Lessons from the (Modern) Prince, Part 4: Understanding the Greens in Tasmania

Related posts

Sign up for updates

More than 580 union leaders, campaigners and organisers subscribe to my email newsletter.

Following a fortnight of uncertainty after the 2010 Tasmanian election, the Greens Party led by former advertising guru Nick McKim, have flexed their muscles to effectively appoint the ALP as minority governing party.

Tas election 2010
This bloke is probably really unhappy.

This act by the Greens Party came after both major parties refused to negotiate with the Greens, and made this a part of their election pitch during the campaign. The end result, Labor 10 seats, Liberals 10 seats, and Greens Party 5 seats, saw the Liberal Party get more votes overall than Labor. During the campaign, with the threat of a hung parliament – no realised – both Liberal and Labor said that if there was a tie in seats, the party with the most votes would be given the opportunity to form government.

Denied the ability to negotiate with Labor or Liberals over ministerial portfolios or policy, and apparently ignored by the Governor over the last week, Nick McKim and the Greens Party announced that they would support a Labor government:

Nick McKim announced via a southern newspaper today that his party would offer support to the incumbent government by not moving or supporting motions of no-confidence in parliament unless there was evidence of gross malfeasance, maladministration or corruption.

Their decision of course is entirely opportunistic and unprincipled. But that’s fine. Because the Greens Party, like all modern political parties, are principally concerned with gaining and exercising power. And luckily Machiavelli can help us decipher the Greens Party’s decision.

This article is a part of Project 52 – one post per week for the year.

Whenever those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you. Because such a government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot stand without his friendship and interest, and does its utmost to support him; and therefore he who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way.

Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter V

In this case, the (modern) prince is the Greens Political Party. Acquiring a state in this case is gaining significant political power over the political processes in Tasmania.

…there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute” The three options open to the Greens Party after “acquiring” Tasmania were:

  1. Ruin them: The Greens Party could have continued to hold both Labor and Liberal to ransom, and perpetuate the political stasis in Tasmania, where no major party could effectively govern. The Greens Party would have benefited by keeping both other parties in a state of crisis, able to topple either (or both) at their whim, unless both supported each other. Obviously, this was the least politically acceptable for the Greens Party – who’ve already been damaged by accusations of blackmail, and holding Tasmania to ransom.
  2. Reside there in person: This was the Greens Party’s preferred option – the modern equivalent of having a place in the ministry with a formal arrangement. The Greens wanted to exercise power from within the government. That’s why Nick McKim constantly said he wanted to negotiate. He desperately wanted to reside within cabinet, and control the government and the governing party from this powerful vantage point.
  3. Draw a tribute: The final option – the one that we can see today – is for the Greens Party to choose another party (Labor) to govern, then extract political concessions. Nick McKim is hoping that Labor will be so beholden to the Greens Party that he will be able to exercise political power over the government without being a minister in cabinet.

The upshot of this is that twelve years of Labor continues in Tasmania. As in South Australia, it’s time for Labor to go back out to the community and reconnect – it did after all experience a large swing against it. The disaster that would have been a Liberal government is averted.

Unfortunately, Labor is now at the mercy of a ruthless, opportunistic political party under the leadership of Nick McKim. It must be wary of its vulnerability to the Greens Party, and forge its own path.

14 responses to “Lessons from the (Modern) Prince, Part 4: Understanding the Greens in Tasmania”

  1. Pete Avatar

    Your conclusion is flawed and has no basis in His Excellencies stated decision making. Unless, of course, you have proof otherwise.

    1. alexjpwhite Avatar

      I'm not commenting on the Governor's decision (or constitutional processes), but the Greens Party's political decision to support Labor over the Liberals.

  2. Nick Avatar

    How do you think Labor should handle them Alex? Bring them into cabinet and try to shackle them to cabinet solidarity and a share of the tough decisions? Negotiate an ACT style accord that keeps them out of cabinet but sets some policy goals? Or just ignore them totally and deal with each piece of legislation individually on the floor of the parliament?

    1. alexjpwhite Avatar

      Good question Nick. I'm agnostic on how Labor should handle the Greens Party – I'm too far away, and don't know enough of the details to give any specific commentary. I'd probably just say that whatever they do, it needs to be part of a consistent strategy that the Party room agrees on and feels ownership over.

  3. Gab Avatar

    All politicians are ruthless and opportunistic Alex.

    1. alexjpwhite Avatar

      I completely agree. The Greens Party is no different from other politicians.

  4. Gab Avatar

    It's just that you seem to have a bias towards Labour. I'm not sure if that is a fair assessment?

