“The Greens are intensifying pressure on Labor to stitch-up an election preference deal, backed by some unions who believe it’s the best chance of ousting John Howard,” Steve Lewis wrote in News Limited newspapers late last month.

“Under a formal plan put to Labor powerbrokers, the Greens will direct preferences to the ALP in more than 20 key marginal seats.”

Mark Bahnisch looked at Labor’s preference plays in Queensland in Crikey yesterday.

There’s an assumption amongst many of the Labor rank and file that their party should always preference the Greens. That’s because they’re to the left of Fidel Castro (the MPs are different as they’re the ones who get to sit on the government benches). And that’s also why they go ape when the party does deals with Family First or other similar groups.

But it actually makes more sense to deal with Family First than the Greens.

Green politicians like making all sorts of preference threats, but their voters put their preferences Labor’s way regardless of deals.

Labor gets around 80% of Green preferences when there’s a formal arrangement – and about 70 or 75% when there isn’t.

This isn’t the same with Family First. Most of their voters lean towards the Libs. A Labor preference deal with Family First could steer a pile of votes away from the Government.

ALP hardheads, like their Liberal counterparts, know that it would be a disaster for the Greens to control the balance of power in the Senate.

As Crikey has been pointing out for years, the Greens are yet to get a handle on this bourgeois liberal democracy thing. They’re about protest and posturing, not politics. They don’t negotiate. They ignore the Senate committees. They miss many parliamentary votes.

Family First does deal. It would be possible to work with them in the Senate.

If Senate control was divided between Family First and the Greens and Labor won, the ALP would then have two options for getting its legislation through – a deal with the right or a deal with the left, just as John Howard did from 1996 until he took control of the Senate in 2005.

Labor knows the deals this Government has done: negotiating with Brian Harradine to get the first Telstra sale through; negotiating with the Democrats to pass the GST.

They’ll want to keep their option open – and if they’re smart, they’ll preference Family First.