Have the Greens done a secret deal with the Liberals to be placed higher than Labor on the Libs’ how-to-vote card in exchange for support for the Coalition’s Senate voting reform bill? Labor says a dirty deal has been done, but the Greens say it ain’t so.

At the last election, one of Tony Abbott’s “captain’s calls” was to preference Labor ahead of the Greens across the country. It was a reaction to the minority government in the House of Representatives, which Abbott regarded as a “failed experiment”.

But with a change of leader brings a potential change in policy, with reports of deals between Liberals and the Greens in key seats.

Transposing state election results with the change in federal boundaries suggests that both Anthony Albanese’s seat of Grayndler and Tanya Plibersek’s Sydney could be taken by the Greens at this year’s election. Labor powerbroker David Feeney’s seat of Batman and Kelvin Thomson’s seat of Wills could also be under threat from the Greens at the upcoming federal election if the Liberals back down on the Greens preference ban.

It has been suggested that in seats the Coalition was seeking to win against Labor, the Greens would run open tickets, without directly advising voters to preference Labor above the Liberals.

Albanese yesterday suggested that Greens and Liberal voters would be unhappy with the negotiations: “A progressive party exchanging preferences with a conservative party, with Malcolm Turnbull as the spokesperson but all of Tony Abbott’s policies, is quite extraordinary.”

In Grayndler, Albanese is under threat from Greens candidate and NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union boss Jim Casey. A redistribution of the electoral map has moved parts of Marrickville, Tempe, Dulwich Hill, Hurlstone Park, Camperdown and Newtown out of Grayndler and replaced them with parts of Balmain and Annandale.

There was speculation Albanese would switch to the seat of Barton to contest the election, but he has decided to fight on in Grayndler.

At the one joint committee hearing into the changes to Senate voting, Labor’s Kim Carr attempted to prise out of Liberal Party director Tony Nutt as to whether these negotiations had taken place. Nutt refused to bite:

“I have said that people have discussions. That is part of the democratic process. But, just to assist you: I am the national campaign director of the Liberal Party. In the Liberal Party … there are all sorts of discussions with all sorts of people at state and federal levels, including parliamentarians, leadership figures, organisational figures, and, at the end of the day, decisions are made on preferencing. I have made no such decision.”

The Greens in New South Wales, at least, have denied making any deals. Greens NSW campaign co-ordinator James Ryan yesterday issued a statement saying it was a “dirty Labor trick” to win back Greens voters, and no preference deals had been done:

Greens preferences across NSW will be determined by our grassroots membership once nominations are closed and all candidates announced. Our track record reflects our approach to preference allocation. We have consistently preferenced Labor ahead of the Liberals, Nationals.”

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey