Bob Brown said on several occasions “We don’t want to keep the bastards honest, we want to replace them.” It may be a time to reflect whether this is a realistic prospect, or whether the Greens will settle into being a niche party of the left.
I’d suggest the the Greens are no longer primarily a protest party for those disaffected by Labor, and to a lesser extent the LNP. Rather they a party with an ideology in their own right, based on values related to the environment, sustainability, human dignity and social justice. As such they have become an enduring part of the political furniture. But the question now is whether their trajectory to replace Labor as the main party on the left is still on course, or whether it has seriously stalled.
The senate has been the Greens platform to launch into national politics. In 2013 they reached a high watermark in gaining 10 of the 76 seats. In 2016 the Greens were virtually static overall in the Senate, advancing only 0.2% to reach 8.8% of the national vote, albeit with at least a third of votes still to be counted. In the washup the Greens will definitely lose one to Xenophon in SA and need preferences to secure a second in WA and Tasmania. It’s looking like 9.
What happens in 2019 will depend on which senators are given 6-year terms. This is to be decided by the Senate itself, but the likelihood is that there will be a LNP-Labor deal which could disadvantage everyone else. The Greens may lose further under these circumstances in 2019, but it is hard to see them advancing beyond 12 senators in 2022.
If we take the LNP, Labor and the Greens as the mainstream parties, they account for 74.4% of the Senate vote, compared to 87.1% in the House of representatives. Clearly the drift to “other” is greatest in the senate, with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (ON) and the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) the major parties of protest.
Of note, ON polled 9.09% in Queensland compared to 7.36% for the Greens. In SA NXT actually fell back by about 3% to 21.8% while the Greens got only 5.66%. In a half senate election NXT would be probably get two senators, whereas the Greens may struggle to get one.
Nationally Labor’s vote is about 3.5 times that of the Greens.
The House of Representatives
In 2013 the Greens won 8.65% of the national vote in the lower house, down by 3.11% from the 11.76% in 2010. This election so far they have won 9.8%, an improvement of 1.2%.
Labor’s trajectory was similar in gains and losses. In 2013 they lost 4.61% to go from 37.99% to 33.38%. This time they have improved by 1.9% to reach 35.3%.
In 2010 Labor’s vote was 3.23 times that of the Greens, now it is about 3.6 times. In terms of replacing Labor the project seems stalled.
Nevertheless, the Greens have taken the seat of Melbourne, initially on Liberal preferences, and are threatening in four other nearby seats (Batman, Higgins, Melbourne Ports and Wills). They now own Melbourne and have edged in front of Labor in Batman and Wills. However, their vote trails off rapidly as you move away from the city centre. Tim Colebatch explains why they struggle in the outer reaches of these seats.
Elsewhere it is hard to find seats were the Greens poll above 20%. Examples include Grayndler in Sydney, where they polled 21.9% against Albanese’s 46.8%, but reached only 18.5% in Sydney, where Plibersek was on 44.3%.
In Richmond in the NSW northern rivers the Greens polled 20.%, but Labor was on 31.4%.
In my seat of Ryan, Stephen Hegedus, a native title lawyer and a good candidate, lost 2.3% to end on 23.2%, while the Greens gained 4.3% to end on 18.7. However the LNP’s Jane Prentice improved her vote slightly to achieve 52.1% first preference. Similarly in Brisbane the Labor vote receded, while the Greens improved, still less than 20% and in third place, while the Liberal improved to sit on 50% first preference.
It’s difficult to see where the Greens will pick up a federal seat in Queensland.
Move beyond the leafy suburbs and the Greens vote rapidly descends into single figures.
In two elections time it’s hard to see the Greens claiming 5-7 seats in 150, and even harder to see them moving beyond that. Osman Faruqi, I believe he’s a Green, says Without some serious soul searching, the Greens will never move beyond the 10% plateau.
This may be significant:
- Some long-term Greens campaigners have begun to question the party’s more moderate political direction under Di Natale. Christine Cunningham, the national co-convenor of the Australian Greens in 2013 and 2014, said: “In a world desperate for change and hope, we offered a centrist position summed up in a vague slogan.
