The NSW Greens launched their state election campaign yesterday, after having already stirred up controversy the previous day with the announcement of their preference strategy.

The media reported that Greens preferences would be going to Labor in 24 seats. But since they didn’t bother to list them, and since Liberal anger at the announcement sounded so synthetic, it wasn’t clear how important it might be.

The fact that at least one report mentioned Marrickville as a key instance – a seat where the contest is between Labor and Greens, so their preferences cannot possibly have an impact – helped to confirm the impression. Compare last year in Victoria, where although Labor expressed outrage at the Greens running open tickets in 28 lower house seats, in fact almost none of them were Labor marginals (nothing below 4.8%).

However, if you read the Greens press release for the complete list, you find that Labor really has done well. Of Labor’s 14 most marginal seats, the Greens will give them preferences in nine, whereas only one of Labor’s 14 safest seats is on the list.

The one very safe member to be preferenced is Linda Burney, Labor federal vice-president and MP for Canterbury, who had earlier put out a press release attacking the Greens. This suggests that perhaps she hadn’t been cut in on the preference negotiation, but members with margins of 27.4% should have better things to do with their time.

Direction of Green preferences usually isn’t worth very much, since most of them flow to Labor regardless of what the how-to-vote card says.

But in NSW, with optional preferential voting, putting Labor on the how-to-vote card may prevent a significant number of Greens votes from exhausting. If so, then Labor candidates in key seats like Wollondilly, Penrith, Camden, Menai and Miranda, plus the Liberal marginal of South Coast, may have cause to be very grateful.

Nonetheless, Labor was still indignant at missing out in some seats, including its two most marginal, Tweed and Monaro. Yesterday they even accused the Greens “of doing another deal with the Liberals” – a charge which was denied.

There’s just no pleasing some people.

Peter Fray

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