Labor and the Greens

The election campaign has brought into focus the long-standing problem of how Labor and the Greens should deal with each other, which became critical after the 2010 election. Both parties have made a mess of things this time around. Rather than go over that ground, I’m going to give my view on how they should work in the future.

First, both parties need to realise that they are part of the same centre-left movement. For Labor that means giving up the idea that the Greens are a temporary irritant that will go the way of the DLP, if they are abused and/or ignored long enough. For the Greens, it means abandoning Third Way rhetoric suggesting that they represent an unaligned alternative to a two-party duopoly.

In electoral terms, the starting point for both parties should be an exchange of preferences in all seats, with the LNP last. That starting point doesn’t preclude changes in the case of particularly objectionable (or particularly good) candidates, but it does rule out the kinds of negotiations we’ve seen so many times with the LNP or with conservative minor parties. It also rules out the fake piety of Green “open tickets”.

Such a policy would be good for the centre-left as a whole, but it would also benefit each of the parties to adopt it unilaterally. The alleged hardheads who negotiate these deals have repeatedly bungled them, while creating division and attracting bad publicity.

Equally important is the question of how the parties should work in Parliament. The most important is the case that emerged in 2010, with Labor needing Greens support to form a government. My reading of that episode is that both parties were harmed by the conclusion of a formal deal, and that a coalition with Green ministers would make things even worse. Instead, the Greens should support Labor on confidence votes, and negotiate on all other legislation on the merits.

An approach like this would enable the Greens to influence policy in positive ways, while not tying them to Labor policies they regard as unacceptable. For Labor, the obvious benefit is that they could form a government while maintaining a formal position of “no deals”. For the centre-left as a whole, the policy outcome would be better than that from a Labor government with a tame majority.

80 thoughts on “Labor and the Greens

  1. My personal thoughts on this one JQ are that Oz politics will only improve after and only after we can stop talking about left, right and centre and start talking about neoliberal and non-neoliberal. The Greens, the Labs and the COALition are all neoliberal so all you’re getting is neoliberalism with a different flavour.


  2. Should ban How to Vote Cards – like in Tas, ACT, NZ.

    Make all this about preferences irrelevant.

  3. Perhaps a “don’t know” option on ballot papers as an alternative to blank or 1,2,3 etc from top down “donkey vote”? It does appear that position on ballot papers has a statistically significant impact on votes received so there is a basis for mixing them up – just that it doesn’t even things out within any one electorate or one election.

    It looks to me that The Greens are seen as the direction a lot of disenchanted Labor voters will leak away to, therefore Labor sees them as a significant enemy, one that probably will become more mainstream and savvy over time. Of course should the duopoly actually address some of the real and significant issues that The Greens prioritise – those that the duopoly seek to marginalise, minimise and compromise – then they could be reduced to only their more extreme and unpopular policies and lose their relevance. That doesn’t look that likely to me.

    The hostility of big parts of the Mainstream Media to The Greens that exceeds that of hostility to Labor may be part of why Labor wants to difference and distance themselves – whilst continuing to rely on Green preferences (most of them a conscious voter choice, not a result of preference deals and how to vote cards if my own voting behaviour is as common as I think) and relying on the likelihood that elected Greens are still more likely to vote with Labor than with LNP.

    I don’t think any deals between them will gain either very much in the current climate so there will be a reliance on having at least some values and aims in common whilst maintaining their separate identities.

  4. @Martin Spalding

    Not that there is “no point” – rather that Green policies need to be boosted inside the ALP where they can be implemented right across society.

    Real supporters of Green policies, and wanting them to be reflected in public life, should oppose the current Green Election policy.

    Currently the ALP is controlled by SDA where their membership figures are artificially boosted by dirty deals with retailers such as Coles. Having several sectarian groups shouting from the sidelines only makes matters worse.

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