For Tassie and SA, it was all about the jobs

The Greens can search for meaning in the Tasmania and South Australia election results, but the truth is it all boiled down to a battle over jobs.

While the parties vie with each other to favourably spin the results of the weekend’s state elections – where one Labor government was routed and another may yet cling to victory – one clear lesson is the Greens can become collateral damage when elections are fought over jobs.

For whether the results are attributed to local issues or national ones, seen as a message for the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader, or simply a matter of a government’s time being up (or not), both election outcomes were predominantly about jobs, or lack thereof.

Protection and growth of employment prospects was always going to be a pivotal issue in both campaigns. Tasmania and South Australia have the nation’s highest unemployment rates, and the apple isle also has the lowest weekly wage. Job insecurity is high across Australia and jobs have become the major parties’ chosen battleground.

So the two considerably divergent election outcomes could generally be explained as being due to local issues, but more specifically the result of voters holding certain parties to account for the poor state of employment.

If there’s a message that Prime Minister Tony Abbott should take from the South Australian election outcome it’s that SA voters don’t take lightly to their slightly dodgy but still famous car manufacturing industry being abandoned and then run out of town by the Federal Government.

Successive industry ministers have recognised over several decades that the perceived importance of car manufacturing jobs extends beyond the directly affected electorates. They threw money at the increasingly unviable industry not out of the goodness of their hearts but to hold off the dire electoral consequences. And now Abbott knows what it’s like to release that particular beast.

While the South Australian count is not yet concluded, there are enough trends evident in the vote counted so far to draw a few conclusions. The SA Liberals achieved a modest swing in their primary vote, but failed to draw a similar amount away from Labor in order to secure enough seats to form government. This suggests some of the 60 per cent of voters who thought the Liberals would win stayed with Labor in protest.

Granted, this protest vote may not have done as much damage if the South Australian Liberals had run a half decent marginal seats campaign, but that is another matter altogether.

Interestingly, according to the ballots counted so far, the Green vote in South Australia increased by almost half a per cent. This trend runs counter to the slew of state, territory and federal elections since 2010 where their vote dropped. The status quo vote for the Greens in South Australia suggests they were neither blamed nor particularly acclaimed for their contribution since the previous state election. For good or bad, the election was about the major parties and the Greens survived by keeping off the jobs radar.

In contrast, on the same day as the South Australian election, the Tasmanian Greens and one-time partners in a Labor minority government lost eight percentage points from their vote and three of their five seats in the state’s lower house.

Undoubtedly many factors combined to produce that result, but there’s no denying that jobs played a significant part. Abbott and the Tasmanian Liberals ran strong on reinvigorating the forestry industry; essentially putting jobs before the environment.

It’s clear from this strategy that the Liberals’ private market research showed voters were ready to seek retribution for what they perceived to be a weak Labor Party rolling over to the Greens’ environmental demands instead of protecting jobs. Labor’s vote dropped by about 10 per cent in the Tasmanian poll, thereby ceding majority government to the Liberals for the first time since the Groom Liberal government was elected in 1992.

If the Greens are perceived to be thwarting jobs in Western Australia they may suffer a similar fate to their Tasmanian colleagues in the WA Senate election re-run that will be held on April 5. Western Australia doesn’t face the same job pressures that bedevil South Australia and Tasmania, though the downturn in the mining boom would be causing some employment anxiety.

Additionally, the Australian Greens no longer have a power sharing arrangement with the incumbent federal government and cannot be held directly responsible for jobs in the way the Tasmanian Greens were.

Yet there’s no doubt the Abbott Government will assist WA voters in recalling that the Greens were responsible for Julia Gillard’s broken carbon tax vow and the “job destroying” impost that resulted from it. The Coalition will likely lay the mining tax at the Greens’ feet too, now that Shorten has conveniently blurred his stance on the failed profit sharing mechanism.

