Greens Strategy: “Attack the ALP, allow the Liberal vote to be preserved”

This blog post is 10 years old. Please, when reading this, be mindful of its age.

“If the Labor Left is concerned with building strong social movements independent of parliament, and winning more debates within the Labor Party to help achieve policy objectives, surely it is time to reassess if joining with the Labor Right as well as the Coalition to attack the Greens is a wise move.”

So writes Lee Rhiannon, Greens Party Senator from New South Wales, in an attempt to woo Labor left members and activists into… what? An alliance? Joining the Greens party? A united voice in parliament apparently.

Building a more active and united progressive Left voice in Parliament, as well as strong social movements, is the key to getting runs on the board. But right now, unity is in short supply as Labor and the Greens are competing for a number of inner-city seats that were once Labor’s heartland.

Lee Rhiannon has a lot of gumption. She cites the state seat of Melbourne as an example of a previously safe seat that now relies on preferences to determine the outcome.

Rhiannon goes on to deplore the criticisms made of the Greens party:

Criticism of one’s opponents is the very nature of politics, and contrary to the bleating of our political opponents, it is nothing new for the Greens policies to be put under the microscope.

But the past few weeks have seen an amplification of attacks on the party. The latest Newspoll has the Greens vote steady on 11 per cent while Labor has dropped 3 per cent, taking their vote down to 28 per cent.

The concerted anti-Greens offensive kicked off by NSW state secretary Sam Dastyari and AWU secretary Paul Howes is not achieving the desired aim and could even be a factor in this further drop in Labor’s vote.

She rounds of her article asking whether the Labor Left should be criticising the Greens party at all!

While it is not surprising that conservatives try and discredit the Greens and use various tactics to limit the chances of more breakthroughs in lower house seats, the question Labor Left needs to answer is, should they also be putting their effort into demonising a party with progressive policies?

Green hypocrisy

Greens Party - for Greens Eyes Only

I recently came into possession of a partial copy of the Greens Party campaign report for the 2004 election campaign for the federal seat of Melbourne.

The campaign report underscores Lee Rhiannon’s gross hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of many of the Greens Party’s members of parliament and activists.

Greens Party election strategy

The strategy of the Greens Party in 2004 (and in 2007 and 2010) was to:

out-poll the Liberals. Since we had to rely on the expected high flow of Liberal preferences to win, our broad goal was to attack the ALP vote and allow the Liberal vote to be preserved.

So much for movement building and solidarity of a “united progressive voice” that suddenly Lee Rhiannon wants to promote.

The core of the Greens Party election strategy in 2004 (and since) has been to preserve the Liberal vote at the expense of the ALP vote. Nothing in this strategy about building the Green party’s vote or fostering social movements. Attack the ALP, preserve the Liberal party.

Greens Party campaign directive

The campaign report continues, showing the extend of this strategy to attack the ALP and preserve the Liberals. It went so far that in 2004, it backfired.

The Greens report says:

In retrospect, the campaign should have incorporated a stronger anti-Howard message, rather than concentrate on Labor so much. However in doing so, we would have been constrained by a VECC directive that getting rid of the Howard government was not explicitly part of the campaign strategy.

The Greens Party strategy was not about getting rid of the Howard government! The Greens Victorian Election Campaign Committee (VECC) was more concerned about unseating Lindsay Tanner than getting rid of Howard, Australia’s most conservative, reactionary, climate-denying Prime Minister.

Not Labor’s friends, not Labor Left’s friends

This document is from 2004, but the playbook has been run in 2007 and 2010 — and variations have been seen in the inner city during state elections around Australia.

The Greens party are no friend to Labor or the Labor Left.

If Lee Rhiannon’s views were anything other than a cynical attempt to drive a wedge into Labor, then the Greens Party strategy would have been to challenge the Liberals, not preserve their vote. The Greens Party strategy would not have directly targeted a progressive Labor Left MP (Tanner).

Since then, Adam Bandt, the Greens Party MP who successfully attacked the ALP vote and preserved the Liberal vote to such an extent that he won the federal seat of Melbourne on the back of Liberal preferences (just as the 2004 strategy had hoped) is now complaining that the very preferences that he relied on are illegitimate in ensuring the recent victory of Jennifer Kanis in the state seat of Melbourne.

Of course, the Greens Party are entitled to do whatever they think is in their best political interest — attacking Labor and preserving the Liberal vote is a valid political tactic to build your party at the expense of others.

But it is grossly hypocritical then for the likes of Lee Rhiannon to decry the criticisms levelled at the Greens Party by Labor, or to call for a “united progressive voice” in parliament at the same time that the Greens strategic directive specifically demands the preservation of a conservative government!

To any Labor and Labor Left comrades who may think that a long-term alliance or coalition with the Greens is something we should pursue, reconsider. The Greens party are committed, not to the defeat of the Tories, but to the defeat of Labor.

(Thanks to @TroyBramston for the copy of the Greens party campaign report.)

More from Lindsay Tanner on this secret Greens party campaign report.

This blog post is 10 years old. Please, when reading this, be mindful of its age.

100 thoughts on “Greens Strategy: “Attack the ALP, allow the Liberal vote to be preserved””

  1. Alex,

    You are wrong, and dangerously so. Following your logic through will mean a devastating defeat of the Labor Party at the next Federal election.

    If the Labor Party does not seek a working alliance with the Greens as soon as possible, then you can forget about having any chance of winning the next election, or the one after that, or the one after that, or the one after that & etc. In fact, Labor will be in a position of *permanent* opposition.

    The Greens are not going away. Even if Labor put all their effort into a fool’s errand of destroying them politically, they have both demographics and ideology on their side. They will poll at least 10% of the vote and will continue to improve on that number. The number of inner urban professionals will increase, and the issues that appeal to social liberals, environmentalism foremost, will continue.

    Labor has no chance of changing this, or even colonising this vote. Labor’s natural vote is the working-class areas of the suburbs, and social-democratic policies, and will always remain that way. If we concentrate on that, on winning vote away from the LNP, then we have a chance.

    Political parties, of any influential level, exist for objective reasons. Those demographics are the objective reasons.

    Keeping that in mind, for every contest Labor has with the Greens that is two marginal seats that Labor and the Greens cannot contest against the LNP.

    1. Hi Lev, needless to say, I disagree that the Greens party will get more than 12-15% of the vote outside of a few inner city areas. Their ideology is limited by their identity-politics focus, and their small-l bourgeois liberalism.

      Keeping that in mind, for every contest Labor has with the Greens that is two marginal seats that Labor and the Greens cannot contest against the LNP.

      As for your quote above, this is very worrying to me. I hope you are not arguing that Labor should not contest seats that the Greens could win.

      1. I disagree that the Greens party will get more than 12-15% of the vote outside of a few inner city areas.

        They will average around the 30% mark in inner urban regions and obviously less than that outside – and their vote will continue to grow. Their vote is from middle-class professionals – that is a growing demographic.

        I hope you are not arguing that Labor should not contest seats that the Greens could win.

        I certainly am arguing that, in a framework of an ALP-Green coalition, which I have advocated for years. Here is an example of a post I made on the Facebook group, Labor-Green Alliance.

        Labor doesn’t run in Federal seat of Melbourne (Vic). Green retain.
        Greens don’t run in Federal seat of Grayndler (NSW). Labor retain.

        Labor doesn’t run in Federal seat of Wentworth (NSW). Probably Liberal retain, but makes it more marginal – might become a Green’s seat.

        Labor doesn’t run in Federal seats of Higgins (Vic) and Kooyong (Vic). Again, probably Liberal retain, but makes both seats more marginal, again with Greens having a good chance.

        Greens don’t run in Boothby (SA), Macarthur (NSW), giving Labor a better chance of winning these off the coalition.

        Others? What I’m looking for here is marginal or potential marginals; Labor/Greens contests where we don’t compete against each other, Greens/Liberal seats where Labor doesn’t run, and Labor/Liberal seats where the Greens don’t run.

        By the phrase “doesn’t run” or “don’t run”, it can mean still having nominal candidates but having a deliberately “flat” campaign.

        If the stories are true – and I believe they are – Labor spent *four* times the campaign funds in the Melbourne state by-election compared to what they did in the Niddrie by-election. Plus, of course, the monies that the Greens spent on the same, which I suspect was equivalent.

        Let’s be quite clear about this. For every seat that Labor and the Greens do not compete against each other that’s two marginal seats that they can campaign strongly against the LNP Coalition.

        1. Hi Lev,

          Melbourne results 2010
          BANDT, Adam (Grn) – 36.17%
          BOWTELL, Cath (Lab) – 38.09%
          OLSEN, Simon (Lib) – 21.00

          So for Melbourne, on a primary vote POV, the Greens should not contest against Labor, to beat the Liberals.

          Grayndler results 2010
          ALBANESE, Anthony (Lab) – 46.09%
          BYRNE, Sam (Grn) – 25.90%
          DORE, Alexander (Lib) – 24.24%

          So for Grayndler (as you say), on a primary vote POV, the Greens should not contest against Labor, to beat the Liberals.

          Wentworth results 2010
          TURNBULL, Malcolm (Lib) – 59.57%
          LEWIS, Steven (Lab) – 21.07%
          ROBERTSON, Matthew (Grn) – 17.44%

          So for Wentworth, on a primary vote POV, the Greens should not contest against Labor, to beat the Liberals.

          Higgins results 2010
          O’DWYER, Kelly (Lib) – 51.74%
          CLARK, Tony (Lab) – 27.91%
          HIBBINS, Samuel (Grn) – 17.90%

          So for Higgins, on a primary vote POV, the Greens should not contest against Labor, to beat the Liberals.

          Kooyong results 2010
          FRYDENBERG, Josh (Lib) – 52.56%
          HURD, Steve (Lab) – 27.39%
          BENSON, Des (Grn) – 18.48%

          So for Kooyong, on a primary vote POV, the Greens should not contest against Labor, to beat the Liberals.

          I’m sorry Lev, but I can’t see how your argument stacks up. Even at a low mark in 2010, Labor outpolled the Greens party in every one of the seats you say Labor should not contest (or run dead, which in these blue ribbon Liberal seats they do anyway).

          On the basis, as you say, of trying to make “marginals” of Lib/Green, the current numbers in all of those seats you name, simply do not stack up. Even if Labor didn’t run and the Greens received 100% of those votes, the Liberals received on primary votes, over 50% for all of them. They are not marginal. They are blue ribbon Liberal heartland. There simply isn’t a thing as a Liberal/Green contest anywhere.

          Even in the Federal seat of Melbourne, the Greens won on Liberal preferences. On a primary vote point of view, the Greens should never have contested Melbourne, which necessitated Labor diverting significant resources to a seat that was not marginal to the Liberals and which the Liberals can never win. Good on the Greens for winning, but they did so on the back of Liberal Party preferences and at the expense of draining Labor resources (both monetary and people’s time/energy) away from the real fight against the Libs.

          To argue that Labor should not contest Melbourne is nonsensical. A majority of electors in Melbourne voted for Labor over the Greens; only sneaky Liberal preferencing ensured Bandt’s win. Again, this is all legitimate (we have a preferential system afterall), but it is simply factually wrong to say that Melbourne is a now naturally Green seat.

          1. Alex,

            There is really no point posting election results from 2010. We are all quite aware of what they were, and if you think they are the “low mark” of Labor’s primary vote in said seats, you will certainly be in for quite a surprise in 2013 if the current circumstances continue.

            Whilst it is quite true that there isn’t currently an obvious Liberal/Green contest at the moment, that doesn’t mean that there will not be in the medium term. Again, you have apply some strategic thinking to the situation, look at the demographic trends, look at resource allocation, think about organisational core competencies and overall mission.

            If Labor agrees not to contest in Melbourne, and the Greens agree not to contest in those seats which are Labor-Green marginals, then Labor and the Greens can allocate resources into defeating an LNP coalition. Otherwise the contests will occur, in the the most progressive seats in the country, and the Labor Party will be utterly obliterated in the suburban marginals.

            Then Labor – and the Greens – will be in a state of permanent opposition. There will be no price on carbon, there will be no national marine park network, there will be no NDIS, no mining resources rent, and the worst industrial relations environment imaginable. And that’s just in the first term.

            1. Seems to me then that the Greens Party have some thinking to do. Do they continually pressure Labor, attacking our vote and aiming to preserve the Liberal vote (as their strategy document sets out), or do they support the fight against the Tories by not contesting those inner city federal seats that Labor holds or has a primary vote majority in?

              Quite simply, the Greens Party are the ones who have decided that targeting and attacking Labor is their electoral strategy. It shouldn’t be up to Labor to “gift” those seats to the Greens on the basis that it will then be competitive in the suburban areas. To suggest that is absurd.

              As to the long-term prospects of the Greens party, look no further than the Liberal Democrats in the UK (who are most similar to the Greens in my view). While they’ve held on in some geographically concentrated areas, they simply don’t have the mass of support to ever hold government in their own right. As we saw in Tasmania when the Greens party were led by Christine Milne, the Greens (like the Lib Dems) are quite happy to form a coalition with the conservatives. We’ve also seen this in Victoria, where Greg Barber has consistently refused to rule out supporting the Liberals in the event of a hung parliament (and the Greens Party MPs in Victoria have also consistently voted with the Liberals in the Upper House against Labor).

              P.S. I refer to 2010 as a low mark because, historically, it was. The 2013 election may well redefine it. However, Labor’s lost votes aren’t to the Greens party — they’re to the Liberals. In fact, many times more “middle class professionals” vote for the Liberal and Labor parties than for the Greens party.

              1. Of course the Greens have some thinking to do. At the Labor-Green Alliance FB group, I am constantly reminding Green partisans that none of their policies, or even anything close, will be delivered except through a Labor government such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the World Heritage listing for the Franklin, the International treaty for the protection of Antarctica, the Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, a price on carbon emissions and the world’s Largest Marine Park network. Yes, the Greens need a Labor government.

                But by the same token, of course they have targetted inner urban city seats, and in particular Labor seats, because many voters in those seats are generally further to the left than the ALP is, especially on matters such as asylum seekers, marriage equality, indigenous rights, and even mineral resource rents. What you are considering absurd is actually a very sound approach if Labor is to have any hope at all in winning the next election. Where do you think Labor is going to get the resources to win surburban marginals if it is spending efforts to defeat the Greens in what are safe progressive seats? Campaign resources are finite.

                I would disagree in making comparisons with the LDP and the Greens. Not only have the LDP held government in their own right in the past (remember, they are the Liberal Party of old, with the UK SDP merged). Yes, it is true that the Greens could form an coalition government with the Liberals, especially if they have a pro-environment, republican, modern leader – and I’m sure you know who I’m thinking of. After all, there have been Blue-Green coalition governments in Finland for some time now. So it’s best to work on that relationship rather than drive the Greens away and lose those preferences.

                I’m glad that you’ve picked up that Labor’s lost votes have gone to Liberals rather than the Greens. Perhaps then you will follow through to a logical conclusion from Andrew Catsaras’s empirically sound remarks:

                “If the ALP picked up five percentage points from the Greens and improved its primary vote to 35 per cent it would still only increase its two-party preferred vote by 1 per cent… tak[ing] them to 45%… if they picked up 5 per cent from the Coalition and improved their primary vote to 35 per cent then their two-party preferred vote would increase to 49 per cent.”

                “So while it’s important for the ALP tro try to improve its primary vote it really will depend on where those votes come from that determines what sort of impact it will have on their two-party preferred vote and whether they’ll be competitive at the next election. And to be competitive the ALP must win votes back from the Coalition.”


                1. Hi Lev, the logical conclusion from Andrew Catsaras’s comments is not a coalition with the Greens party. In fact, it suggests to me that the ALP should have nothing to do with the Greens party. Of course, Labor should not waste time, money and energy campaigning against or “waging war on” the Greens party. I have argued this here. As a minor party, anything Labor does regarding the Greens (attack them, form a coalition) simply legitimises them and helps grow their vote.

                  In my view, Labor should focus on campaigning against the Liberals and conservative parties.

                  Unfortunately, as these secret “Greens Eyes Only” documents show, the Greens party are more interested in attacking Labor and preserving the Liberal vote. This puts Labor in a position where the Greens are supporting our main opponent! Not only that, but the Greens are actively attacking Labor in key seats that Labor needs to retain if it ever hopes to form government.

                  The Greens are a minor party. The Labor/Greens conflict will only take place in those few inner city seats where the Greens have a high enough vote to force a TPP contest between Labor and the Greens party. It is nonsensical to suggest that Labor not defend the seats it holds or try to regain seats it recently held. Especially when the Green party MP vote is not guaranteed.

                  This entire debate is one that is amplified for people living in the inner city. I live in the Inner West. Apart from a Green upper house MP in the area, there is no Greens party presence at all. The debate is not very meaningful out here.

              2. Alex,

                (Responding here because your 7.44am post does not have a reply link)

                Having “nothing to do with the Greens” is not an option. They are a reality, they represent a double-figure vote in their own right in general and are equal pegging in a number of inner urban seats.

                Unless a working agreement is reached with the Greens, Labor will waste time, money, and other resources on fending off the Greens in said seats, and as your not-very-secret document shows, the Greens will be doing exactly the same.

                It is unreasonable to expect the Greens to lie down in toto and say “Oh, OK Labor, we won’t compete in [Melbourne, Grayndler, Fremantle] because Tony Abbott’s the big bad wolf”, and it is equally unreasonable to suggest that Labor do the same either. A negotiated solution between these progressive forces is the only solution.

                At the moment both Labor and the Greens are both engaging in some rather feral and toxic campaigns against each other, which is not unsurprising given that these are marginal seats. There is a lot of bad blood between the two parties at the moment, and there is only one victor out that process – and it’s neither Labor nor the Greens, despite the relative trumpeting from either side.

                Only from a negotiated solution between the two parties will this end. I would like think that someone’s going to take the initiative and bear an olive branch. Sadly, I suspect that neither the leadership of the ALP or the Greens will realise this until after Labor has been utterly thrashed at the next Federal election and the Greens have no avenue at all to introduce their policies, or anything resembling them.

                1. Hi Lev, there’s no reply button because this theme only supports 4 nested comments.

                  Just changing tack for a moment, asking for a “no contest” in various seats between Labor and the Greens party surely does democracy a disservice and does the voters/supporters of either party a disservice, as it denies them the ability to express themselves. Just looking at the bright side here, a lot of young Labor activists got to experience effective campaigning and developed skills they otherwise wouldn’t get in the Melbourne by-election. While I don’t think the by-election was necessary or good, there are upsides for a contest between Labor and the Greens party.

                  Getting away from that aside, I also think you’re significantly overplaying the resources that get placed into the inner city seats compared to the marginal Liberal/Labor contests. By far the vast bulk of resources and energy is placed by Labor into defeating the Liberals. Its only when you’re trapped in the inner city that you think the universe revolves around the conflicts that take place there. Last election, I campaigned in Corangamite, Deakin, Ferntree Gully, Northcote, Batman and Brunswick. Very different election campaigns in each of those seats and only one was a Labor/Greens contest (Brunswick in case you were wondering).

              3. (Response to August 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm)

                A “theme” (read: style) that only supports four nested comments? Goodness, and people wonder why I never left livejournal.

                To argue that a “no contest” within a framework of a coalition is a disservice to democracy is a pretty long bow to stretch, imo. After all, nobody has seriously accused the LNP of the same – and they do have contests when the sitting member retires and they don’t come to an agreement.

                Also, I certainly agree that developing campaigning skills outside the inner urban regions is valuable for all progressive activists, and indeed more so. Labor people learning how to out-campaign Greens and vice-versa is not what I consider *that* useful. I’d much rather both Labor and the Greens learning how to out-campaign the Tories. I certainly like to see more inner city people campaigning in seats like… the Benalla by-election, 2000.

                (I think we might be in agreement on that point).

                Am I overplaying the resources placed in inner city Labor/Greens marginals vs Labor/Liberal marginals? I honestly don’t know, but I suspect not. If they are roughly equivalent however each Labor/Green contest is two campaigns that we (collectively ALP-Green) are stretched to campaign against the Tories. So if there’s three or four seats that are a serious issue, that’s six to eight Lib/ALP that the ALP would struggle to find resources for.

                Tony Abbott is not the sort of risk I’d like to take on those numbers.

                I’m not to sure about your “last election” claims. After all, it does seem you’ve mixed up at least two elections there; Federal and State :)

          2. Apropos, and I’m mentioning this because perhaps I didn’t make it clearer before, those seats which I mentioned might be “blue ribbon” Liberal seats now, but they don’t have to be in the future.

            We may recall certain seats (e.g., Melbourne, Grayndler) that were very safe Labor seats several years ago. Now, not so much.

            Why should Labor have all the ‘fun’ of having a contested election with the Greens? Surely the Liberals are entitled to more than a little bit of this medicine as well?



        2. Sounds like the Brisbane-line strategy. Let’s get a couple of things straight. Greens lower-house MPs have been universally a disappointment.

          *Michael Organ – Cunningham – mentioned a couple of things about Tibet and disappeared into obscurity after 2004.
          *Adele Carles – Fremantle, left the Greens and formed a physical and policial relationship with the Liberals.
          *Adam Bandt – Melbourne. His only political experience being the leader of ‘Left Alliance’ at NUS. Whinges about Labor not being interested in maintaining the minority government (oh please…).
          *Jamie Parker – Balmain, literally a former snake-oil salesman. Not setting the world on fire in the upholstered gasworks of NSW.

          Labor should not let political tripe like the above a free run.
          As for strategy, Labor should not be either fighting or forming an alliance with the Greens. They should campaign on our record of social achievements. Continue with the process of democratisation (community pre-selections etc) – we need to modernise and be more democratic than the Greens. Present a strong environmental agenda without going into tangents like BDS and live export. Where necessary (ie. Melbourne and Grayndler) preference the Greens last.

          There’s no panacea, but the alliance strategy is the worst possible idea. If NSW Labor had formed an alliance with the Greens in 2011, we would have been tarred with the Greens flirtation with the antisemitism of BDS.

            1. Hi Alex,

              The problem with your political framework is that your starting point is to defend Labor against outside enemies and competitors, instead of thinking about how the political situation, and the Labor Party, can be pushed to the left.

              From that standpoint, The Greens should be seen as allies of the Labor Left in that pressure on Labor’s left flank, from social movements, the unions and electorally, can be used to push Labor policy to the left. In that sense Lee Rhiannon is quite right to try to build alliances with members of the Labor Left. As it is, in the context of weak social movements, a largely subservient union movement, and a Labor leadership that has chosen to compete with Abbott for a chimerical “centre ground” of right-wing voters in marginal seats, the party is moving even further to the right.

              In my opinion the key is rebuilding a broad left movement, and the level of struggle, outside parliament. It was this historically which underlay the few periods where the Labor party leadership, even if unevenly, shifted left–take Lang and Whitlam as two examples.

              But if the Labor left continues to simply defend Labor, in a context where it is more discredited and right-wing than ever, you are going to go down with a sinking ship. Whether it’s through The Greens or some other formation Labor is going to face increasing challenges on its left over the next few decades. That’s inevitable when it has bought holus bolus into the neo-liberal agenda and has been moving, unchecked, to the right for a good 30 years. I find it a little sad that you’ve moved so far to the right since your student days when I knew you at Melb Uni.

              1. Hi James — thanks for the comment. This post doesn’t really go into the politics of the situation. It just comments on the opportunistic and cynical tactics employed by the Greens party for their own sectional interests (i.e. their goal is to preserve the Liberal vote).

                I’ve written more about the politics here.

                I also disagree strongly that progressive activists should focus “outside parliament”. When Mussolini took over parliament in Italy, the social democrats and many socialist parties/groups boycotted parliament on the grounds that they did not want to legitimise the Fascists. Antonio Gramsci led the Italian communist party into parliament (Gramsci was a member of parliament) and denounced Mussolini from the parliamentary benches. That illustrates perfectly why parliament is important.

