It’s the demographics stupid

Why do the Greens exist? It depends who you ask.

Some say the purpose of the Greens is to pull Labor to the left. This strategy is justified by Greens voters as a way to ‘keep the bastards honest’, and is often coupled with misleading and unthinking statements such as ‘Labor and Liberals are just as bad as each other’.

I understand the theory here is that the more MPs Greens get into parliament, the more they can hold Labor to ransom on environmental policies and asylum seekers. But, when the reality of this position is that Greens block environmental policies such as Labor’s ETS because ‘it doesn’t go far enough’, yet then help the Liberals to pass pension cuts, I’m not sure how this is successful in practice.

When the Greens refuse to work constructively with the Gillard government to develop a regional solution to manage asylum seeker arrivals, because ‘it is not onshore processing’, only then to have Sarah Hanson-Young admit later that a policy like the Malaysian Solution, where asylum seekers are processed overseas before being flown to Australia, might be something the Greens would consider, it appears the Greens are less interested in working constructively with Labor to ensure policies are ‘left wing’, and instead are more interested in blocking Labor’s attempt to make progress.

The other problem with this ‘pull Labor’ theory is that it doesn’t pull Labor to be more left-wing. This is because most of the people who have left Labor to support the Greens, are from Labor’s left-flank. So, by losing numbers on the left, Labor’s right-flank is strengthened, which clearly won’t do anything to pull Labor to the left.

Others, like Ben Eltham in New Matilda, claim the Greens exist to govern in Coalition with Labor. This is a far preferable option for a Labor supporter like me, as rather than having the Greens constantly fighting against Labor, it would be to everyone’s betterment if Labor and Greens worked constructively as a team. However, the only hole in this theory is that, as far as I can tell, the Greens aren’t trying to steal seats off Liberals to make the Labor and Greens coalition unbeatable on the floor of the parliament. Instead, they are putting all their energy and resources into taking Labor’s inner-city seats.

Apart from a strong attempt at unseating Kelly O’Dwyer in the wealthy inner-city Victorian seat of Higgins, with the Greens candidate Jason Ball placing second in the 2016 election, the biggest recent campaigns from the Greens have been in Labor-held inner-city seats. Bandt took Melbourne from Labor after Lindsay Tanner retired in 2013, and in 2016, focused on taking the seats of Labor’s Tanya Plibersek in Sydney and Labor’s Anthony Albanese in Grayndler. So, if the Labor Greens coalition is going to happen, clearly the Greens want Labor to do the heavy lifting of winning seats off the government. Not really helping.

What about the Green elephant in the room that not many will admit is there? This, I would argue, is the real reason the Greens exist, as evidenced through their behaviour, and that is to replace Labor as the major party of the left. Bob Brown himself admitted to this when he said ‘we don’t want to keep the bastards honest, we want to replace them’. This week, former Queensland Greens candidate, Ben Pennings echoed Brown when he wrote ‘Rather than drag Labor slightly to the left, maybe it’s time for The Greens … to ‘cut out the middle man’ and replace them…?’.

Now the elephant has been identified, I want to talk about it. How exactly do the Greens plan to replace Labor as the major party of the left? Do they want to develop attractive progressive policies that address wealth inequality in order to persuade voters through real-life outcomes to make Australians better off? Judging by Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s cynical grab for conservative votes in Batman by calling Labor’s dividend imputation changes an ‘attack on so many people in this community’ the answer to this is no. Do they want to focus on local issues in each electorate, dependant on the varying needs and wants of the voters there, and do the hard yards work of incrementally improving their circumstances through the slog of parliamentary negotiation and legislative advancement? Not that I can see. Or, do they want to campaign with ‘stop Adani’ sloganeering and by framing the Liberal’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers as the work of the Labor Party, without offering any alternative policy solutions to actually help solve these complex policy issues? I think you can answer that one. So, if they’re not doing the policy work to replace Labor, what exactly are the Greens doing to win Labor’s inner-city seats?

