, meet Head. One of the more accessible and clear headed descriptions of the self-indulgence the non-Labor left have engaged in for 50 years and the damage it does to progressive politics. Thank you.
  • commented 2015-02-27 08:25:28 +1100
    Jane, you just explained how Labor is not quite like a Nazi sympathiser (thank you) but are sorta acting in the spirit of one. And I’m the one who needs to stop the ‘bashing’? This is a common perspective among other Greens supporters commenting.

    It’s astounding how the Greens are expected to be above criticism. Yet Labor can be compared to Nazis.
  • commented 2015-02-26 17:42:05 +1100
    Point is, the Vichy Govt sacrificed people in a spirit of compromise or to avoid wider violence or to protect privilege and power. If you were of the population being sacrificed, this would not be acceptable. The “calculus of death” is what Turing called it.

    Okay, it is an extreme example.

    Suspect that Labor is nervous that it is not governing “for everyone” and that there is a trend for Greens to pose a real challenge in many seats.

    Labor Left has to learn to deal with that without bashing the Greens.
  • commented 2015-02-26 12:05:22 +1100
    Yes, we’re basically the Vichy government to the LNP’s Nazis. And it’s this ‘black and green’ thinking that gets people to such crazy conclusions.

    The system is obviously bias toward two parties. It’s not a multiparty democracy. This isn’t Borgen. But if things were different, they would be different.
  • commented 2015-02-26 11:10:32 +1100
    Did the Vichy Government in France claim to be for the majority? Did it accuse those who were against the Nazis and those discriminated by the Nazis of “smugness”? I suspect so.

    “Realism” is a bit tedious.
  • commented 2015-02-26 10:33:20 +1100
    @tommy Praxis: “…If The Greens want to gain greater influence in our democratic system, they need to start actually listening to people in the suburbs and regions rather than glibly condescending to them….”

    You mean like how they’ve actively engaged with farmers to protect their lands from CSG exploitation?
  • commented 2015-02-26 10:30:54 +1100
    Bit of a bizarre article. And most of it is cheap shots which conveniently ignores the fact the electoral system heavily favours a duopoly. A few points below:

    1. Replacing one progressive voice with another doesn’t make the country less left.

    2. ALP ran “plastic candidates” in Queensland too. eg Louise Ryan in Springborg’s seat. So don’t pretend you don’t do it.

    3. Electoral funding laws mean that most “plastic candidates” run would’ve lead to no funding at all. Look at the results to see that most got under 6% of the vote. So that’s a completely stupid point raised there.

    4. What Jeremy said: “The idea that any one party could meaningfully “represent” a majority of Australians is profoundly undemocratic”. When was the last time the ALP got over 50% primary vote in any general election?

    5. “Yes, we don’t have proportional representation that would mean more Greens MPs, but that’s a lazy excuse”. Actually, it’s a system defended by the ALP and LNP with everything they have because if it was proportional then it would be more democratic. They’d also lose their grip on power they currently get without achieving a majority of votes.
  • commented 2015-02-26 09:12:43 +1100
    PS ALP people mocking being principled as “sanctimony” or “smugness” probably should recognise that you’re just locking in progressive voters to the Greens.

    (Moderator, please delete the second comment that looks like a duplicate but actually is an earlier draft. It’s the one that includes the PS.)
  • commented 2015-02-26 09:08:05 +1100
    The idea that any one party could meaningfully “represent” a majority of Australians is profoundly undemocratic – there is no clear platform with which a majority of Australians actually agree. The single member electorate system tries to create majorities out of minorities (the Libs got a massive majority in the HoR in 2013 despite only receiving 46% of the vote) but that’s not something that actually helps progressive politics, or democracy in general. And yes, in this system the Greens have a particular challenge in the HoR turning their support into seats, because they’re a truly national party (unlike the ironically named “National” Party, which wins more seats from fewer votes because they’re concentrated in particular electorates).

    This undemocratic system is of course supported by the ALP, because in the short term it turns Greens votes into ALP seats.

    But at least my Green vote lets the ALP know not to take me for granted. And unlike the ALP, the Greens can and do represent me and other progressives by consistently voting for progressive policy, negotiating with the other parties but never selling out. As opposed to the Labor Left, which is forced to vote for whatever the Labor Right gets over the line internally, the Greens can and do vote against right-wing policy in parliament whether it’s from the Liberals or the Labor Right.

