I never went to journalism school, but it strikes me that one of the first things they should teach you there is to shy away from words attributing mental states. Take this example from the front page of yesterday’s Age: “Labor believes that, in return, the Greens will distribute ‘open’ how-to-vote cards in key ALP-held marginal seats …”

Is there any evidence for this? That’s what Labor sources have told the reporter that they believe, but why should we think they really do? Yet journalists do this all the time, taking at face value politicians’ assertions as to their beliefs, fears and intentions — even when the circumstances would seem to demand a measure of scepticism.

In this case, if Labor’s negotiators really thought that Victoria’s Greens and Liberals were going to get together, I doubt they would be carrying on the way they are now. It looks much more like an attempt to bully the Greens into signing on to a deal with Labor.

For the Greens it must all seem depressingly familiar. In 2006, they gave Labor almost everything it wanted: preferences across the board in the upper house, and in all but two marginal Labor seats in the lower house. Yet Labor still professed outrage at not getting even more, and attacked the Greens as pawns of the Liberal Party.

This year, ALP state secretary Nick Reece says “Labor had told the Greens it would preference them ahead of the Liberals in all 88 lower house seats, and had asked the Greens to preference the ALP ahead of the Coalition.” But that’s hardly much of an offer, since there’s only one of those lower house seats (Prahran) where there’s any chance of the Greens benefiting from it.

What the Greens really want is Labor preferences in the upper house, where last time Labor preferenced a variety of minor parties ahead of the Greens, resulting in the election of the DLP for the last spot in Western Victoria. That could easily happen again, either there or in Northern Metropolitan. Dead silence from the Labor sources on that issue, apparently.

No doubt the impression is being cultivated by the media, but it really seems as if Labor just can’t leave this issue alone. Instead of going to the outer suburbs where they might actually win some votes, its campaigners are dressing up in koala suits to harass Bob Brown. The obsession with the Greens is focusing its attention on the parts of the state that, in terms of retaining government, matter the least.

It’s also probably not helping its ostensible goal, of getting Green preferences. Labor’s bullying just reminds the Greens that, whatever they do, Labor is going to attack them regardless. If they’re going to be smeared as crypto-Liberals anyway, why not at least try to get some benefit from the Liberals in return?

And the more Labor tells voters that Greens and Liberals are in bed together, the fewer qualms Greens voters in the suburbs will feel about giving preferences to the Liberals, and the less it will be able to count on the support of Greens members in the lower house if it really needs them.