tip off

Could a Greens-Lib deal knock off Danby, Ferguson, Shorten?

In terms of proportionality and editorial priority, The Age took a very pro-Labor approach in leading Monday’s opinion page with Shaun Carney’s attack on federal Greens MP Adam Bandt. Carney was fulminating over Bandt’s “garbage” prognosis of the Melbourne byelection on Network Ten’s Meet The Press:

When the Greens come in second and win with the help of preferences, even if those preferences come via the Liberal ticket, everything’s fine and it’s a glorious victory. But when Labor is fighting the Greens and gets preferences, especially from people who voted Family First or really anybody else, it’s a dirty, sleazy backroom deal leading to a tainted result.”

In reality, there are some big differences between Bandt’s 2010 victory in Melbourne and Labor’s “whatever it takes” preference deal-making to save the Melbourne state byelection on Saturday.

The Greens did no deal with anyone on the political right to get Bandt into Parliament because Labor was placed ahead of the Liberals and other right-wing parties on the Green how-to-vote card. This is different from Saturday where Labor actively engaged with fringe parties, reached mutually beneficial agreements with them and then placed Family First at seven on its how-to-vote card, whilethe Greens languished at 15. Labor only won thanks to the donkey vote and preference flows from six of the seven leading minor candidates.

By contrast, Bandt gave precisely nothing in return to the Liberals when they unilaterally decided to preference him ahead of Labor in 2010.

While Labor Right figures such as Michael Danby and Joel Fitzgibbon seem emboldened in their determination to aggressively attack the Greens, they need to pause for thought. If the Victorian Liberals were smart at the next federal election they could do a deal with the Greens to shore up Bandt in Melbourne and undermine some key Labor Right ministers who are particularly hostile to the Greens.

Take Danby’s progressive seat of Melbourne Ports, which neighbours Bandt’s territory to the south. If Danby goes ahead and puts the Greens last behind the Liberals and Family First, he will seriously disenfranchise the 20.66% of voters who supported the Greens in 2010.

And if the Liberals ran a progressive candidate, why wouldn’t the Greens swap preferences with the Liberals to finish off a hostile character like Danby? Danby only polled 38.19% of the primaries in 2010, with the Liberals marginally behind on 37.8%. If Danby can only survive with Greens preferences, why is he threatening to put them last on his ticket?

Such an arrangement would not be done in isolation and presumably would only occur if the Liberals agreed to preference Bandt in Melbourne.

Federal Resources Minister and climate change sceptic Martin Ferguson is another high-profile, anti-Green Labor minister who could be knocked off if the Liberals and Greens swapped preferences. The primaries in Batman in 2010 finished as follows:

  • Martin Ferguson (Labor): 52.38%
  • Alex Bhathal (Greens): 23.48%
  • George Souris (Liberal): 19.9%

After preferences, Ferguson only won with two-party-preferred vote of 57.86%, so he’s well in line to be wiped out if the current polling holds.

While Tony Abbott might well take a view that Greens such as Lee Rhiannon are far too extreme in his home state of NSW and deserve to be put last everywhere, the Victorian Greens are noticeably more moderate. They may even be amendable to supporting a so-called decapitation strategy on future Labor leaders such as Bill Shorten, whose supporters never stop monstering the Victorian Greens.

Shorten polled 55.38% of the primary vote in Maribyrnong in 2010 with the Liberals second on 29% and the Greens well back on 11.85%. If part of the agreement between the Victorian Greens and the Coalition included Green preferences for a progressive Liberal candidate, it would force Labor to divert scarce resources into previously safe seats and also potentially remove Shorten from the Parliament if the landslide comes through as predicted.

Part of the Labor dialogue criticising the Greens in Victoria goes to intransigence, lack of flexibility and an inability to compromise. A mutually beneficial Green-Liberal lower house preference compromise in Victoria — the strongest mainland state for the Greens — would put that argument to bed.

Both sides could happily put each other last in the vast majority of lower house seats and every Senate contest, so there would be no substance to claims of a broader nationwide deal.

I bumped into Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane a couple of times on polling booths in Melbourne last week and mentioned this strategy in passing. His eyes lit up at the prospect of knocking off Shorten.