    The only way for the Greens to become a “majority” party would be to cease to stand for anything, like Labor. In which case, what’s the point? What use is Labor being in government if it keeps doing stuff the Liberals would do, and in fact gives them cover to move even further right?

    Best short-term scenario for progressive voters: Labor keeps losing seats to the Greens and needs to negotiate with them to get legislation passed. Best medium-term scenario: the Greens overcome the tipping point in the minds of voters that they’re not “big” enough to count as a serious party, and start winning numbers in the HoR matching their real support in the electorate, and Labor never again wins a majority it can abuse by aping the Liberals.
  • commented 2015-02-26 09:00:27 +1100
    I should probably stop replying, save I’m just repeating myself, but you do seem like nice people.

    Actually, Jordan, I don’t disagree. It is a perception problem. But politics is nothing more than perceptions. And my concern is that, while you are staying true to your principles (admirable), you are not just losing out to Labor but also the LNP. And there is a lesser of two evils there.

    And Peter, votes for the major parties aren’t dwindling. Majors are still winning almost every seat in every parliament. There’s hardly been a change.

    Democracy is a numbers game. An idea is only as valuable as its popularity, in democracy. Liberalism, however, is about protecting people from the tyranny of the majority. But we’re not about to install Philosopher-Kings (see Plato).

    Daleth, I don’t know if I’m being a rabid dog. It’s just healthy criticism.

    You can have your ideal ideas. We’re interested in majorities. Because, to (heavily) paraphrase Leo McGarry, ‘we can achieve more change on one day in office than a lobbyist can hope to achieve in a lifetime’. And being in office means compromising on some of those ideals. Because you’re representing a majority.
  • commented 2015-02-26 05:45:23 +1100
    Daleth and Jordan competently express their opinions about integrity and “progressive” ideals. I’m with them all the way. To Clinton: it’s simple…. Green supporters stand for civil society and and effective guardianship of the environment. Rather than preaching about your idea of wasted Green votes (and potentially reducing the Green preference flow) I suggest your energies might be better spent supporting the few remaining Labor members of parliament who might be termed “progressive”. And as a numbers man you might allocate meta-cognition time to analysing why the public apparently are increasingly dissatisfied with the majors. And why the primary votes for them are dwindling.
  • commented 2015-02-26 04:33:13 +1100
    This is the kind of thing that undermines democracy. An idea is not valuable because it is popular. It is better to take a millennium to get a seat and retain the integrity of your vision, than to sell yourself down the river. Any political party that does not have Climate Change on the top of its agenda has no right to criticise the shortcomings of others. When the Labor party regains some sense of direction, some evidence that it is a serious alternative to the Narcissistic Sociopaths in office now, and puts the people, country, and planet before petty political infighting, it may get my support; but this sort of brainless hokum only tells me that you are running scared of any chance of defeating the Coalition – and, instead of addressing your own failings, turn on other people like rabid dogs who have lost all contact with reality. If you want current Green voters to switch, make yourselves presentable to us. At present, Labor looks like a watered-down version of the LNP.
  • commented 2015-02-25 23:33:00 +1100
    Ugh. Seats in government go, not goes. You get the idea.
  • commented 2015-02-25 23:30:37 +1100
    To the many Greens partisans downthread:

    If government went to whichever party could demonstrate the most moral smugness, The Greens would win every election hands down, as you have aptly demonstrated in this comments section. Unfortunately for you, seats in government goes not to the smuggest, but to whoever wins the most votes. By this metric, The Greens are still a long way from being able to form government, and those who like having things like public health and education must rely on the election of Labor governments. If The Greens want to gain greater influence in our democratic system, they need to start actually listening to people in the suburbs and regions rather than glibly condescending to them. There is no other way.
  • commented 2015-02-25 23:16:25 +1100
    Thank you for responding Clinton :)
    Could I just ask what it is you disagree with exactly?
  • commented 2015-02-25 23:11:07 +1100
    Thanks Jordan for disagreeing in a polite and considered way! Much appreciated. I haven’t got much to add except that I disagree. ;)

    One thing we could all agree on is how a disagreement within the broad left, shall we say, is much more pleasant than a disagreement with conservatives. Civil debate is something they’re just not capable of.
  • commented 2015-02-25 22:43:23 +1100
    Hi Clinton, I should declare I am a Greens member, and while I didn’t agree with every point you made, it was interesting to see how Labor’s Socialist Left is dealing with the loss of it’s traditional inner-city seats, as I’ve often wondered about that. But in answer to your (important) question as to why the Greens aren’t more popular, I believe it’s a mixture of factors, and I think I can give a direct and honest answer.