“We can continue to be led by a nice-guy, mainstream footy-playing doctor and negotiate incremental change … Or maybe as a party of really smart, but often too-privileged-to-quite-get-it members, we should take a long hard look at ourselves and make some radical changes.”
The Greens are arguably now a party of the intelligent, compassionate centre-left, rather than of the far left, as stereotyped by the tories. Yet there is a wide and deep river between them and Labor on such issues as asylum seekers. Labor would say that on this and some issues like emissions trading systems, the coal industry and how to pay for their promises, they are all care and no responsibility.
The Greens do have to understand that there will be no Gillard-style deal, where policies Labor has taken to the electorate will be given away to achieve power with a niche party. Running against high profile sitting ALP members also precludes co-operation.
The states where the Greens are performing above their national average are Victoria on 12.8% and WA on 11.6%. Labor’s strong states are NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, while the LNP are strong with older people and rich people. The only state where the LNP stand out is WA on 48.5%, and in Queensland when the right wing preferences come back to them. The LNP are weak in SA and Tasmania.
The true protest vote to ‘politics as usual’, I think, is better gauged by the vote for ‘Other’ defined as the remainder after considering the LNP, Labor and The Greens. This vote is 12.9% nationally in the HoR, compared to 12.42% in 2013. The accepted meme is that people are leaving the major parties in droves. Sorry, but I can’t see it.
The large states of NSW and Victoria are below the average, on 11.8% and 9.3% respectively. WA is lowest on only 6.3%. On the high side we find SA on 26.9% and Tasmania on 16.4%, plus Queensland on 16.9%, where only 2.2% of the Palmer United Party’s 11% in 2013 has flowed back to the majors and the Greens.
So there is a significant leakage to the right in Queensland, to the centre with NXT in SA, and I’m not so sure in Tasmania.
In all three states economics and the ravages of free market economics, globalisation, economic rationalism or whatever is a factor. With Hanson there is also the spectre of racism and an anti-Muslim feeling.
Margo Kingston says we need to listen to Pauline and and engage with her. Shunning and shaming will only enrage her followers. More to the point, I think, we need to engage with those who feel excluded and fearful and seek to develop policies that will improve their lives.
It would be a mistake to think that Labor is moribund and past its use-by date. Katherine Murphy describes Labor’s field operation in the 2016 federal election which produced some mind-blowing statistics, and the conservatives risk being comprehensively outflanked.
The campaign worked through volunteers, some not party members, social media and phone calls.
- The field team logged 1.6m contacts with voters over the eight weeks – either through phone calls or door-knocking. They made a million phone calls, they knocked on 560,000 doors, and logged 450,000 successful conversations in targeted seats.
The unions ran a separate campaign. Both campaigns cranked up in the last three days. On election night the youth of the Labor supporters was evident.
FWIW this is some analysis from a union source, picked up on Facebook:
– the ALP gained strongly in younger, lower-income and working class electorates
– Electorates with a higher proportion of tradies swung more to the ALP
– the swing to the ALP was stronger in 30 Coalition marginals at 4.1% where the national swing was 3.4%
– the 22 seats resourced by the union movements year long community campaign average swing was 5.5%.
For a really fascinating read, Google ‘John Black When we demographically dissected the seats which swung to Labor’ to bypass Uncle Rupert’s paywall.
Black says that the childcare subsidies for the year ran out about the exact time Turnbull called the election.
He also pointed out that 32,000 GPs provide 140 million services each year. There were about 23 million GP visits during the election.
Those seats swinging to the Coalition were characterised by the retired, those who own income producing assets and two-income professionals within the best access to broadband and amenities in the most secure jobs, often linked directly or indirectly to the public sector.
Politics is hard graft, and for the Greens I think the hardest work is in front of them. Douglas Hynd said:
- There is a mixture of sociological/cultural forces behind their appearance and growth – along with the failure of the major parties on climate change that has left a major policy opportunity.
I think they’ll need to go beyond dissatisfaction on climate change to become a party of the marginalised, as well as a party for the marginalised. Not easy.