It’s obviously a long shot given the long Green history of refusing to preference Liberals anywhere, but the constructive and co-operative relationship between Melbourne’s Liberal lord mayor Robert Doyle and Cr Cathy Oke, the defeated Green candidate on Saturday, is instructive of future possibilities.

After all, don’t forget that this precise scenario happened in Britain when the most progressive party, the Liberal Democrats, teamed up with the Conservatives to knock off a jaded and cynical Labour machine.

13
  • 1
    Paul Coghlan
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Labor needs to somewhat distance itself from the fundementalism of
    the Greens. Many traditional Labor supporters view them as wankers
    who saddled them with a carbon tax rather than a more palatable ETS
    and sat on their purist arses while the refugees risk drowning. Despite
    this, can you imagine a Green voter preferencing Tea Party Tony?

  • 2
    geomac62
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    And if the Liberals ran a progressive candidate, why wouldn’t the Greens swap preferences with the Liberals to finish off a hostile character like Danby?
    Thats a big if , finding a progressive liberal . Bandt no matter what Mayne has written was clearly trying to put spin on the by election . Its black and white . I get in on lower primary vote and its ok but labor get in on the same basis and it is not . What happened to your vote Stephen ? I,m not sure what you got but last I read you were a fair bit below your prediction of 7% . That may have improved by now or maybe not as I haven,t checked final results .
    I see no advantage in Labor bagging the Greens but equally wonder why the Greens claim the plaudits for things Labor has got through parliament while bagging Labor when it sees the opportunity . They both have a common foe and should address that situation .

  • 3
    Russell
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    The Greens and the Liberals have far more in common than just the cynical back-room deals Mayne is suggesting (proposing?) here. Greens voters are largely affluent, tertiary educated, Anglo and either live in wealthy inner city enclaves, or prestigious “sea change” retreats like Byron Bay. They are about as distant from Labor voters as its possible to get.

    Mayne is totally correct, the two parties should get together, work out some grubby preference swapping strategy and start seriously on their mutual project: “destroying” Labor. After all, that is both party’s stated aim.

  • 4
    Timmy O'Toole
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Well said Russell. Mayne, the narcissist-cum-moral crusader par excellence, has a few things in common with the Greens. His distaste for the ALP has ruined any semblance of a rational, clear sighted analysis.

    Take Batman. Stephen Mayne thinks Ferguson can lose if the Libs preference the Greens… it’s a flawed analysis. Let’s pretend that Ferguson’s vote drops by 10% (to 42%), it goes straight to the Greens (they would be on 33%) and the Libs stay the same on 20%. At the last election about 80% of Liberal preferences went to the Greens. Assuming that holds, add 18% to the Greens, and they win on 51%.

    Another scenario- the Greens increase by 9% and the Libs by 1%: ALP 42%, Greens 32%, Libs 21%. If you add 80% of the Liberal vote (16.8) to the Greens then they end up on 48.8% to Ferguson’s 51.2%.

    But my assumption of the Greens vote increasing that much is way too generous. Even with demographic changes in the electorate of Batman, the Greens won’t get a swing of 10% to them. At the 2010 election, the Green’s Victorian vote increased by just under 5%- largely ALP voters — whilst the Libs vote increased by less than 2%. Since the 2010 election, in national polling the Green’s vote has stabilised at 11-12% and the ALP vote has fallen from 38% to roughly 30%. Unlike at the 2010 election, ALP votes have overwhelmingly gone to the Coalition or uncommitted category- not the Greens. So my scenario of a 10% drop in ALP vote that goes straight to the Greens primary vote is highly unlikely—as is the chances of the Greens winning Batman.

  • 5
    Andrew Bartlett
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I think the backlash from the average Greens voter if the Greens recommended preferences to the Libs in many seats would harm the Greens vote more that what might be gained by getting Liberal preferences in return. But perhaps Melbourne Ports could be an exception - Michael Danby has been little short of defamatory about the Greens for quite some time, well before the coordinated mouth foaming of various figures in the NSW right. It would still need a progressive Lib candidate against Danby though (if such people still exist in the Libs, I haven’t noticed many of late). Given that the Libs have long been engaged in criticisms of the Greens that is far more deranged than anything that’s come out of Labor (other than Danby), they might also find it difficult to now justify any sort of arrangement.

  • 6
    rupert moloch
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    And if the Liberals ran a progressive candidate”

    Oh, you mean somebody like Dr Mal Washer? What a tremendous advocate for human rights that man is.