So while the Greens will be campaigning to be given a balance of power position in the Senate to keep the Abbott Government from the worst of its excesses, the Government will press for the Greens to be prevented from being able to block the repeal of “job destroying” laws. Meantime, Labor will quietly do its best to harvest votes away from the Greens with selective preference deals.

The Greens may believe that every time Abbott opens his mouth “the Green vote goes up“, but the opposite effect is more likely.

On April 5, a Greens Senator will be elected (or not) predominantly because of what WA voters perceive their party has done (or not) to protect and foster jobs in that state. Other factors such as climate change, asylum seekers, health, education and sharks may play a role, but it will simply come down to jobs.

Bandt puts politics before political nous

It would appear Bandt’s intention was to transform community concern about the fire into opprobrium for Abbott over his scrapping of the carbon price. Unfortunately for Bandt, by reducing the issue – yet again – to a political level he will do nothing to sway those who are politically aligned to Abbott.

I am amongst the people who criticised Greens MP Adam Bandt for this tweet:

There are plenty of others who think Bandt’s action was entirely appropriate, best exemplified by this popular post from Ed Butler over at AusOpinion.

I posted a lengthy comment on Ed’s post, which is reproduced below, to demonstrate that it’s not only climate sceptics who are criticising Bandt for his intervention.

Unfortunately the discussion over the ‘appropriateness’ of exploiting a bushfire that is currently threatening lives is a conflation of a number of matters: scientific, political and behavioural.

The scientific issue is the most straightforward. Climate change is happening, and it is likely to increase the number and severity of extreme weather events including the high temperatures that exacerbate bushfires. We basically need to decarbonise our economy in the next 30-35 years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Discussion and implementation of climate action in Australia has become a political football. The issue has been exploited, at different times and by most parties, to score political points against or wedge their political opponents.

This has reduced the issue in the perception of the community to yet another political issue and not one of sufficient import for non-partisan support across the parties, for example in the way that gun control was seen to be ‘mostly’ non-partisan.

Having turned climate action into a political football, its proponents are faced with a community that does not care sufficiently about it and is skeptical about those who seek to generate a sense of urgency around the issue.

The lack of a visible directly physical connection between climate change and voters makes it additionally hard to convince the community that the impacts of climate change are real. It’s no coincidence that community support for climate action was strongest in Australia during the last sustained drought that primary producers say happen in our nation once every 100 years or so.

Once the drought broke, it was bushfires, floods and cyclones that became the next best illustrations of what unchecked climate change can do. This is complicated by the fact that scientists are reluctant to say that one causes the other, only that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will be increased by climate change. That’s not really the smoking gun needed by the proponents of climate action to move the issue from being a political to a non-partisan issue.

Which brings us to Adam Bandt – a politician – using a currently blazing bushfire that was threatening lives and homes, to score a political point against Tony Abbott, another politician who has travelled a very long way on the political exploitation of climate action.

It would appear Bandt’s intention was to transform community concern about the fire into opprobrium for Abbott over his scrapping of the carbon price. Unfortunately for Bandt, by reducing the issue – yet again – to a political level he will do nothing to sway those who are politically aligned to Abbott.

Bandt will be successful in maintaining the rage amongst those who politically agree with him, but not one mind will be changed amongst those who do not.

Until climate action becomes a non-partisan issue, it’s unlikely we’ll see real action occur.

And people will continue to be offended by actions like Bandt’s, which seek to politicise the issue at the worst possible moment – for the potential victims as well as for the prospects of consensus.

Why are the Greens so surprised?

While Labor is using its shiny new leadership process to distract members from election loss disappointment and take the heat out of ensuing acts of retribution, the Greens appear to be floundering in response to a poor election performance that was a surprise to no-one but themselves.

While Labor is using its shiny new leadership process to distract members from election loss disappointment and take the heat out of ensuing acts of retribution, the Greens appear to be floundering in response to a poor election performance that was a surprise to no-one but themselves.

It was becoming clear as far back as the end of 2011 that the Green vote had peaked at the 2010 election. The Greens’ hagiographies claim this result as the point when they emerged as the third force in Australian politics.

