Liberals’ decision will change the new Green paradigm
There is a certain weathered look to the Greens today. The deep rich hue that has characterised that lovely new t-shirt in recent months has been slightly dulled by political reality.
The decision by the Victorian Liberals to preference the Labor party ahead of the Greens in the upcoming state election is a kick in the guts to the minor party’s chances of, not only holding the balance of power in the new parliament, but getting any seats at all in the lower house.
It’s important decision not only in the context of the Victorian election but the emerging story of the Greens as a real third force in Australian politics.
To cut the Greens out of a preference deal will be good for Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu’s election chances. This is an attempt to own the centre while Labor ties itself up in knots trying to appeal to the potential Green voters and potential Coalition voters.
If Baillieu is to win the election it will be in the centre of the political spectrum, not in left wing inner city seats that Labor and the Greens will scrap for. But by clearly demarcating themselves from the Greens, the Liberals and (importantly) the Nationals can pick up on what will be effectively the reverse of the protest vote currently haemorrhaging to the Greens: a protest against political instability.
With this decision Baillieu can better frame a vote for the Coalition as one against potential political deadlock – in particularly against a parliament controlled by the Greens with just a clutch of inner city seats. It removes from the equation the unedifying spectacle of centre right party trying to suck up to the most left wing party for fear of losing another election to a centre left party. As Paul Austin wrote in The Age today:
“Baillieu, the small-l Liberal leader, will have a clear message: if you want to change the government, vote Coalition. Otherwise, you will get another four years of Labor - re-elected on Greens preferences.”
However the move does have some immediate strategic benefit for the ALP, as Austin also points out:
“Labor will now be freed from its debilitating fight against the Greens. All the money and resources it was having to devote to trying to secure its hold on seats in the traditional ALP heartland of inner Melbourne can now be redeployed to taking on the Liberals in the suburbs and regional cities.”
But the message the Coalition in Victoria hopes to send to the centre is one of political and ideological consistency, which they hope will translate to a vote for political decisiveness and stability.
As much as the Greens like to bemoan the political cynicism of the major parties they have obviously profited from it. Ideologically the Liberals could not justify handing preferences over to Greens in Lindsay Tanner’s former seat of Melbourne, but they did it to disrupt the federal Government.
The outcome was the election of the first Greens House of Reps MP Adam Bandt. Mr Bandt promptly said he wouldn’t support the Coalition and wanted to force policy changes on everything from gay marriage to the ETS - ideas that would have Tony Abbott cycling an extra 20 km per morning just dull the sensation to spear tackle the little Mel-Berlinian.
Of course there’s no reason Bandt should’ve supported the Coalition just because he got home with their preferences. Everyone, including the Liberals, knew what he stood for. But for the same reasons the Greens should have no inclination to back a conservative Coalition, nor should a conservative Coalition back the Greens. The Liberals can’t very well complain about a hung Parliament giving the Greens the balance if they help create it.
For his part Bob Brown has attempted to shrug off the decision, saying “the Liberals have curiously fallen into line” with Labor. Actually, what would have been curious is the Liberals to continually give preferences to a surging Greens with little to no benefit for themselves.
Brown also made the good point that the major parties tried to do the same thing in Tasmania, and there are now two Greens ministers in that Government (although the Tasmanian system does favour minor party representation). So as much as this could represent a turning point in Coalition strategy, it is also one for the Greens. Only elections results like Victoria will tell us has actually worked for either.
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