  • 7
    Sam
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I can’t see such a move working at all. It would need Greens voters to go along en masse, and given that a significantly lower proportion of Greens voters follow the how to vote cards, that’s hardly likely to happen.

    Then there’s the ramifications to the Greens’ image. Even if it’s only done for a moderate Liberal against someone like Danby, it’s still a vote of support for someone who will ultimately be part of a government that’s very much against everything that Greens and Greens voters stand for, and this is something that would be noted nationwide. It’ll destroy a much of the Greens’ veneer of political purity, and it’ll lead to some rethinking on the part of people who were going to vote Green because they consider Labor to be too conservative.

    And why would the Coalition even consider it? They’re sitting pretty right now and a deal with people they have routinely labelled extreme will invoke enough outcry from their base to make it far too high a price to pay to justify the remote possibility of picking up a couple of seats.

  • 8
    Russell St. Melbourne
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    I think the Greens will continue in their ‘positive message’ direction. If they start behaving like the others, they will become indistinguishable from the others.

  • 9
    Marcus Ogden
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    After all, don’t forget that this precise scenario happened in Britain when the most progressive party, the Liberal Democrats, teamed up with the Conservatives to knock off a jaded and cynical Labour machine.”

    … whereupon their support collapsed from 23% at the 2010 election to 14% today.

  • 10
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Until midway through the Rodent’s regime, all polling booths had huge beach towel sized sheets on the wall showing how the Senate vote would be distributed for the 97% who vote above the line. This ceased and they were replaced by books which had to be requested & examined at a separate table.
    Ban Reps/MLA HTV leaflets dispensed outside polling stations (a distressingly large proportion of the electorate believe these must be followed - the least likely to suffer this delusion would be Green voters) and put a poster by the polling booths (fewer trees need die than leaflets or the now deceased Senate posters).

  • 11
    Steve777
    Posted Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Russell Street. If the Greens do deals with the Devil to extract political advantage, they will lose one way or another. Unlike the major parties, green voters don’t just follow ‘how to vote’ cards. If the Greens become just like a major party, many of their supporters will desert, probably to return to Labor. And if the Greens contribute to a Coalition victory, they will be helping the Coalition to dismantle all that the Greens have achieved with Labor in this term of government.

    It doesn’t matter whether the Liberals put up a ‘progressive’ candidate. The Liberal Party is now a right-wing party that panders to religious conservatives, is captured by corporate and moneyed interests and dog-whistles to bigots. With the possible exception of Malcolm Turnbull, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ voices in the ‘Liberal’ Party are effectively silenced. If the Liberals next year have the win that polls are predicting, Australia will withdraw from effective action on Climate Change for the foreseeable future and indeed will resume its role as a spoiler in international efforts to address the problem. It will wear its harshness on the asylum seeker issues as a badge of pride. Forget Gay Marriage, progress on Indigenous rights or any support for the envirionment when it clashes with money. The Liberals will aim to create an Australia where the Rineharts, Twiggys, Murdochs, the Private School lobby and the Talkback Radio crowd are relaxed and comfortable.

  • 12
    Tom F
    Posted Thursday, 26 July 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I’d view the Lib Dems’ strategy as something to emulate… you know, if you’re interested in ever winning another seat in a general election.

  • 13
    Bo Gainsbourg
    Posted Thursday, 26 July 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I agree, difficult for Greens to preference the Libs. Even where they are running candidates that are more progressive than Labor, which is definitely possible in a number of seats. I see that the Greens may well be shut out for a few years while Labor and the Libs come to a kind of agreement about trying to keep the entire political class shifted further to the right. And possibly helping Family First up to a few senate seats here and there. The basic premise of Labor at this point in time is, “we are as progressive as you are allowed to get, no matter how right wing we are, and you progressive voters have nowhere else to go”. That works up to a point, but we are now at the start of the point where it will gradually stop working. As for Carney’s article, it was fairly poor. He missed the obvious point that the Greens did not do a deal to put right wing climate change denying, fundamentalist, union hating, anti women, anti choice parties in front of Labor on preferences in Bandts case, while the Labor party was clearly relaxed and comfortable about doing exactly that in this election. Which gives a pretty clear direction of where their policy trajectory is headed presumably. But still, at least it keeps progressive policies out of the parliament.

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