              2. Hi James,

                You are quite correct with the suggestion that progressives should focus on extra-parliamentary activities as a priority. It should be pretty obvious from history that politicians, the wily creatures of survival that they are, will move when there is a demand from the people that they do so. Left to their own devices, they are subject to system stability first and foremost, and especially in their own seat; don’t scare the horses and all that.

                It is not without accident, for example, that it was after the mass anti-apartheid campaigns external to the parliamentary arena that the politicians finally started dragging their feet towards reform on that issue. On a more contemporary basis, it was after the strikes and marches across Australia that the government at the time grudgingly accepted the need for an international intervention led by Australia in Timor-Leste.

                Alex on the other hand is right about the need to also include a parliamentary wing. There is a need to (a) keep the politicians in touch with what’s going on, (b) to identify those people who are actually genuine progressive leaders in parliament (yes, this rare creature does exist). But it is, as you say, of secondary importance. The struggle outside parliament must come first.

                All the best, Lev

  2. Alex, with all due respect, current attempts to pick the scab on the wounds of 2004 are a classic example of the futility of people on either side of the Greens/Labor relationship dredging up grievances about alleged acts of sectarian bastardry in the past to justify sectarianism in the present and future, because every such complaint that can be dredged up by one side can be matched by the other side. Every complaint by Victorian Labor people about the Victorian Greens’ behaviour in the 2004 Federal election can be answered with two words – Stephen Fielding.

    The trouble is that, just as the recitation of the standard catalogue of historical atrocities by partisans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does nothing to move things forward towards a resolution of that conflict, so Labor and Greens arguing blow by blow over everything that has happened over the past thirty years in Australia provides no guidance as to how the Labor/Greens relationship can constructively develop in the future.

    The political reality, as Lev has observed, is that for some years and probably some decades to come there will be two left of centre parties in Australian – Labor and the Greens – each with sufficient support to be a presence in the nation’s parliaments, but neither with sufficient support on its own to have a majority. In the Senate, for example, the current situation of a combined Labor/Greens majority is as good as it’s been for Labor since 1953, and as good as it’s going to get in any forseeable future. It behoves sensible people in both parties to work out how to make the best of this reality.

    1. Hi Paul,

      In the scab picking arena, there’s a difference between preferences and an entire campaign strategy. More recently on the preference front for example, the Greens party in Victoria preferred Family First above Labor in about 30 seats in the 2010 election. Likewise, the preference decision by the Greens party in NSW in 2011 not to direct preferences to Labor resulted in the election of conservative Shooters Party candidates in the upper house.

      My point is, preference decisions are dead-end debates and the Greens party are as guilty as any other party for making objectionable decisions. The decision in 2004 by Labor to preference Family First above the Greens party does not invalidate the criticism that the Greens party have been obsessed with attacking Labor and preserving the Liberal vote. It is risible to even suggest that.

      Having a campaign strategy that explicitly works to “preserve the Liberal vote” on the otherhand has not been replicated by Labor. Labor’s primary election goal since it formed has been to defeat conservative candidates. It has only been in the last few years that the Greens party campaign tactics have necessitated Labor defend against Green attacks in a few inner city seats.

      I’d note that in the Melbourne by-election recently, the campaign slogans for Labor were focused squarely on Ted Baillieu’s repugnant cuts to TAFE. The Greens party on the otherhand were focused on “making Melbourne liveable” (with none of the 10 campaign promises having anything to do with the seat of Melbourne) and with nary a peep about the appalling environmental, human rights or workers rights record of Baillieu. Labor’s focus on making the Melbourne by-election about Baillieu demonstrates that Labor puts fighting the Tories ahead of fighting the Greens, even when the Greens party’s entire campaign strategy is aimed at attacking Labor.

      The political reality, as you say, is obviously that the Greens will continue to be around. Whether they get above 15% remains to be seen. However, they are a minor party. In the vast majority of electorates, they struggle the get more votes than the informal vote. They are insignificant in every electorate outside of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The reality is that this situation will continue for many years, even if they increase their vote in those areas.

      It is definitely not in Labor’s interest to enter a coalition with the Greens party. Looking at the UK situation demonstrates that Labor can come back from disastrous election results and govern in its own right without the support of the social-liberal parties (Lib Dems in UK or Greens in Australia). Like the Lib Dems, the Greens party will find that growth and increased responsibility is incompatible with the PR strategy of “promise everything to everyone” — eventually you will have to make a hard decision (like the Lib Dems supporting higher education funding changes, or the Greens party becoming the party that closes schools in Tasmania) and it will piss off their supporters who have been conditioned to only ever accept impossibly morally pure positions.

      Labor’s goal and overriding purpose should be to build majority support in its own right. That is in the centre (in the suburbs and regional centres) and also the centre-left (in the inner city). The Greens party are not special; they’re just another political party.

      1. Alex, you claim that “the Greens party in Victoria preferred Family First above Labor in about 30 seats in the 2010 election.”

        I would appreciate a citation of that. Because I think you might find that rather than preference FF that the Greens actually ran an open ticket without stated preference allocations.


        It would be good of you to acknowledge this.

        You also suggest “It is definitely not in Labor’s interest to enter a coalition with the Greens party.”

        Are you saying that the Labor Party should give up government in Tasmania then? Does this suggestion go to the level that perhaps the Labor Party should tear up the agreement with the Federal Greens MP that almost always votes with Labor anyway?

        All over the world democratic socialist and environmentalist parties have formed coalition governments. Sure, it hasn’t been smooth sailing, but that’s just the reality of multiparty coalitions.

        Seeming that you have an interest in the UK on this matter, I take the opportunity to remind you of multiple alliance/coalition agreements between UK Labour and the Liberals which included not running against each other, or supporting minority governments. I would strongly suggest you look up in some detail the agreements of 1903, 1923, 1929, and 1977. I may remind you that there was also a possibility of a coalition with the LDP in 2010.