In truth the minor party was as much a lightning rod for those protesting against the invidious choice offered between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott as it was seen a legitimate alternative to the major parties. The almost doubling of deliberate informal votes during that election compared with 2007 (from 1.48 to 2.70 per cent), and the ultimate minority government outcome confirm that many voters were looking for someone, anyone, other the Labor and the Coalition to vote for in 2010.

So in believing their own PR, perhaps it’s not so suprising the Greens didn’t foresee their poor result at this election.

An inflated sense of importance may have also contributed to the some of the Greens’ decisions that drove voters away, such as their refusal to pass Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and Gillard’s ‘Malaysian Solution’ for asylum seekers.

Wanting to sit at the big table while maintaining policy purity was another. As the Democrats learned when they bartered with John Howard to ultimately pass the GST, the Greens also learned it’s hard to claim you’re keeping the bastards honest when you’re also doing deals with them. The Greens’ constant laying of claim to forcing Gillard’s hand on the carbon tax/price, but being unable to deliver a carbon penalty that would actually drive achange in behaviour is the most notable attempt by the minor party to justify their decision to join the bastards.

Christine Milne’s later announcement that she’d told the Gillard Government ‘you’re dropped’ did little to assuage the concerns of those supporters who thought the Greens had got too close to their shared-power partners.

Another factor likely to have contributed is that, like the two major parties, the Greens have to accommodate disparate supporter groups and juggle the risk of upsetting one group to satisfy another. Labor has the Left and the Right, the Liberals have moderates and conservatives, and the Greens have the far Left, progressives and environmentalists.

Yet to compound this challenge even further, Milne announced when she succeeded Bob Brown as leader that the party would be reaching out to rural voters as well. It would be fair to describe the reception given by long-term farmers to the Greens – the party opposed to live animal exports, conventional farming methods and land clearing – as mixed. The Greens vote went down in the vast majority of rural seats, although they increased in those which included alternative lifestyle communities, regions threatened by coal-seam gas projects and those seats from which Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott retired. A nine per cent increase in Green primary votes to 18 per cent in Fairfax was the standout exception.

Milne has rightly declared she’ll review the Greens’ 2013 election performance. Her vow before the election to return the party to one of protest and holding the government to account will be tested with only one Greens member in the new House of Representatives that has no chance of influencing the outcome in that chamber, and a short-lived balance of power before the new Senate commences on 1 July 2014.

The review will necessarily scrutinise whether it was worth funnelling limited resources into retaining Bandt’ssymbolically important but practically useless green leather seat. Just as importantly it should seek to understand how the Greens failed to deliver on the expectations of potential supporters. Ultimately, like Labor, the prospect for a strong future lies in the Greens determining what they stand for and who they represent.

This post originally appeared at SBS Comment & Analysis.

Time is up for the Australian Greens

Greens leader Christine Milne entered the federal election campaign last week in the party’s latest attempt at relevancy.

In her first interview with Guardian Australia, Milne made several demands of the putative prime minister-elect, Tony Abbott, to secure the Greens’ cooperation with a new Coalition government. Pledging that her party’s role will be to “keep the bastards honest” and insisting that Abbott would need to produce acceptable spending initiatives, Milne resembled the Black Knight more than a serious alternative to the leaders of the “old parties”.

Like the feisty medieval soldier, Milne doesn’t seem to realise her party’s melee is over. The Greens will not play a major role in the September federal election, nor will they be significant force afterwards.

Only 17% of voters think the performance of the Greens in federal parliament has been good, while the party’s primary vote has dropped from a peak of 11.8% at the 2010 election to around 9% now. Unless Adam Bandt can secure a preference deal with one of the major parties, the Greens poster boy in the house of representatives will be a one-term wonder.

The party’s Senate vote is also estimated to have dropped, from 13.1% at the election to around 11% now, putting most of the Green Senate candidates – and the prospect of retaining the balance of power – at risk of being wiped out by closed shop preference deals between the major parties.

But like the Black Knight, the Greens aren’t giving up that easily. They’ve tried hard to insert themselves into this contest in an effort to stem the loss of votes.

The minor party wasted no time taking credit for the carbon price decision that history will judge as prime minister Gillard’s greatest misstep. They played hardball on asylum seekers to stake out the high moral ground. And after years of harassing farmers for their animal husbandry and environmental management practices, the Greens sought to join forceswith the very same primary producers to “help” them resist the developers of rural coal seam gas deposits. Not one of these endeavours has delivered votes (as measured by the published opinion polls).

Even Milne’s dramatic public announcement that she was calling off the formal arrangement between the Greens and Labor struck at the formation of minority government in 2010 – the political equivalent of being told “you’re dropped” – did nothing to gain new supporters. Since that election, half the votes lost by Labor have gone to the Coalition, while the rest have drifted to independents, others and don’t knows. None have shifted to the Greens.

Milne’s latest ploy will have equally little traction. Her claim that Abbott is not fit for leadership because of his stance on climate change is based on a mistaken assumption that voters planning to vote for Abbott care that he is, for all intents and purposes, a climate change skeptic. It ignores the fact that Abbott was elected Liberal leader over Malcolm Turnbull expressly to overturn the pro-emissions trading position Turnbull had imposed on the Liberal party. No one currently thinking of voting for the Coalition will change their vote to the Greens, or to Labor for that matter, because of Abbott’s climate change position. For him it’s a vote winner, not a vote loser.

No matter how much Milne and the other Greens parliamentarians claim otherwise, this election will simply not be about them or the independents: it will predominantly be a battle of the giants. The election will be distinguished by voters returning to the major parties after what they consider to be a brief but torrid flirtation with the Greens and the current batch of independents.

While minority governments have been the norm at the state level for some time, voters are unfamiliar and unhappy with them at the national level. This disenchantment is manifest: only 28% believe the current minority government arrangement with the Greens and independents holding the balance of power has been good for Australia. And as we have seen in the published polls, only a third of that number are prepared to elect the Greens to a similar position this time around.

This year, the federal election is simply about Labor and the Coalition: the voters have already determined this by rejecting the non-major parties and the concept of minority government.

No matter how loudly the Greens demand to be taken seriously in the campaign, their reality is that their time is over. They can yell and posture as much as they wish, claiming they’re not finished yet, but they won’t be noticed or heard over the grunts and roars of the grappling giants.

This post first appeared at Guardian Australia.

Think tanks: Independent does not mean objective

Somewhere along the way, in the debate of public policy issues, we seem to have forgotten that “independent” does not necessarily mean “objective”.

Think tanks in particular are the guiltiest in using this sleight of hand. In stressing that they are independent scholarly organisations, think tanks attempt to lay claim to a higher moral ground that comes from academic objectivity.

With a sage nod and the dispassionate tones of an academic, think tank representatives refer us to the word “independent” in their Wikipedia entries in a Jedi-like attempt to distract us from the partisan players who sit on their boards or fund their activities. They MAY be independent, in that they’re not formally affiliated with political interests, but most think tanks are NOT objective by any stretch of the imagination. Generally, this is because political interests created them in the first place.

This deception is by no means a new dimension to the battle for political influence. Nor is it the only illusion inflicted on the mostly unaware populace.

The flourishing of think tanks indicates the evolving nature of public trust; articulate and organised “third parties” almost magically blossom from whichever groups the community trusts most. And when that trust moves from one group to another, then new “independent” voices spring from that group too.

It’s a classic lobbying tactic, to which the name astroturfing no longer fits because of its broader scope. I call it the creation of friendipendents, that is, the active establishment by partisan interests of third parties which claim to be independent but actually push their creator’s agenda.

There have been several different manifestations of this tactic. When the community vested its trust in non-government organisations like environment groups, these proliferated. Business interests set up their own NGOs with pro-environment names to muddy the waters. As NGOs lost their gloss, and academics consistently outpolled them on trust, then lobbyists (of all political persuasions) swathed their agendas in academic garb by establishing “independent” think tanks.