The Greens are waiting for inner city suburbs to gentrify to the point where working-class Labor voters no longer live there. It’s the demographics stupid. Let’s look at the Batman by election. A lot was written about the Bell Street divide, such as this New Daily article aptly titled ‘The hipster-proof fence’.


The map of booth results from the 2016 election shows clearly that the northern side of the Bell Street divide, furthest away from the city, are still committed to Labor. According to Real, the Batman suburb of Reservoir in the north has a median house price of $825,000. A suburb on the southern, inner-city Greens side of divide, Northcote, comparatively has an average house price half a million higher at $1,325,000. That’s quite a wealth-divide.

So, do the Greens claim it is just a coincidence that their voters live in more expensive houses, on the richest side of the electorate? When commentators, ad nauseam, say Labor’s inner-city seats are ‘under threat from the Greens’, do they realise what they are really saying is: traditional Labor voters have been priced out of this electorate and the class who have moved in don’t align themselves with Labor working class values and are therefore not buying what Labor is selling?

I have always found it odd how offended people get when their privilege is pointed out to them, but the truth is, Greens voters, by and large, are in the privileged position of not needing, and therefore, not caring as much as Labor voters do about Labor’s policy priorities.

Where Labor campaigns to save Medicare, to raise the minimum wage and save penalty rates, to fund public schools and to make work more secure, Greens voters needs are met in these areas and therefore they aren’t turned on by this message.

Greens voters, by and large, are less likely to be living in public housing, less likely to be struggling to pay the rent, and are much less likely to have seen their manufacturing jobs disappear, and are more likely to be in white-collar professions where wage rises are negotiated without union involvement. How else do they afford million-dollar homes in gentrified inner-city seats? So, with these needs met, they look elsewhere for a political message to resonate and they find it in the party promising to focus on humanitarian issues and environmental protection.

There is nothing wrong with being privileged. I would far prefer rich inner-city voters chose Greens than Liberals. And there is obviously nothing wrong with caring a lot about asylum seeker policy and environmental problems like climate change. I’m a Labor supporter and I care deeply about these issues too. But, when Greens focus solely on these issues as an electoral strategy to divert progressives away from Labor, with a narrow view of political progress that excludes the most disadvantaged in society, people who couldn’t dream of affording to live in Northcote, are they really helping the progressive cause? Are they really helping to make Australia a more progressive country to live in by stealing gentrified seats from Labor? I don’t believe they are.

You often hear Greens voters say ‘Labor lost me with XYZ asylum seeker policy’. Perhaps what they’re really saying is ‘Labor lost me when I lost the need for Labor policies’. The sad part is that while Greens take Labor policies for granted, and battle to take Labor seats, even when Liberals are in government, trashing the environment and doing all manner of vindictive harm to asylum seekers, who is really winning? It sure isn’t Labor. And it’s not the Greens. So how did we end up here again?


  1. Victoria,
    I know many people who were once staunch labor supporters, that abandoned them purely for the period when Labor’s asylum seeker policy moved to the right and offshore processing and the gulags begun. Many will not return to Labor until that policy disappears – end-of-story.

    I’ve been saying for many years, that one only has to go back and look at the change that happened to the LNP when Howard came to power. That ‘little man’ and his subsequent cohorts were responsible for dragging not just the LNP further to the right, but the entirety of Australian politics with them.
    So if you were go back to the days of Malcolm Fraser and the traditional left/right divide between the ALP/LNP of the 70’s and compare it to todays left/right divide? Well there’s no comparison.

    The left/right divide in Australian politics today is simply that we now have the ALP in the position where the LNP where in Frasers days, the Greens now sit where ALP once were, and the LNP?
    Well, they’re so far off to the right (in factions) that you’d need fucking binoculars to find em!
    This theory could be applied worldwide – fascism is definitely on the rise – look at Greece.

    The Greens are a far from ideal party – But they’re the best we have right now to help bring a little balance back into politics.
    Unless we get that balance back, this country is in serious shit.

  2. Someone made a very valid point on FB the other day. That Labor even with offshore would treat Asylum Seekers humanely. As I often say to people; don’t talk about Labor’s Asylum seeker policy and ignore the risk management measures they have put in place, such as return of refugee tribunal, access to medical and legal, KPIs for settlement, independent oversight, child guardian, mandatory reporting, removal of secrecy and actual resettlement (that’s the bit where people stop being locked up and get a chance to build their lives.). The Greens constantly ignoring all these provisions isn’t progressive, it’s Hansonesque shock tactics purposely ignoring debate on the actual solutions. Imagine if the actual practices that the measures bring were discussed in an intelligent progressive space? The Greens offer absolutely nothing in terms of progressive politics. The underpinning constructs of their political tactics are so Hansonesque, if someone mapped them out, I’m sure even the most dedicated Greens supporter would be shocked. Well done Victoria. A great article that is desperately needed to discuss the Greens desire to replace Labor as Pennings proudly tweeted the other day.

  3. Here I, a big drip, have been sitting in Royal Darwin Hospital armless with drips. Listening to drips relating stories of cricket drips and reading stories from our daily drip.
    Hidden in the dripping is a little marrow when an acceptable drip lets fly with two tiers federal and local government. (A passion of mine and I go apopletic everytime some rat bag suggest we become a state and have written so here for 10 years???)
    Today, Queen Victoria, you have hit your Empress stage. I have read and reread your marvellous and accurate assessment of the 4-10%ers.
    Just had another read to decide whether to insult tanner as a poll believing quitter but decided to lob a few quibs at the diludbransinkims that replaced my previous loonies when the boys cut the girls from the visible 4-5nm spectrum.
    I love the pragmatic skimming of the electoral cash off the 9 Electoral commissions. 4-10% is good money management. Perhaps it is merely a variant of the Ashby candidate rip offs and therefore tacky.
    They are not all tacky, the head of the greens rang my darling up and arranged to come for a talk. I thought nice bloke(they were when we visited my sis in tassie 60s and 70s) so I thought I would tell him how our system works and give himsome hints for local government elections.
    When he got to our place the arrogance exuded and his first words were I have come to tell you the greens are targetting my darling.
    Wow our family have been active against clp crony development, often knowing all of those involved, before Darwin had a Lord Mayor(ella stack 1975). So he got a cold drink and a friendly listen but no help.
    He lost that election. They recruited a fabulous teacher from labor who snuck in and whose preferences flowed to my darling. Sadly he died in office and the aragoonies won the by-election.
    The green soon learnt where to go if she needed help.

    Wow 6 days in hospital, a great article by Empress Victoria, carlton getting flogged bt gold coast what an end to march!!!
    Tomorrow’s holiday completes the perfect christian belief.
    Sorry David,
    Interesting generalities???
    We ain’t going back and the greens will wake up to the boy of pragmatism when they see the principles of the party

  4. Queen Victoria,
    Accustomed as I have become to reading your illuminating reflections upon the most critical issues of our society, this insightful analysis offers an even greater number of sagacities than usual!

    Being a Labor Party “Leftie” since the Punic Wars, I’m ruefully aware that Labor does contain a regressive faction who are as ignorantly opposed as, say, Tony Abbott and the Nats to taking serious measures to rescue our environment from morphing into that of Venus. Accordingly you, are spot on that even for the Greens’ purported central objective of protecting our environment, they will often enact utterly counterproductive political strategies such as evidenced in the Batman election. There, the Greens sank to concocting egregiously fallacious attacks on Labor’s policies merely to gain one totally impotent crossbench House Member. What made Di Natale’s extraordinary mendacity all the more nonsensical in Batman is that Ged Kearney is a leftist of sufficient stature in the Labor movement to ensure that the Labor Party’s upcoming election platform (and hopefully a future Shorten government) makes dealing with the Global Warming emergency a top tier priority.

    Yet again, QV, you have elicited my boundless appreciation for the invaluable profundities expressed in your essay.

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