Does anyone remember what a disaster the Tasmanian Greens were in power? Hillary Bray reckons it is about time we focused on the prospect of the Greens controlling holding the balance of power in the Senate. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Three weeks ago, the first two stories on AM were devoted to a deal between Labor’s environment spokesperson Nick Bolkus, and the Green’s Bob Brown. Talk about sucking-up to each other. You’d have thought Brown had found a new soul mate.

And what for? A deal that would see Green preferences directed to Labor. Ooh, ah, what a surprise. Talk about a “dog bites man” story. The Greens directing preferences to the Liberal Party would be news, but to Labor? Were they ever going to do anything else? Labor got 71 per cent of Green preferences in Ryan in 1998, and Green preferences almost never get above 75 per cent anyway. Come on who ever was responsible for devoting that much time on AM to the bleeding obvious, how about some real journalism.

The same goes with several other appearances on ABC current affairs recently. So the Greens may yet deliver Ryan to the Labor Party. If you are going to get Bob Brown on for an interview, don’t just give him a free platform to sprout his drivel. Ask some real questions. He goes on about winning up to five Senate seats at the next election (more on that rubbish later), and getting the balance of power. Well if that’s the case, why doesn’t anyone from Aunty bother to ask a hard question like “And what will you do with that power Bob?” No, just give him a free run to talk about his preferences. And honestly, aren’t we all a little sick of hearing about Bob’s preferences. I mean, what ever happened to the love that dare not speak its name.

Now Hillary is hardly a friend of the Democrats. It is a party that represent people who can’t make up their mind, and behaves as such in the Parliament. But at least they come at issues with an open mind, even if it is a little confused. When the Senate had its inquiries into the Prime Miniature’s tax package, at least the Democrats, and even Senator Harradine, entered into the discussion to elicit information. Not like dear old Bob and his ideological position of never mind the evidence.

If the Labor Party think that governing with the Greens is possible, they have a short memory. Don’t any of them remember the mad amendments those great WA Green intellects, Tinkerbell and Wendy, imposed upon the Mabo Bill? They would have happily defeated the entire bill for their amendments, which proved to be some of the most unworkable aspects of the bill.

And doesn’t Labor remember what the Greens did to Michael Field’s Labor government in Tasmania. Thankfully, Frank Devine reminded a few people with his recent column in The Australian. He reports Field as saying “Their cause is too virtuous or too urgent to let other concerns get in the way. You could live with that if they would bargain and negotiate, but they won’t. In Tasmania in 1992 there were constant public statements about how ratshit the government was, though they were part of it. Labor was the majority, but we hardly dared answer back because we needed their votes.”

Labor should learn that the Greens are the One Nation of the political left. If the Coalition gets in bed with One Nation, the political middle ground deserts to Labor. If Labor’s gets too close to the Greens in government, as Labor found to its regret in Tasmania, the middle ground will desert to the Coalition.

And mind you, Bob Brown should know better than to trust Nick Bolkus. Honestly Bob, if you think Bolkus can bring the environment into the “mainstream” of politics, you have to have your head screwed on the wrong way. Hillary hates to borrow a Howard-ism and talk about the “mainstream”, but dear old Nick did more harm to the cause of Immigration and Multiculturalism while he was Minister than anyone else in modern times. He was so busy doing deals by appointing factional mates to any government job he could find, and playing ethnic politics with the family reunion program that the whole portfolio began to smell. Don’t think he won’t do the same job on the environment.

Now given our editor’s new political party, and his idea of bringing the politics espoused by the New Zealand ACT Party to Australia, how about adopting some of its environment policies.

ACT has come up with the idea of saving the kiwi by allowing people to eat it. The ACT argument is that if people see a value in the kiwi, it will be saved, maybe even be bred up for the table.

Now that sounds like a great idea for some of Australia’s fauna. I’m sure it will work for the kangaroo. (Not sure about the koala though. Some National Party mates with a good recipe for koala stew say it smells like cough lollies and leaves you farting like a eucalypt forest. But then Hillary has never understood why people drink ouzo either.)

And wouldn’t it get up the nose of the Greens! Worth doing just to see the righteous indignation. I mean, what do the Greens want? Medicare bulk billing for body piercing and tattoos? GST exemption for dreadlocks and body painting? The right of anyone who turns up on our coast to stay here? Tax incentives for corporate pushbikes? Legislation to prevent discrimination against people who wear tea-cosies on their heads or have strange objects inserted through unsightly holes in their bodies?

I mean, this is a party that publishes vast reams of policies that fortunately for the party, no one reads. In 1996, when the Greens Victorian candidate and the Age’s favourite “thinker” Peter Singer displayed astonishing political sensitivity by discussing infanticide and also by hounding Cheryl Kernot about her brother’s murder conviction, Brown was asked lots of questions about policy by Kerry O’Brien on the 7:30 Report. After Brown’s cuddly koala image was punctured by being revealed as a flint-eyed ideologue, the Greens campaign slipped into oblivion.

Just when are gullible ABC journalists going to realise that the Greens use preferences as a means of getting publicity. That’s why they release them seat by seat. Hillary heard a breathless ABC journalist once report the Greens as showing anger by not directing preferences to Labor in the NSW state seat of Waratah. They held the seat by 20 per cent! What the young ABC reporter overlooked was the announcement the Greens would direct to Labor in neighbouring Maitland held by less than one per cent. You don’t need to know much about politics to know which decision is important and put the story in context.

So let’s look at a few recent Green porkies.

(1) The Bracks government would not be in government if it were not for the Greens.

Oh yeah? So, Labor wins 13 seats. The Greens contest seven of them, and in two their preferences bring Labor from behind to win. But what about the rest of the seats guys? Bracks is in government because Jeff was such a control freak he bans his Ministers speaking about policy or debating their opposite numbers. He travels to regional centres and threatens that if they don’t vote Liberal, he’ll move government services to other regional centres. If Jeffrey had run a normal campaign, even some of his younger ministers could have wiped the floor with Saint Steve’s mob. Labor is in power because JGK’s personal style loosened voters bowels, not because of the Greens.

(2) The Greens delivered nine seats to Peter Beattie.

Really? As if with his majority he would notice. That’s nine seats only if you count every seat contested by the Greens where Labor failed to win a majority on the primary vote. On Hillary’s reading of the results, there is one definite and three possibles where Green preferences might have decided the outcome. But as if they were going to do anything else with their preferences. Even in Indooroopilly, up against hapless Liberal Denver Beanland, Greens leader Drew Hutton wouldn’t direct preferences. It didn’t matter, cos the Labor Party romped home anyway. The point is, if Labor is ahead on primary votes in these contests, Labor will win anyway. Brown has even admitted as much by saying that if the Greens direct preferences to the Coalition, they split 50:50.

(3) It was the Greens that put Labor in office in Western Australia.

Well, that one at least is closer to the truth. But even there, the real reason Rich the Runt was turfed out was because the Coalition primary vote haemorrhaged. They lost votes to One Nation and Liberals for Forests. From there, the preferences of these Liberal deserters split pretty evenly. The increase in Green vote was at the expense of the Democrats. The Greens also had a ready made issue in the preservation of the south-west forests, and with only Labor promising to save them, where else were Green preferences going to go? Even in the couple of seats where the Greens directed preferences to the National Party ahead of Labor, the preferences went to Labor.

Hillary hopes Labor enjoys governing with the Greens controlling the Legislative Council. Hillary hopes everyone keeps reminding our favourite old trot, Dee “Wendy” Margetts, that the only reason she won her spot was because One Nation thought her so unlikely to win that they gave her their preferences. We hope she represents all the voters that made up her quota, not just the small number of Green voters.

(4) The Ryan results means the Greens will win the Democrats Senate seat in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

You outpoll the Democrats by one per cent in a by-election and think that? With the exception of Tasmania and Western Australia, the Democrats always outpoll the Greens. And more importantly, the Democrats always increase their vote in the Senate. The Greens get the same vote in both houses because they only attract the vote of the committed. Unless the Greens can paint themselves in the reasonable shoes of the Democrats, they won’t get that wishy-washy bunch of “keep the bastards honest” voters that put the Democrats into the Senate.