And let’s not forget the classic astroturfing tactic which arises when the most trusted voice in a community is “one of us”, resulting in the fabrication of grass roots support to influence the debate.

Sometimes, because of the disparity of public opinion on a broad or complex issue, lobbyists use a combination of these approaches to influence the key demographics. The most evident example of this is the Say Yes campaign, which combined green NGOs with the “independent” think tank The Climate Institute, and faux grass roots organisations such as GetUp!.

The Climate Institute’s prominent involvement in the Say Yes campaign seemed to me to be the first time a self-described independent think tank had publicly displayed such political activism. It caused me to question whether this was appropriate. My judgement was no doubt coloured by The Climate Institute’s close association with one political party; TCI was established by The Australia Institute, which has Bob Brown’s current Chief of Staff on its Board and is headed by a former Greens’ staffer.

I was told that TCI’s activism was appropriate because the Say Yes cause was just and also consistent with the think tank’s area of expertise. I wondered nonetheless whether political observers would have been equally sanguine if the Institute of Public Affairs, which has some prominent Liberals on its Board, had participated to the same extent in the No Carbon Tax rallies.

That’s not to say the IPA doesn’t pursue it’s interests just as vigorously. By identifying, grooming and touting a bevy of articulate “independent” commentators, the IPA has assertively imposed its free market perspective into all major public policy debates including that on climate change.

This brings me back, then, to where I began. Independent does not mean objective, although think tanks (and their creators) depend upon us not making that distinction.

Think tanks have agendas and the justness of those agendas will differ in the eyes of each beholder. Think tanks have too long hidden behind the cloak of independence and should be subject to more scrutiny. They should be recognised as active players in political debate, and not the dispassionate observers that they pretend to be.

This piece also appeared at ABC’s The Drum

Have the Greens peaked already?

So here we are, teetering over the cusp of 2012. This is the year that apparently will make or break the major party leaders, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. It’s the year that kicks off the long countdown to the next federal election, which is due anytime from 3 August 2013 to 30 November 2013.

We’re told it’s the year we’ll see whether Gillard can rebuild her battered leadership credentials, whether Rudd has enough mongrel to bring his own party down, and whether Abbott can recast himself as an alternative Prime Minister worthy of our respect.

We were presented with some fascinating entrails in 2011 from which to divine what might occur in 2012. We had two current major party leaders with substantial net dissatisfaction ratings and the opposition commanding an excruciating opinion poll lead over the government. There were two failed party leaders throwing bungers at their colleagues from the sidelines and a realignment of parliamentary deckchairs that variously affected morale, depending upon how much more or less voting power the change bestowed upon certain parties and individuals.

But an equally fascinating, and rarely discussed political artefact from the year 2011 concerns not the major parties, but the party which seeks to differentiate itself from them. Despite notching up a number of policy successes in the parliament due to having the balance of power (either partly or entirely), the Greens have singularly been unable to convert this success into voter support. It begs the question whether the Greens have already peaked, and whether the 2013 election will return to being a contest only between the major parties.

The numbers are quite clear. At the last federal election 16 months ago, the Greens polled 11.8%. Since then, across all the credible published opinion polls, their support has been around 10–12%. While this number may go up or down a few points from week to week, the change is always within the margin of error and the trend over time shows that support for the Greens has not budged since election day.

The Greens have not won any additional supporters, despite delivering on their icon issues. They secured a carbon price to battle climate change and $10 billion for the renewable energy industry, helped to ensure that refugees who arrive illegally by boat can remain in Australia while having their asylum claims assessed and raised awareness and acceptance of gay marriage amongst members of parliament from other parties.

All of these achievements would appeal to progressive Labor and swinging voters, and should have been enough to entice them to tell pollsters that they will vote Green at the next election. But this has not been the case. Perhaps that’s because most progressives already vote Green and the voters over which the major parties are battling are more interested in “kitchen table” issues such as jobs, interest rates, health and education.

