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. @Lt. Fred

    Yes, that is my point.

    The rank and file make policy for “National Council”. Stamping it official does not help.

    Candidates run on something else – based on the evidence I pointed to.

    Elected representatives then do whatever suits their “parliamentary party room”.

    This is also a problem in the ALP. The skills to be a candidate are very different to the skills needed to serve in Parliament.

    The Greens would be much better off getting their “National Council” policy as part of ALP policy with appropriate policy links with the ACTU and ACOSS interests.

    I see nothing in the Greens policy that is not acceptable to the Greens in the ALP.

    While the Greens want ““Net zero or net negative Australian greenhouse gas emissions within a generation” ths only political party proposing this as an election commitment – and therefore as something that can be pursued with vigor in the Party Room is the ALP.

    See Net Zero 2050

    There is also a reduction target for 2030 – a waypoint. Check the link.

    The Greens make noise and splits the movement – the ALP makes progress and moves the community.

  2. @Lt. Fred
    Yes, that is my point.

    The rank and file make policy for “National Council”. Stamping it official does not help.

    Candidates run on something else – based on the evidence I pointed to.

    Elected representatives then do whatever suits their “parliamentary party room”.

    This is also a problem in the ALP. The skills to be a candidate are very different to the skills needed to serve in Parliament.

    The Greens would be much better off getting their “National Council” policy as part of ALP policy with appropriate policy links with the ACTU and ACOSS interests.

    I see nothing in the Greens policy that is not acceptable to the Greens in the ALP.

    While the Greens want ““Net zero or net negative Australian greenhouse gas emissions within a generation” ths only political party proposing this as an election commitment – and therefore as something that can be pursued with vigor in the Party Room is the ALP.

    See Net Zero 2050

    There is also a reduction target for 2030 – a waypoint. Check the link.

    The Greens make noise and splits the movement – the ALP makes progress and moves the community.

  3. @Paul Norton

    Abba Eban also said, of Yassir Arafat, that he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. There’s more than a hint of that in Labor-Green relations.

    On electoral tactics, a relatively new development is Green strength in Liberal seats that Labor will never win. We’re seeing it in this electorate in the electorate of Higgins, where Kelly O’Dwyer has something of a fight on her hands against the Greens candidate. This is an electorate which is blue-ribbon Liberal against Labor, but which is full of what used to known as the doctor’s wives demographic, people who care about the environment but would never vote for the party of those beastly trade unionists. In the last Victorian state election, the Greens took the electorate of Prahran from the Liberals was decided by the last few postal votes and right until the end could have gone one of three ways.

    If Labor and the Greens came to an agreement for the Greens to lay off people like Plibersek and instead concentrate on the O’Dwyers of the world, plus the tree changer coastal electorates, that might be a strategy that could work to their mutual benefit.

  4. distinct and significant parties of the centre-left for the foreseeable future.

    I think it’s simpler than that – The Greens are much greener than the ALP on a green-brown analysis, and that seems unlikely to go away. On other issues like torture and human rights it’s definitely a leftwing Greens vs right (or far right) ALP, but the real key to me is the green-brown one.

    You could also say it’s a purely economic difference, the ALP don’t think that planning beyond the forward budget estimates matters and the Greens do. So all this waffle about climate change that might effect the Treasury estimates in the future, they don’t care because it’s not in the forward estimates. The end.

  5. @m0nty

    The ALP doesn’t want to be the party which can only form minority government, because they think that the public won’t cop the instability.

    That’s only true if you think The Coalition are lying every time they claim to be composed of two or three different parties. Otherwise majority government is very rare over the last few decades. I’m sure some politics geek will point out that it only happened for 28 minutes on July the 14th, 1962 🙂 As I said when Abbott promised to resign if he couldn’t form government alone “yippee… oh, he’s lying”.

    The real problem is that *Rupert* won’t cop a disobedient government, so he slams the ALP and Greens at every opportunity. I recall that the Gillard government was more productive than any of the subsequent ones as well as better economically. But you wouldn’t guess that from the Murdoch media.

  6. Bron @48, that quote by Abba Eban was about the Arabs generally.

    If Labor and the Greens came to an agreement for the Greens to lay off people like Plibersek and instead concentrate on the O’Dwyers of the world, plus the tree changer coastal electorates, that might be a strategy that could work to their mutual benefit.

    Something like that would be possible if some form of coalition agreement existed between the two parties, but it would have to involve reciprocity (i.e. Labor lays off Bandt in Melbourne, etc.). I would be happy to see such an arrangement. However, in the absence of a coalition agreement I don’t see it as something that either party would do unilaterally, nor is it something that either party has any right to ask the other to do unilaterally.

  7. However, the analogy with the Israel/Palestine situation is apt, in the sense that the situation in that part of the world would be greatly improved if the leaderships of both nations accepted that neither is going away and recognised each other’s existence

  8. Lovely to see so many still enjoy paddling in the superficialities of ‘representative party democracy’ in an area of consolidating inequality and corporate power.

  9. @tony lynch

    I agree. I made my earlier comment to stay within the rules of the post. When I criticise the limits of posts that are within the realms of personality politics and rep party politics, I get chastised. 😉

  10. @Paul Norton

    Paul, you have to wonder why Labor in 2013 would preselect a pro-war, pro-mining, anti-SSM dunderhead for increasingly green Batman…

    I’ve seen quite literally zero posters of Feeney on anyone’s house in the electorate. I’d be surprised if he manages to scrape through.

  11. @Nick

    It’s bad luck for David Feeney that the younger generation of Green voters have been priced out of Brunswick and pushed north of Bell Street into Batman. A Labor left candidate might hold the seat, but for a Labor right machine man to do it is a big ask. It doesn’t help also that Feeney is a weak candidate who would struggle to hold Batman against the Penguin in the best of circumstances.

  12. The Greens are the only party that has consistently put the scientific evidence, of humanity’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, front and centre of the political issue of dealing with anthropogenic global warming. The ALP have blown hot and cold on it, the Democrats imploded before we could really know their views, the Liberals—epecially the theo-neo-con element—try to disown it, deny it, or bluff it, and the Nationals don’t want to admit that they are in part responsible for it in the first place, even though their constituents have much to lose from it.

    The Greens are the only party that actually puts the welfare of the asylum seekers first, and abhors the utilitarian use of their indefinite off-shore imprisonment as a deterrent. The ALP took one extreme, and when attacked by the theo-neo-cons within the Liberals, did a 180 and adopted the opposite extreme. At least with the Greens it just might be possible to find a series of solutions to different parts of the overall issue, i.e. of asylum seekers risking their lives on a perilous crossing, and the illegal and dangerous people smuggling trade all throughout the southeast Asian islands and countries. Maybe the Greens will make a complete hash of it too, but given the other two major parties think it is okay to administer indefinite imprisonment of people who have broken no law, not even an Australian law, at the point where they were intercepted, I think the Greens at least deserve a decent go at finding a humane resolution of this issue. Humane treatment of other people is surely not a left or right wing issue: it is the choice of the major political parties as to how they treat the issue, and it is the choice of the media companies (or their owners) as to how the issue is framed politically.

    The ALP are not centre-left, they are simply a little more to the left than the rump of the Liberals. Considering how many of the ALP ex-members end up in the mining sector as consultants, or the fossil fuel sector, it isn’t really true to view them as a left-wing party; they have a sizeable group who are quite neo-liberal economically, and stand strong with mining and fossil fuel industries, on the side of the employers; the left of that are centre-left or centre.

    At the end of the day though, the cold-war framing of politics as left-wing (i.e. Commies) through to right-wing (those nice blokes in suits who run things and kill Commies) is too constricting and inappropriate for our post-cold-war politics. Climate issues are seriously important now, and in simple terms no one party has a reason to shun the issue as if it doesn’t affect Australia, and Australians. Framing the political circus as lying along a single dimensional axis of left to right wing is to miss the bigger picture. If we are to make some headway in returning to a more significant and mature level of political discourse, we really need to discard the cold-war rhetoric and its simplistic framing.