Even if Labor has been giving the Greens more preferences than the Democrats at recent elections, Hillary thinks that has only been because Labor thought the Greens would not get enough votes to beat the Democrats anyway. Labor preferences will probably be irrelevant at the next election, as the final Senate vacancy in each state is likely to be decided on Coalition preferences. If the Coalition were to direct preferences to the Greens ahead of the Democrats, it would only be to try and make life as tough as possible for Labor in the Senate.

And don’t think concern about the Greens isn’t driving the current Democrat leadership challenge. It is horrible to consider, but Ah Satan looks set to win the Democrat leadership. She is a reversion to the Janine Haines style of leadership, with no one quite sure what she stands for, but my God does she get a lot of attention talking about it. Blonde ambition also has a bit of sex appeal, something certain to attract votes ahead of Bob Brown’s dull earnestness.

So how about it Aunty. Cut the Brown nosing. If you are going to give Brown and the Greens a platform, ask a couple of tough questions. And ask Bolkus what all those corporate donors suddenly sniffing round Labor might think of his party delivering significant political power to a party with economic views not seen since before the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Greens Victorian campaigner responds

By Gurm Sekhon

Greens Victorian Campaign Co-ordinator

Hillary, I read your piece in today’s Crikey. I don’t mind the criticism – that’s what a Prolific Political Columnist is supposed to do – but I take issue with being called a liar. I was the Victorian Greens’ Campaign Coordinator at the last state election in Victoria, so when you talk about “Green porkies,” you’re implicating me.

Here is why I have said that the ALP could not have won 5 of the seats they now hold without the Greens and why I will continue to say as much without the slightest doubt of the validity of such statements:

At the 1999 Victorian election, Greens preferences were helpful to the ALP in a number of seats, but they were decisive in Carrum, Seymour, Geelong and Mitcham. Greens preferences were also decisive in the Benalla by-election. (That is, the ALP would not have won these 5 seats, had we not distributed how-to-vote cards which preferenced to Labor.) The ALP holds government with a 2 seats majority; had we not been ONE of the factors that delivered these seats to the ALP, Jeff Kennett would still be the Premier. (We have never claimed to be the ONLY factor, but we can measure the effect of the part we played.)

The ALP may wish to play down this fact, but I assure you that the Liberal Party understands the situation. I have never had so many emails, letters, faxes, phone calls and meetings with the Liberals as I have once they analysed the figures. They want to minimise the chances of us doing a the same thing in marginal seats at the next election.

It’s actually pretty easy to measure the effect of the Greens on the outcome. All you have to do is look at how many first-preference Green votes get distributed to the ALP at polling places where we distribute how-to-vote cards compared to polling places where we don’t. At the last Victorian election, about 60% of Greens voters preferenced to the ALP at polling places where we didn’t hand out and about 85% preferenced to the ALP where we did hand out. That’s a difference of 25%. So, in general all you have to do is use this formula to work out the effect of Greens how-to-vote cards in a particular electorate:


“VOTE” is the number of primary votes won by the Greens

“REACH” is the percentage of voters in the electorate who cast votes at polling places at which we distributed how-to-vote cards. (You just have to know which polling places we handed out at, add up the numbers and divide by the total number of votes cast in that electorate.)

“SWING FACTOR” is the percentage by which the ALP’s two-candidate-preferred vote will be increased at polling places where our how-to-vote cards are distributed. As mentioned earlier, at the 1999 Victorian election, the Greens’ “swing factor” was 25%.

So, “EFFECT” will be the number of votes that were swung to the ALP as a result of the Greens distributing how-to-vote cards in that electorate.

In every electorate where “EFFECT” is considerably higher than the ALP’s margin of victory, the Greens were decisive in getting the ALP elected. Simple as that. No electoral analyst could question this and still be taken seriously.

You are right to point out that we did not even stand candidates in Geelong and Mitcham. However, in these electorates, we had candidates in the upper house. We still distributed how-to-vote cards and these cards gave directions for how to vote in the lower house as well.

I should point out that I can measure the results in Victoria only. I do not have figures for our “REACH” and “SWING FACTOR” in Western Australia or in Queensland – although we can make educated guesses. All the best,

Gurm Sekhon

Victorian Campaign Coordinator

The Australian Greens