This is borne out by the numbers. Voters disgruntled with the Labor Party have not gravitated to the Greens, but the Coalition. Think about that: on election day Labor polled 38% of the primary vote, the Coalition 43.6% and the Greens 11.8%. Eight months later, on 8 July, 11% had left Labor (27%), 5% of those went to the Coalition (49%) but none went to the Greens (12%). This was Labor’s lowest primary vote ever, even below that recorded when Keating was PM. Since then, voters have begun to return to Labor (34%) from the Coalition (47%) but still the Green vote remains unchanged.

This suggests the Green vote is already maximised and there’s very little the party can do to attract new voters. In addition, it’s likely that the major parties will do preference deals at the next election that edge out Green candidates in favour of each other. Mutual animosity, it seems, is outweighed by mutual resentment when it comes to the Greens having the final say in parliament.

There’s no doubt that 2012 is going to be a year to watch Australian federal politics. There’s the possibility of a surplus budget in May, compensation for the carbon price will be delivered to many Australians as a lump sum in June and the carbon price regime will commence on 1 July.

The question then will be whether we’re more parsimonious with Julia’s carbon compensation than we were with Kevin’s $900? Only time will tell. Additional compensation will come into effect in June 2013, just in time for the REAL federal election campaign.

Perhaps by then, we’ll have come to accept the carbon price as we did the GST.

Rudd may again be Prime Minister and we may have a new opposition leader. Who knows, almost anything is possible in politics, except for the Greens expanding on their primary vote.

 This piece originally appeared at the  Kings’ Tribune

Can the Greens step down from their pedestal now?

Yes, it was a devastating drubbing for the NSW Labor Party. It was also a well-deserved loss after years of incompetence and less than truthful dealings with the NSW public.

But that wasn’t the story for me. All I wanted to know was how the Greens fared. No, I don’t have an unhealthy obsession with the Greens. But as I explained in the previous post, suggestions that swathes of voters are deserting the Labor ship for the Greens are Just. Plain. Wrong.

The Greens fielded a candidate in every seat. While Labor suffered a 17% swing against them, the Greens failed to pick up more than a 1.4% swing to them. Even in the upper house they only managed a 1.85% swing in their favour.

I’ve been told the Greens’ vote suffered from the poor quality of candidates on offer. Sorry, that excuse doesn’t fly.

Every single political operative in Australia has known for the past four years that the NSW election would be held on 26 March 2011. There has been plenty of time for the Greens to organise decent candidates. The Liberal Party did; hell even the National Party managed to do so.

And why is it that when the Greens do well, it is all about the superiority of their values and policies, but when they do less well it is about their poor candidates?

Reports of Labor’s death are greatly exaggerated

Last weekend the SMH’s political editor, Peter Hartcher, made an extraordinary claim that “Labor’s looming death as a stand-alone political entity is the biggest story in contemporary Australian politics.”

Hartcher is an experienced and astute political analyst, having reported politics for the Herald not only from Canberra, but also Tokyo and Washington. However, his prediction seems disconnected from reality.

Hartcher’s thesis is that Labor has lost its progressive supporters to the Greens and has no chance of getting them back. He says that “Labor has yet to squarely confront the fact that it is on track to bring the two-party system to an end as Australia witnesses the rise of a three-party system,” and that “even if [the Prime Minister] can win passage of a carbon tax through the Parliament, it will not be enough to save her, and Labor, from oblivion.”

I don’t quibble with Hartcher’s contention that Labor has had a tactical tendency to lurch to the right on contentious issues to prevent voter leakage to the Coalition. Nor do I dispute that this has caused some progressive voters at the other end of the political spectrum to abandon the ALP for the Greens.

I can even agree that Labor’s low primary vote (37.99%) at the 2010 federal election was mostly attributable to “disillusioned and disgusted Labor voters going across to the Greens”.