  5. alexjpwhite Avatar

    I wouldn't say "bias towards Labor" (although I am open about my ALP membership). This article is political critique of the Greens Party in Tasmania in the context of the election. I've commented on the Liberals and Labor a lot more elsewhere on this blog (this is one of the few blog posts I've written about the Greens Party).

    1. Gab Avatar

      That is totally fair enough. But I think a Machiavellian comparison is perhaps a little strong in regards to a Party who for the most part stands up for environmental protection and universal rights. The politics game is a vicious one unfortunately, which in some ways reflects the self serving nature of those in power (and the lobbies they represent).

      1. alexjpwhite Avatar

        The Greens Party portray themselves as a mature political party that is capable of forming government (especially in Tasmania). As such, it is entirely legitimate to evaluate and critique them in political terms – Greens MPs are, afterall, politicians.

        BTW: Labor has done more than the Greens Party ever has to protect the environment or uphold human and universal rights.

      2. Gab Avatar

        I think your points are valid and historically, this may be true. But I think recently Labour have implemented policies driven towards the restriction of rights. Issues such as refugees and internet censorship to mention a few. Also at a national and state level, they have been responsible for the destruction of the environment, unnecessary desal plants, rampant coal exports, Hazelwood, dredging of Port Phillip Bay, denuding of Tassy old growth, pulp mills etc. etc. PPP projects that have ripped off tax payer money. There is no real excuse for these things (economics and jobs included). Not to mention corruption at the state planning level, the perpetuation of suburban sprawl, the exorbitant and inefficient spending on infrastructure such as roads and highways which service a small amount of population and encourage (necessitate) the need for private vehicles, where a change in planning could make public transport far more efficient. Anyway, I am evidently rambling as these issues are complex and require more time to discuss (in person hopefully).

  6. Mark Lawrence Avatar
    Mark Lawrence


    the only valid reason to attack the Greens is if you are working on a campaign for an inner -city labor left winger you are fond off, admire, and are aligned to.

    The Greens are, politically, what the left of the ALP was in mid-60's to late 80's, i.e. strong unionists, strong on minority social rights, libertarian (in social policy), militant, and attracting the idealistic and progressive youth.

    The Tas electorate voted 15:10 for the Centre/Left.

    The State Governor was correct (sounds surreal, but its true) – he could not say that a LIB/Green commission could be more stable than an ALP/Green one.

    If ALP right wingers cannot deal with the Greens, then that is a reflection of their own inability to take a a principled left/progressive line on the forests/jobs debate, and analogous debates.

    Progressive politics will be advanced by a Greens/ALP accommodation, as fraught as that may be.

    Alex, I think you need to rethink this one

    1. alexjpwhite Avatar

      How is it an attack to give a political critique? I think it is illustrative that the Greens Party supporters have rushed to defend the Greens, as though any kind of criticism or non-adoring commentary is somehow a terrible political sin. The Greens are a political party – just like any other, are completely fallible, and like every other political party are opportunistic and calculating. It is entirely reasonable and legitimate for the Greens Party to behave like this. They are, after all, a political party. It would be odd if they really were pure as the driven snow. Their calculated behaviour in the Victorian Upper House, and their tactical voting in the Senate demonstrate that they are as "Machiavellian" as Labor and the Liberal Party.

      For the record, I have no involvement in any inner city Labor campaign.

      The Greens are a bourgeois party with no working class culture and no formal links to organised labour. There is a reason that no union, even independent, non-ALP affiliated unions, have or are trying to affiliate to the Greens (despite the fact some individual unionists may be Greens Party members). Union support of the Greens is typically tactical, and designed to exercise political power to achieve industrial goals.

      My argument in this article does not concern the decision of the Governor. Only the calculated political decision of Nick McKim and the Greens Party MPs in their decision to back Labor.

      I don't believe that progressive political will be advanced by a Greens/ALP accommodation (in the short term) as long as Greens Party MPs and prominent supporters actively vilify and attack Labor MPs and supporters. The same goes the other way. The fact is that Labor and Greens are very different – as different as the Lib Dems in the UK, and British Labour. There is more in common with the socialist groups (e.g. Socialist Party) and Labor than with the Greens. My experience with the Greens Party is that they are faction-ridden and nepotistic as any other group, although they suffer from the fact that they have to "pretend" that there are no factions, allowing cults of personality to take control, without the benefits of formal powersharing arrangements. Bad stuff.

  7. Gab Avatar

    "allowing cults of personality to take control, without the benefits of formal powersharing arrangements. Bad stuff." … Totally agree.