    Although I believe that the Greens and the ALP could, if circumstances demanded it, form a government as a true coalition, they really do have very different political perspectives, and it would be a consummate act of leadership to forge an enduring coalition. The LNP works because the NP roll over most of the time and ask for their tummy to be tickled; the rest of the time, they win on their local issues so long as it isn’t in direct conflict with the boss party, i.e. the Liberals. A Green/ALP alliance would be a distinctly different breed from the LNP coalition. I see no reason for the Greens to back away from a political space just because it was once ALP heartland. The ALP, they have to figure out why they are losing ground and political space to the Greens, and either beat them at their own game, or start thinking in terms of coalition strategies with the Greens, without demanding that the Greens fall into place as a subservient back-end of the ALP.

    When it comes to foreign policy, I would put the ALP way ahead of the LNP. The Greens are something of an unknown quantity on that score, but I’d still rate them as way ahead of the LNP. Does anyone seriously think a Greens’ PM or Foreign Minister would speak of shirt-fronting another leader? We certainly know that the LNP have done that.

    Thinking about this election makes my head explode. Might have a lie down.

  13. Feeney?

    Now there is a name that conjures up all that is wrong with today’s ALP and why it is not clear of a disastrous and threatening half-mad Tory government with a toxic agenda for the future.

    I hope he is wiped as much as I hope Turnbull is wiped.

  14. Nick @58, I remember that back in the day Batman was held by Brian Howe. He was a member of the Soft Left sub-faction of the Left but he was genuinely of the Left, and was a very decent person and a very good local member and Minister. He has been succeeded by the carpetbagging pseudo-leftist Marn Ferson and now by the out and out Right of the Right creature Feeney.

  15. @Bron @paul walter

    🙂

    @Paul Norton

    Interesting. I really should know a bit more history of the electorate I’ve been living in for 20 years now, and where my parents grew up before relocating to the country. From wiki, Brian Howe retired just before I voted for the first time…

  16. @Donald Oats

    At the end of the day though, the cold-war framing of politics as left-wing (i.e. Commies) through to right-wing (those nice blokes in suits who run things and kill Commies) is too constricting and inappropriate for our post-cold-war politics.

    It’s odd to describe a framing as ‘cold-war’ when it has its origins in the French Revolution.

  17. The Green Concrete Party is in favour of concreting Australia through overpopulation.
    The Labor for Less Party is in favour of driving down labour rates through overpopulation.
    They should unite under the Overpopulation Party banner.

  18. @Ivor

    Not churlish – just a deliberate misconstruction.

    Ivor, your habit of being rude and contradictory rather than pointing out where and why you think an interlocutor is incorrect tends to suggest that you lack a rational basis for your assertions. Why not try using civil and rational argument instead? I know you’re capable of it, because you do actually do it occasionally – just far too rarely. Rudeness and contrariness is not only unpersuasive, but comes across as rather juvenile, to be blunt.

  19. @Tim Macknay

    Are you suggesting that anyone proposed that the Greens intended to legislate for the entire globe?

    How was this not a misconstruction?

    Setting off some other scare is beside the point.

  20. @Ivor, you seem to be suggesting throughout this thread that there is no point expressing or representing views outside the duopoly (as they are not the majority’s views or are somehow a protest vote or ‘marketing exercise’ or something). The Greens, like any third party or independent, are allowed to capture a niche and that is part of democracy in most places.

    The Greens are entitled to stand for a ‘green’ position, esp when Labor continues to be influenced by highly ‘brown’ candidates.

  21. @Ivor
    You linked to an article discussing the need for a large drop in global emissions, and then stated (I quote) “What we need is a firm policy for the globe to reduce carbon emissions by 50% immediately”. Clearly, such a global policy cannot be implemented by the Australian Parliament – it requires international cooperation. And yet the context of the discussion was the policy positions of Australian political parties in an Australian election. So no, I don’t think it was a misconstruction.

    I have no idea what you mean by “setting off some other scare”.

  22. 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.

    Cheers

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

    Make all this about preferences irrelevant.

  24. 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.

  25. @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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