But there is no evidence to suggest, as Hartcher does, that these voters are lost to Labor forever. To do so would be to fundamentally misread (or rewrite) what occurred.

The Greens garnered 11.76% of the primary vote at the 2010 election, a swing to them of 3.97%. However, nearly 80% of that vote went back to Labor in preferences, just as it did at the previous federal election.

Interestingly, 26% of Green voters said they did not make up their mind how to vote until 24 hours or less before casting their vote, compared with 17% for Labor and 9% for Coalition voters. This proportion of votes, decided so close to polling day, is unusually high compared with previous elections.

The combination of Green votes preferenced back to Labor, with the delayed decision to vote Green, suggests that many more potential voters wanted to vote Labor but couldn’t bring themselves to do so.

When voters are uncertain about which party to choose, they usually lean towards the devil they know (the incumbent). But on this occasion they were faced with two relatively unknown politicians, both of whose authenticity were in question. As a result, some voters ended up rejecting them both.

Unfulfilled expectations also played an important role in that rejection.

Kevin Rudd’s downfall was that he didn’t deliver on the expectations he created in the 2007 federal election. Rudd deftly positioned himself prior to that election as Howard-lite, framing himself as the “other” safe pair of hands, but with bonus features such as the ratification of Kyoto and the scrapping of WorkChoices.

While Rudd did apologise to the Stolen Generation he didn’t deliver on any other major promise. The Labor MPs and operatives who eventually deposed Rudd did so because they knew voters were waiting to take out their anger on him, just as they had done to Keating in 1996.

Julia Gillard was also damaged by the mismanagement of expectations, but not in the irretrievable way suggested by Hartcher. She became Prime Minister promising to resolve three issues: Australia’s response to climate change; the battle with the mining industry over the Resource Super Profit Tax; and a more humane approach to sea-borne illegal immigrants. Instead she announced a clumsy citizens’ assembly on climate change; gave ground to the mining industry and replicated some of the most reviled elements of the Howard Government’s detention scheme.

Hartcher claims these actions were a grievous insult to the progressive side of the ALP and caused a permanent mass exodus of voters. In fact these actions were viewed much more simply, and by a broader range of Labor voters, as yet another PM welshing on their commitments.

While Hartcher seems to think the battle has been fought and won by the Greens, they should take no comfort from the fact that a chunk of their voter base is comprised of disaffected major party supporters.

The published opinion polls mean nothing this far out from an election: the Greens’ support is nothing more than soft and fickle at this point. It’s conditional upon two things: (1) continued voter antipathy towards the major parties and (2) the Greens’ capacity to deliver on the high expectations they’ve created for themselves.

The Greens shouldn’t lose sight of what happened to the Australian Democrats when placed in a similar position 30 years ago.

The Democrats held or shared the balance of power with other minor parties or independents in the Australian Senate for nearly 25 years (1981 to 2004). At their peak, they also held the balance of power in the upper houses of several state parliaments: NSW from 1988 to 1991, SA from 1979 for the following two decades and WA for one term following the 1996 election.

Today they hold no seats – in any Australian parliament.

There are both similarities and differences between the Democrats and the Greens. Perhaps the most significant similarity between the two is the amount of voter goodwill and accompanying high expectation that each party generated. It was the Democrats’ inability to fulfil this voter expectation that ultimately proved to be their undoing.
When the Greens attain the balance of power in July this year, they will discover, as did the Democrats, that it’s much more difficult to be a political or policy purist when your vote actually counts. The Greens will need to manage voter expectations better than the Democrats to avoid the pitfalls that decision-making can bring.

Negotiations will inevitably lead to concessions, on either side, but if the Prime Minister can find ways to wedge the Greens on their legislative wish-list it will be the minor party and not Labor that will face public opprobrium for unpopular decisions.

This dissatisfaction will then be played out at the ballot box.

Hartcher says Labor is finished as a major party and that it “cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.”

His prediction is a long way yet from being fulfilled.