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 Estate.com, 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?