    The first is that we are still widely seen as an environmental party by the wider public and the media, and the reality is that the environment is a rather minor issue for most people, compared to bread and butter issues such as the cost of living, roads etc. While it’s fairly obvious why conservative voters won’t touch us, I think in respect to Labor voters our perceived ‘anti-development’ or economically irresponsible image has alienated many on the unionised-industrial centre-Left, and that’s why blue-collar Labor voters won’t cross over. You could see this in action when the CFMEU blocked Vic Labor’s support for a Great Forest National Park at the last vic state election, or the low Greens vote in Morwell (site of many unionised coal power plants). No one will vote for a party that is perceived to threaten one’s livelihood or way of life. Also, many of the issues we Greens campaign on, such as LGBTI rights, refugees and the environment are simply not issues that resonate in the outer suburbs or in rural areas. Believe me, I’ve door knocked and phone banked in an outer suburban seat in Melbourne, and I know this very well!

    When we are claiming to represent Australians, we are doing so from a left-wing, socialist and pro-environment perspective, and this is not a value-system which is held by all, excepting the inner-city. You might ask me why I’m still a Green after saying this, but in answer to that, it’s because Green politics mostly represents my political views and principles, along with a number of factors that repel me away from Labor (namely the right-wing faction). I’d rather lose than sell out, so to speak. But I can understand why many people won’t vote for us, and I’m ok with that. It’s just the way things are. But we can at least we can hold the balance of power, as we have done in Tasmania and the A.C.T, as well as at a federal level under Gillard.
  • commented 2015-02-25 22:22:31 +1100
    It’s an awkward time to be saying ’Labor’s bleeding votes’ when we are set for Federal govt, just won in Qld, Victoria, and are set for winning a dozen seats next NSW election.

    This isn’t a cry for help. This is a notice that a Greens vote is a protest vote. They’re not a viable alternative because they’re no where near representing a majority of Australians.
  • commented 2015-02-25 22:15:09 +1100
    It’s pointless to solicit votes for the Labor Left. Labor has become the vehicle of it’s Right. Labor is LNP Lite.
    The Greens are a real, viable alternative.
  • commented 2015-02-25 21:57:49 +1100
    What’s not fair game is Labor’s continuous drift to the Right while claiming to represent the wider views of all Australians. Labor is out of step with public opinion on many issues and it’s for this reason that Labor’s bleeding votes. If people voted purely based on policy the Greens would receive more votes, not less. Labor are just benefiting from the loyalty of an older generation who still views them as Leftist.
  • commented 2015-02-25 21:44:47 +1100
    We will always strive to point out the flaws in other parties. That’s fair game. What’s not fair game is the Greens’ undeclared intention to never be a party for most Australians. But instead have fantastic ideas and shirk tough conversations.
  • commented 2015-02-25 21:42:43 +1100
    lol Labor still has a Left faction?

    But seriously, Labor supporters seem so blind to the failings of their own party, and so unable to change the party’s drift to the Right (as has been happening for decades, long before the Greens were a serious threat).

    They remind me of the Liberal govt, who spends so much energy attacking the opposition to try and distract from their disgusting policies.

    The article also doesn’t acknowledge the difficulties of building a third party, when so much about the current system is weighted to maintaining a duopoly (electoral funding, first past the post, media attention etc.). The Greens have done remarkably well in recent history, that’s what has these Labor ‘progressives’ so rattled.

    Lastly, “have your protest vote if you must, just don’t be deluded into thinking you’re achieving anything.”
  • commented 2015-02-25 21:30:46 +1100
    A nasty piece of negative campaigning. Stop trying to discourage people from voting their party of choice, and try to be their party of choice instead.