        So you might suggest that Labor’s “goal and overriding purpose should be to build majority support in its own right”, but that’s simply in fantasy territory in the current circumstances. The Labor Party is hovering around 30% in the polls, in case you haven’t noticed. In these circumstances, Labor’s goal and overriding purpose should be to keep a reactionary LNP *out* of government. If that means having to do a deal with the Greens – which it does – then we’d better roll up our sleeves and get on if with it.

        1. Running open tickets, like the Greens did in NSW, is what I meant by “the Greens preferred Family First above Labor”. Since the Greens party constantly talks about how preferences speak to a party’s values, what does it say about the Greens party’s values that they would not direct preferences to Labor candidates above Family First. Sure, they copped out and took the weasel route by registering “open tickets” but in the context of preference discussion (which as I mentioned, are fruitless for all concerned) it shows that the Greens party would prefer a Family First candidate be elected above Labor. The Greens party supporters should also explain why the Greens party chose to register tickets in some seats and not others — were they saying those Family First candidates in open-ticket seats would be better MPs than Labor candidates?

          On the issue of Labour and the Lib Dems in 2010, my understanding is that a coalition was never a serious option for Labour or the Lib Dems, despite the few negotiations that took place between them.

          Labor building a majority in Australia is not fantasy. We achieved it in 2007 federally and around Australia at a state level for over a decade. All without Greens party support. The difference in Tasmania is that the Greens party is in Cabinet, not just in a coalition or agreement. I certainly think that in the long term coalition governments are not the way to go and Labor should seek to govern in its own right.

          Lev, I’d also just like to note the disastrous effect of the Greens party voting with the Liberals in the Senate — including the utter disaster of the Greens party voting to block the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and more recently in NSW, the Greens party voted with the Liberal party to severely limit the ability for unions to donate to political parties — thus striking directly at Labor’s ability to campaign.

          1. Alex,

            I think your argument that the Greens preferred Family First over Labor by having an open ticket is an astounding example insincere marketing, at best. To argue that an open ticket allocates a preferred candidate is complete nonsense. In any case the numbers don’t support the argument. As Anthony Green when the Greens run a Labor preferred HTV, Green preferences flow to Labor at 80%. When they run an open ticket it’s 75% ( Given an option, because it suits the Greens ideology (and the education level of their voters), they obviously would prefer an open ticket for *all* seats. Certainly they have not, to the best of my knowledge directly preferenced FF above Labor when they run an actual HTV – unlike the ALP, which apparentlty is quite happy to preference authoritarian and theocratic parties like the the DLP and FF above the liberal-secular Greens.

            The possibility of a coalition between UK Labour and the LibDems was a serious option, however as the LibDems promised they approached the biggest party first (i.e., Conservatives). They were sufficiently disappointed with the initial discussions that they began to approach Labour as well, although they would have required even more coalition partners. In any case, this does not remove the fact that Lib-Lab alliances have existed in the UK in the past, and will probably do so in the future as well.

            I note that you have made a change to my proposition concerning an a Labor majority by deleting the important caveat phrase “in the current circumstances”. Such alterations, are either conducted in bad faith, or are leading you to make erroneous conclusions. Let make this perfectly clear, Labor cannot achieve government in the current circumstances without being in some form of coalition. As already mentioned I suspect that the double-digit figures that the Greens have achieved will be a more permanent state of affairs, with all that implies.

            You mention the “disastrous effect” of the Greens voting with the Liberal in the Senate to block the CPRS, which I presume you mean the Rudd government legislation. The political whine is the claim that the Greens are wicked for blocking this legislation. The policy reality however, is that particular legislation was widely condemned by no less than 140 climate groups (and Ross Garnaut) for having inadequate targets, and for unacceptably high levels of industry compensation. You may consider it a political disaster, but in terms of Australian policy, the blocking of that legislation was a policy success – and now we have legislation that is actually much better. Unsurprisingly so, when you think that the previous legislation was supported with the LNP, but excluded the Greens, whereas the legislation that was passed included the Greens but excluded the LNP.

            We can also recognise how the LNP, with Green support, has introduced for donations from political parties from unions in NSW. Of course, we may note that NSW Labor in reforms in 2008 and 2010 introduced bans from corporations to political parties. This means that only natural persons on the electoral roll can make such donations. This, of course, suits the Greens social liberalism, and their lack of understanding of class competition. We can also note that according to Professor George Willliams, the legislation may be declared unconstitutional (cf., More importantly however, it is extremely unlikely Greens would have voted with the LNP on this if there was a coalition in force; the probably would be about the same as the NP voting against the Libs.

            1. Hi Lev, I get the feeling these comments could go forever.

              Firstly, the fact that Greens voters don’t follow Greens party how to votes has no bearing on the opportunistic tactical decision made by the Greens party not to preference Labor. The Greens party “ideology” of open tickets has ensured the election of conservative Shooters Party candidates in NSW, so it certainly plays to their “attack Labor, preserve the Liberal vote” tactics.

              Secondly, on the CPRS, there’s no doubt that the CPRS was better legislation than the current Clean Energy Future Act (the carbon price). In fact, it shows the cynical nature of the Greens party. The fact that scores of environmental NGOs didn’t condemn the carbon price is that they saw first hand the absolutely catastrophic effect the blocking of the original CPRS had on the climate movement — the emboldening of Abbott and the climate denialist forces — and wisely stayed silent in order to achieve the carbon price. You are naive in the extreme (or ignorant) if you perceive the carbon price as substantially different or improved over the original CPRS. The political reality (as you like to put it) is actually the opposite of what you say — the Greens party blocked the CPRS to position themselves are morally pure and unsullied. The targets are the same and the industry compensation higher. There can be no doubt that the blocking of the CPRS by the Greens party was a terrible error and a political crime perpetrated on Australia, our people and our climate.

              1. Hi Alex,

                Yes, the comments could go on forever. That’s the nature of discourse. We raised propositions and they are tested. As long as both parties have the desire to reach understanding through a rational testing of claims, the conversation should continue.

