Hugo Kelly spent a day handing out HTV cards and then scrutineering last Saturday for the Greens. This is his story followed by some of your feedback.
In the safe Labor seats of Melbourne and Sydney, the cafe latte set deserted the ALP en masse. Their choice of protest was clear. They largely bypassed the Blonde Ambition Party, and headed for the Greens.
And standing outside University High in leafy Parkville, on a wet and windy election day handing out HTV cards for the Greens, I was at the centre of the progressive middle class storm.
Surrounded by rows of renovated terraces, and standing just down the road from Melbourne Uni, we couldn’t have been closer to the leftie latte belt; the academics, teachers, architects, hairy arts students, health food shop proprietors – one of whom was the endorsed Greens candidate for the Senate, Scott Kinnear. Hardly a representative of the proletariat in sight.
This was a Labor stronghold, and Lindsay Tanner hasn’t been a bad member – he held a 22% margin going into the election.
But early in the day, it was clear the natives were restless. Increasingly disheartened Labor booth workers watched on as locals marched past them and headed for us smelly, feral greenies.
When one Labor poll worker confided that even she couldn’t bring herself to vote for the party, we knew they were in trouble. The extent of that trouble became clear when counting began: the Greens candidate secured 21% of the vote in the Parkville booth. Together with 10% for the Democrats, that means nearly one third of the primary vote was searching for solutions outside the two major parties – this in a climate the pundits had told us was likely to scare people back to the Big Two.
I was one of Labor’s lost voters. As a former Labor adviser, I’ve seen the best and worst of the party at close hand. The machine men and women who homogenised the wit and wisdom out of Beazley ensured the party lost my support on Saturday.
As a former environment reporter, my latent green sympathies and a family link led me to support the Green protest. It didn’t take much encouragement from my mum – a longtime Green – to help her letterbox the neighbourhood on behalf of their candidate, Pamela Curr.
And the green propaganda was spot on: “ARE YOU TIRED OF LABOR SELLOUTS? Refugees welcome, no to war, relief from GST…” etc etc.
It was a logical step, then, to man the booth and spruik for votes on Saturday, then terrorise the Returning Officer as a Greens scrutineer after the polls closed.
On Saturday, a steady flow of voters kept all the booth workers busy. Not all were in the mood to vote, but the feeling was generally friendly.
Former Kennett spinner Mark Triffit dropped by for a chat. He took a Greens card, but I have a feeling he might have voted for The Grand Wizard, Stephen James Ferrari, or the Socialist serial candidate, Stephen Jolly, or the Liberals’ contender, 25 year-old music industry whiz, Con Frantzeskos, before getting down with the greenies.
Another local to stop and chew the fat was Age deputy editor James Button. We congratulated him on the paper’s election editorial – a ringing denunciation of Howard’s cynical manipulation of the campaign – while his five year-old, Harry, indulged in a little greenie bashing. Wonder if grandpa John taught him how to hit the ferals and run…?
The emblematic moment came later in the afternoon when a red Porsche did a screaming U-turn to stop in front of us, nearly running down a fellow on a bike. Out jumped a 40-something couple; a bloke in leathers, his spouse in a leopardskin number. Heading straight for the Greens card he brushed past the Labor workers: “Can’t vote for you – you sold out.”
Our Labor friends were not happy being abused by a Labor sell-out: “WE sold out!?! &*%^$” But the vote had flown, leaving them depressed and incredulous.
Split by the Howard wedge, Labor’s result on Saturday was the logical extension of its annexation during the 80s and 90s by its right wing. That the only serious leadership candidates now come from Victoria shows the talent vacuum in NSW, where the ironclad machine pumps out mediocre candidates.
The result – a Labor nationwide primary vote of 38.5%, the party’s lowest since 1934 – leaves the ALP looking threadbare.
Can the Labor Party decide who, or what, it stands for? Can it weed out the factional duds and replace them with local candidates who know the electorate and empathise with the electors?
So bereft of ideology is this once great party that its leader is forced to remind everyone what he stands for in every TV ad, and the election slogan is reduced to a mantra designed by pollsters: Jobs, Health, Education.
It’s true that Beazley was caught in the devil’s trap with the Tampa. Had he suddenly relit Labor’s long-extinguished light on the hill, he would have lost in a landslide to Howard’s scare campaign. But Labor had nowhere to go because it was responsible for setting up the internship camps in the desert for these unfortunate people. It had made no attempt to show leadership during Beazley’s term and when the Tampa sailed into port, those chickens came home to roost.
Large slabs of inner suburban Sydney and Melbourne have turned green. In Melbourne, the biggest seat by population in Australia, the Greens doubled their vote from 1998, to 17% of the primary vote.
In the seat of Sydney, the largest seat by population in NSW, the Greens nearly doubled their votes to 15% of the primary vote. In Brisbane, outgoing Labor MP Arch Bevis conceded the bulk of the 6% swing against him was a Green protest.
But while revolution was afoot in the inner suburbs, the plight of the boat people didn’t seem to disturb the aspirational voters in the urban marginal and safe Labor seats. Unimpressed by Beazley’s attack on the private schools they aspire to send their kids to, unmoved by the righteous sermonising of the chattering classes, they turned to the stoker of the flames, J.W. Howard.
Refugees end up in Campsie and Villawood, and Maribyrnong – not Parkville and Paddington. And on Saturday the residents of Melbourne and Sydney’s west – many of them sons and daughters of immigrants themselves – put up John Howard’s “Not Welcome” sign.
The best of your feedback to Hugo
Read your article on a day with the Greens with interest. I’m a 60 year young ALP voter who did not vote for my local member (Scullin/Harry Jenkins, not that it makes much difference. His vote dropped, though – the robes will have to be packed away!)
I voted Greens. I know the vote went back, etc, but ALP supporters had to make some protest against racism and mediocre candidates (Aston etc). Jenkins falls into this catagory – seat handed down by his father. And the ALP wonders why its primary vote dropped. I know that a ‘true believers’ approach would have hurt them more in terms of votes, and in this respect the Rodent played the politics perfectly.
The ALP has paid the price for a policy that goes back to Gerry Hand (a read of Neil Blewetts book ‘A Cabinet Diary’shows the cant put out by the ALP on refugees, etc). Hopefully a good kick up the Kyber will start the process of correction. But given the structure of the ALP and those wonderful people from NSW I doubt it.
I’m off to play golf for the next three years and I’ll watch to see if they can earn my vote back. I’m not going to hold my breath. A final comment; the moderates in the Liberal party really made their presence felt didn’t they!
Love Crikey most of the time, beats the mainstream journos hands down.
(Son of a waterside worker, long retired, who at the age of 84 changed his vote too)
Terribly frustrated with Labor loss
I liked your comments on Crikey and I feel terribly frustrated with Labor’s loss. This is such a complex issue. Firstly there is the election itself – Beazley outperformed Howard, but Labor lost the advertising battle. This is a crucial defeat, the Liberal ad about Beazley backflips hurt in the “heartland”.
Policy-wise, the greastest criticism has not to my mind been made. Labor had to articulate that those in our suburbs who are anxious about illegal immigrants are not racist, but are insecure about their enviroment and that insecurity is a result of globalisation.
Labor had to promote itself as the party that unites and brings the community together. You don’t really think these aspirational voters are busting their guts to get more assets; they are trying to secure the future of their kids and even grandparents and they feel under threat.
They are going to the Liberals as there are no political heroes out there and they also don’t really care. Their number One priority is to get the mortgage down – this is not ideological, it’s maths.
If Labor did not support boarder protection they were dead; as far as a cynical strategy goes it was a good one. The green democrat vote would have gone back to Labor, but it would also have provided a vocal new “faction” in the Labor party.
In government they could not afford to ignore the greens – it would have come at great cost in both the media and electorially.
All the best, Mark
At last, a worthwhile day on Green HTVs
Amen to pretty much everything you wrote. Performing a similar HTV gig for the Greens in Sydney Rd (Wills), I was taken by the number of bright-eyed young (and many surely first-time) voters seeking out the Green card; along with several older folk who seemed relieved at the sight of our color after wading through the Lib/Lab glossies.
For the first time, scrutineering was a pleasure as I realized my hours of leaflet dropping and HTV-ing in the rain had, for the first time, not been in vain. I feel it is not merely a one-off protest as has been suggested.
Green local councillors have sprung up in inner Melbourne over the past few years, suggesting this election was the tip of a great green-tinged iceberg destined to rip holes in the hulls of major parties (and their talkback radio-driven ideologies) for years to come.
Jon (former young lib; disillusioned labor voter; 5-year greens member)
Greens ruining us landowners in Queensland
To Hugo Kelly on the Greens trouncing of the Labor vote. Bull-de-dash!!!
The Greens have come to prominence by influencing Labor to strip the civil rights from a few thousand landholders in Queensland who have been slower than the southern states at clearing their land bare.
The Greens and Labor policies on the environment are bankrupt and have nowhere to go. Never will Labor get an increased national vote whilst it continues to pander to the Greens in the inner cities and alienates the regions.
If these few Qld landholders are going to be singled out to carry the can for the whole environmental policy of this nation, they should naturally be fully compensated for their lost production and reduced land values.
The simple fact is the cities are the major polluters of this nation with the carbon level in Brisbane alone going from nine billion tonnes to sixteen billion tonnes in ten years.
When a responsible government puts a cap on city emissions and demands the city reduces its emissions by 1% a year in line with Green policy, the Green vote will disappear.
In fact, I feel the feel gooder yuppies in the inner cities who swung their vote to the Greens this election have such a shallow committment to the environment that if they were required to produce $3 out of their hip pocket a year to help reduce greenhouse gases they would change their vote.
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