richard di natale Greens

It’s not easy being… oh, you’ve heard that before? The Greens either had the best election ever or it was a total disaster; they are either a vital part of a future progressive coalition or the perpetual never-weres.

This is not the first time that the Greens have been hit with this sort of wacky reasoning, from both within and without the movement. They drive people wild, themselves included, in a way that many people find hard to understand. For those of us who support them — amongst other movements — it would be hilarious if it weren’t so infuriating.

The simple version is that the Greens had a good election in the Senate and a disappointing one in the House. Before the elections there were dire predictions of a Senate disaster, with the possibility that they would suffer both a solidarity-drift back to Labor and fall down the preference tumble at the hands of hard-right and “anti-system” parties. There was talk of losing three Senate seats, sending them back to six and thus fulfilling centrist media’s greatest dream: that the Greens will be just like the Australian Democrats.

That didn’t happen. Across the country, the Greens had an aggregate swing to them of a round 2%. That was made up of around 1.3% swings in NSW, WA and Tasmani; a small 0.3% swing against in Victoria; a 2.5% swing in Qld; and a 5% swing in SA. The SA swing is presumably their share of Nick Xenophon’s old vote, and the Queensland heft from anti-Adani Labor voters.

Overall, the oomph allowed them to hold all their nine Senate seats, though they didn’t gain any. When they suffer 2% swings against, the mainstream media construct this as a disaster. When it swings towards them, it goes largely unremarked upon.

Yet this was an important election for the Greens to do “well enough” in — a quarter century after the party came together as a national outfit, with the founding leaders now departed from leadership of the organisation, the party has acquired continuity, with a projection into the future.

Hard-earned, because results in the House did not live up to expectations. In Victoria — whose slight Senate dip probably indicates saturation — the party pivoted away from the inner-north, to the inner south-east, with Julian Burnside running in Kooyong, Jason Ball in Higgins, and Stephanie Hodgins-May in MacNamara (formerly Melbourne Ports).

They fell short in all. The hope that MacNamara’s boho areas around St Kilda and Prahran would give a majority did not eventuate; with the departure of right-wing Labor MP Michael Danby, Labor’s vote went up. In Higgins, Melbourne’s inner-east, the swing to the left was around 8%. But it all went to the parachuted-in Labor candidate, hot-shot lawyer Fiona McLeod. The Greens’ Jason Ball, despite a valiant campaign, went backwards with a 2% swing against, gaining 22%.

In the ACT, where there were hopes that the new seat of Canberra might be a Melbourne-style knowledge-class seat, veteran Green Tim Hollo gained a 23% to a 40% primary for the ALP.

Thus it’s clear that at the moment there’s around a 22.5% vote for Greens candidates in these mixed knowledge/professional/bourgeois seats. In Kooyong, Burnside, on 21%, became the losing two-party preferred candidate, with preferences from “teal” candidate Oliver Yates and the ALP to take Josh Frydenburg down to a 55-45 result. In Higgins, Ball was on 23% to Labor’s 28% primary. In Canberra, Hollo had 23% to the Liberals 28% — although the Liberals have long since abandoned the practice of preferencing the Greens to raise hell.

But the results show that the Greens are still in the hunt for their switched strategy of running after liberal middle-class seats across the country — something Scott Ludlam had been arguing as a strategy for years before the switch. They need a very achievable 5-7% gain, minimum, to be in the hunt. And 10-15% to be on the safe side. With cultural and demographic shift, and a bit of a party sort-out, there are about six to eight seats in the immediate (i.e. next 12 years) sights.

These possibilities are emerging as the Greens are having a new surge in Europe. The movement appears to be renewing, not failing. But to take advantage of it, the Australian Greens will need to renew themselves. The subject for tomorrow’s piece: “It’s not easy being…”

Oh, you know it?

Tomorrow: what the European election results say about the Greens’ chances.

Peter Fray

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