                To accuse the Greens for being responsible for the election of a Shooter’s Party upper house member in NSW is a rather dangerous light engage in comparative analysis. Again, the Greens ran an open ticket in the Upper House in that election, so no preference was expressed. The ALP however is directly responsible for the election of a Family First *senator* who risked some three thousand people, including the entire Federal parliament with a deadly disease (

                It is weird to claim that an expression of “no preference” means that the Greens have expressed a preference. In any case, I suggest that you give consideration to the possibility that the ALP would have received preferences from the Greens (and vice-versa), if both parties learned how to conduct coalition politics properly.

                Contrary to your view, by any empirical environmental standard it is fairly clear that the Clean Energy Bill 2011 (what you have called the Clean Energy Future Act) is a superior piece of legislation to the CPRS.

                The CPRS aimed for a 60% reduction in 2000 emissions by 2050; the Clean Energy Bill has aimed for 80%. The CPRS included no compensation for low income earners; the Clean Energy Bill has increased the tax-free threshold from $6,000 pa to $18,200pa. The CPRS did however include compensation of $4 billion AUD for the manufacturing sector and $1.5 billion for electricity generators, and other polluting industries. The Clean Energy Bill, in contrast, includes the largest ever public investment in renewable energy, with some $13.2 billion AUD.

                Rather than being a “terrible error” or a “political crime”, blocking the CPRS has resulted in a best emissions pricing scheme in the world. It is now our responsibility to save it.

  3. This has been an interesting debate here guys (Directed here from the Greens-Labor alliance FB group):

    Whilst Alex has made some good points, I come down pretty strongly with Lev that Alex is incorrect in the statement of the “utter disaster of the Greens party voting to block the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme” is very problematic.
    I agree with Lev: the pressure from a Green perspective on the new legislation was much better than the pressure from the right on the previous one after Rudd et al took the strategy of going for ‘bipartisan’ liberal support to get it thru the senate, rather than seeking that of the greens or even going the double-dissolution election option.
    This has of course been argued aplenty, but trying to sheet home responsibility for the CPRS failure to the Greens is a bit much given Kevin 07’s strong majority and mandate to introduce a scheme was frittered away – surely thus Labor need to take a lot of the responsibility too? And I don’t just mean particular individuals, it seemed to highlight structural weaknesses like Rudd being too afraid of his tentative hold on power within the party due to Right factions to take bold action.

    And it highlights another issue: contra Lev, I’d highlight that the demographic change re Greens is not entirely about ever more ‘urban middle-class professionals’ – in fact a prolonged Abbot-led neoliberal govt may actually _erode_ this demographic via a further neoliberal hollow-ing out of the middle class at the expense of the very rich as per the US situation.

    BUT – I’d argue a major historically growing demographic fairly firmly behind the Greens camp right now is fairly committed environmentalists, and young people concerned about the future of climate change.

    For instance :- while yes students and people under 30 are just one demographic slice, I think the Aust Youth Climate Coalition’s influence on this group was *very* significant at last election. They had a “how to vote card” solely on climate policy, where the Greens were streets ahead of the others – and a very large mailing list amongst this demographic (IE 500 thousand+), and energetic campaign. I think this contributed at least in part to the Greens’ highest ever turnout at that election.

    So, I’d argue that it’s this “climate vote” demographic that is one of the factors of a left-wing political strategy to grapple with over coming decades. Yes, arguably most students become more conservative/pragmatic as they get older, but as you argued earlier Alex, such ‘expressive’ votes from formative years may not change easily.

    Tentatively there are 2 implications I see of this for left-leaning folks concerned with pragmatic elections as well as long-term:
    – In the short-term, Labor does have to consider cooperation with Greens in some manner carefully :- else Anti-Greens rhetoric will easily translate into “anti-future of the young” I reckon and risk drive away these votes permanently. Whether this means a formal “alliance” or just shutting up the labor right, it’s worth discussing;
    – In the longer-term, Labor’s left could focus on arguing that in the future the Greens’ enviro politics and goals aren’t achievable unless they simultaneously deal with the problems of a global capitalist neoliberal economy comprehensively, which connects with Labor’s historic strengths and connection with the union movement.

    Of course, the latter relies on Labor reversing its neoliberal drift and strongly reconnecting with its roots – a la Alex’s “Progressive Australia” 2011 post.

    Not just re-colouring their campaign leaflets in a nice socialist red in inner-city seats as I noticed the last couple of elections ;)

    1. Thanks for the comment. On the CPRS — Kevin Rudd had a majority in the House of Reps (where the CPRS was passed) but not in the Senate. In fact, the Senate balance of power was held by the two independents. On the CRPS vote, several Liberals crossed the floor to vote with Labor, while all the Greens Party senators voted with the remaining Climate Change denialist Liberal/Nationals.

      I’d also note that Rudd’s option of negotiating with the Libs was the only mathematically possible one. Labor and the Greens party in the Senate did not have a majority. I wrote about this at the time.

      On the “youth vote” — young people (aged 18-25 and 18-34) vote overwhelmingly for Labor and the Liberal party. The Greens pick up around 20% of the “youth vote”. The largest change in young voters has been from Labor to Liberal, not Labor to the Greens party.

      As the Greens party gets more pragmatic and makes more ad hoc policy decisions (like Adam Bandt unilaterally declaring that the Greens party did not want to cut funding for private schools in the recent Melbourne by-election, when this is exactly what the Greens party policy is), those “expressive” young voters will find that the Greens no longer match their values. This is precisely what happened with the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg (and their support for Tory university funding laws). It is more likely that young voters today will remain “swing voters” (or switchers) than settle on a single party.

      On climate policy, as Environment Victoria noted in the last Victorian State Election, the Greens party policies on paper may be better than the major parties but they are also completely impossible to ever implement. In fact, Environment Victoria strongly criticised the Greens for their failure to include any details on how they would enact their policies. The fact is that a vote for the Greens has not resulted in a single gram of carbon from being emitted. The oppose is in fact true. A vote for the Greens in 2007 resulted in an extra 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses being emitted.

      As Andrew Leigh has soundly explained:

      The CPRS was to have come into effect in July 2010. The Clean Energy Future package will come into effect in July 2012—two years later. That delay—that inaction—has meant a lost opportunity, both social and economic. The failure of the Greens party to put the national interest ahead of their narrow political interest has cost Australia. A report from ClimateWorks in April 2011 showed that delaying action by one year increased the cost of abatement by $1 billion. Since the Greens party delayed a carbon price by two years, they increased the cost of abatement by $2 billion. Over this two-year period, ClimateWorks also estimates, the delay has caused at least 10 million tonnes of abatement to be lost. We will still get to the same emissions reduction goal as the CPRS would have, but total emissions over the decade 2010-2020 will be higher than they would have been if we had put a price on carbon pollution back in July 2010.

      That extra 10 million tonnes of carbon pollution equates to the annual emissions of two million cars. The increased carbon emissions due to the actions of the Greens party is equivalent to two million more cars on the road for a year. Two million cars—remember that, next time you hear a Greens party representative talking about their commitment to environmentally sound transport.

      Finally on your point re: the supporter base that makes up the Greens party — the Greens party stopped several years ago being the party of environmentalists. Their main support now comes from identity-politics voters. The Greens party copped a lot of flack in the climate movement for their opportunistic grandstanding and posturing over climate in the last five or six years. They have not delivered — anywhere — better climate policies. Most of the people supporting the Greens party are people who have come from other issue areas, like same-sex marriage and asylum seekers. A large number of their voter base are former Democrats voters who see them as a protest vote or a “keep the bastards honest” option.

      1. Alex,

        As has been pointed out the CPRS put up by the Rudd government was roundly condemned by scores of environmental groups and Ross Garnaut. Why would have the Greens supported it?

        It is easy to criticise them for not supporting Labor’s legislation, but it’s a little harder to engage in the necessary navel-gazing and realise the CPRS was not a good option. Yes, as Andrew Leigh point out there is costs for the delays. Great; so who’s responsible? The Greens for not supporting an extremely flawed CPRS or Labor for putting the legislation up in the first place?

        Perhaps we rather than “picking at the scab”, as a previously poster put it so well, we should be looking at what has been achieved and working out how to keep it.

        1. Lev, the fact alone that the Greens party didn’t vote for the CPRS does not make that decision virtuous. The Greens party need to accept responsibility for the delay — they made the decision to vote with the climate deniers in the LNP to block action on climate change. The targets for the CPRS and the Clean Energy Future Act are the same and in fact agriculture is excluded in the Clean Energy Future Act, and industry compensation is higher. The only improvement for the current carbon price is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. At the cost of 10 million tonnes extra of greenhouse gasses, it’s a high price to pay.

          Of course the CPRS was flawed. The current carbon price is just as flawed. The reason why the entire climate movement has rallied behind it is because they saw the abject disaster of delay. A delay caused by the Greens party.

          By the way, a part of letting wounds heal is for people who committed wrongs to admit them. Currently the Greens party and their apologists continue to perpetrate the myth that the Greens party are blameless and pure and special.


          1. Alex,

            It is simply not true to claim that “[t[he targets for the CPRS and the Clean Energy Future Act are the same”. They are only the same up to 2020 (a 5% reduction). As has been previously pointed out the CPRS was estimated tio aim for a 60% reduction in 2000 emissions by 2050; the Clean Energy Bill has aimed for 80%.

            It is also disingenuous to write-off the Clean Energy Finance Corporation as “the only improvement” (which it isn’t). It’s $10 billion dollars of implementation from $3.2 billion to support research and development in renewables. Combined it’s the biggest public investment in Australia for renewable energy. It’s nothing short of outstanding.

            Yes, the delay is a high price. The compensation package offered by the CPRS was a very high price as well. I am reasonably sure however, that if the same package of compensation to polluters was offered in the Clean Energy bill, that, contrary to your opinion, the environmental movement would opposed to it again.



            1. Lev, you can quibble over the peripheral details or whether something or other was the only improvement. As you repeatedly say, the political reality is that the blocking of the CPRS by the Greens party was a disaster. It was a disaster for the climate movement, a disaster for Labor, a disaster for Australia’s climate and environment, and a terrible political crime perpetrated on Australia’s future generations. The only two groups that benefited from the Greens party’s decision to block the CPRS was 1) the Greens party, and 2) the various climate denialist groups including the Liberal party.

      2. Hi Andrew,

        I think Lev has replied re the issue of Greens’ strategy/responsibility in not voting for the CPRS in a similar way to the points I would make. I’ll just reference that this spurred me to go and seek some more reviews, a good recent 4-parter, that is I think that looks at both the policy and politics (and is critical of all parties in some way) is at

        Here’s relevant quote:
        “So who is right: Milne or Combet? Although Combet is right to point out the initial form of the Clean Energy Future closely resembles the CPRS, Milne is correct in that the Greens have largely removed the barriers to improving the policy later. The CPRS would have actively prevented Australia from shifting off the path projected by Treasury. The Clean Energy Future at least keeps the door open, with built-in independent reviews of almost every aspect.”

        On the “youth/climate” vote issue: I admit my hypothesis is speculative. So I tried to find any age-based breakdowns of post-polling reports for the 2010 elections, and didn’t manage to find any. Do you know if these are available?

        What we do know is that there was a ~4% swing to the greens in the 2010 federal election, largely paralleling a similar reduction in Labor’s primary vote (

        So I’ll restate a more tentative hypothesis: that a disproportionate amount of that swing was due to young or first/time voters concerned by climate change and attracted to a party with a policy that was, at least on paper, more committed to emissions reduction.

        Admit this is still speculative though based on personal observation, and my perception could be biased by climate activist circles I’m connected to. A CSIRO commissioned study seemed to think age was an inconsistent factor in concern re CC:

        cheers, Patrick.

        1. Patrick – thanks for the comment. On the CPRS, any account or analysis of the Clean Energy Future Act needs to be understood in the context of severe shock from the fall-out of the events following the blocking of the CPRS and rise of climate denialists in Australia (and the hung parliament). I don’t think a review that is “critical of all parties” necessarily has much to say.

          On the youth voting, there is a Whitlam Institute report on this issue. There has been a big increase in young people (18-24) voting for the Greens party, but from 10% to 20%. The remaining 80% of young voters support Labor or Liberals.

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