Having lived through the last Labor government where the Greens were involved, I am cautious about how the Greens, with their increased influence, will behave under the Albanese government. Leader Adam Bandt spoke of a ‘green-slide’ on election night, despite the party holding roughly 3% of the seats in the House. The popular conception of the Greens is as a ‘non-governing party’. A minor party in the true sense of the word. I say this not to disparage the Greens, merely to acknowledge the reality of their very small numbers in the House.
I want to look today at a piece in the SMH dealing with the rise of the Greens in the recent election.
Background: The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme – Unreasonable?
The Labor Government elected in 2007 was keen to introduce a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), later demonised as the ‘carbon tax’. The statement was not accurate of course, but when did that ever stop the LNP? But back to the Greens. The Guardian outlined the timeline of events surrounding the fall of the scheme, and the role of the Greens in that process. Even under threat of a double-dissolution, the Senate still rejected the scheme a second time, seemingly because it was not up to the standards of the Greens.
While there is an argument of ‘if you plan to do it, do it right’, the Greens did not seem to acknowledge that compromise is the essence of practical politics. One may ask for much more than one wants in a negotiation, but there is a limit. It is for this reason that the Greens earned the ire of certain political observers. Their policies are rarely costed since it is known that they will likely never be implemented.
The Election Result: Ideology and The Structure of The House of Representatives
All seats in the House of Representatives (the House) have now been called. Labor will govern with a majority of 77 seats. The LNP have 58 and the remaining 18 are shared between the Greens, the Teal Independents and the Others. The Greens have four seats out of 151. Hardly the ‘green-slide’ that Mr Bandt declared.
The SMH article asks this question of all the parties
when it comes to ideology, how much is enough?
The Greens seemed to be the most ideological at the election, with Labor a close second. The Lliberals, as normal for Morrison, stood for precisely nothing. Given the Greens’ increased share of the vote (roughly one in eight), something more ideologically stringent (whatever one thinks of their policies) was the order of the day.
I want to turn briefly to the Liberals and ideology at the recent election. The piece referenced above makes an interesting observation on Morrison and his rise in the LNP
Morrison’s philosophical and ideological vacuity was not an accident. He was chosen out of panic after the Liberals had worked through Abbott, whose most successful setting was negative, and Turnbull…
Faced in 2018 with the prospect of Peter Dutton taking over, the party room gave the nod to Morrison, renowned by his colleagues for having zero ideological attachments beyond his existence as a Liberal.
That last clause is decisive: the decision to place Morrison in leadership was based on his being an empty vessel. He believed nothing beyond being a Liberal. If one may assign a core belief to Scott Morrison, it was in power. As Sean Kelly made clear in his (highly recommended) book The Game, Morrison saw politics as a match between two teams, where winning, rather than good policy, was the goal. This, however, is not an ideology.
Ideology on Steroids: The New Greens
The piece goes on to state
To hear him [Bandt] and his new MPs advocating for the immediate introduction of their climate change stance, you’d think the entire nation had voted Green, not one-in-eight voters.
It is correct to chastise Bandt and his troops for what is, by any other name, entitlement around the implementation of their policy. The party has four seats in the House. This is hardly a mandate. Their slightly increased share of the vote looks to be going to their heads. We have seen this movie before under a previous Labor government. The Greens, who have some good ideas, forget their place as a tiny minority in the grand scheme of things. The Senate is another matter, however. The Greens have at least twelve senators, so on that front they should be taken more seriously. However, the role of the Senate is different to that of the House.
The Prime Minister Responds: Albanese and The New Greens
In another SMH piece, Mr Albanese ruled out negotiating with what he called ‘fringe groups’, including the Greens. The context here was the event of a hung parliament. Interestingly, this did not change after the election. Mr Albanese said that he had confidence and supply secured, and did not need to negotiate with the Greens. The assurance of confidence and supply was presumably a reference to some of the Teal Independents. If this is the case, this lends more credence to the idea that at least some of the Teals are not just Liberals in cheaper suits.
I suspect that The Prime Minister has seen this movie before as well. He is trying to avoid being beholden to the Greens, and it is easy to see why. Having witnessed the destruction of the original CPRS by a Senate where the Greens held much sway. He does not wish to be in a place where he can be dragged too far in one direction or another. With majority government (including, if he desires, a Speaker) now secure, being beholden to the Greens (in the House at least) is now a dead letter.
Conclusion: Learn from History or Repeat It
The newly minted Prime Minister and his government seem to have learned the lesson from ten years ago. They are not willing to be beholden to the Greens because they know how that plays out. This is not to say that the Greens should be utterly shut out. Some of their policy ideas are positive (expanding Medicare to include mental health and dental care for one). But they should not be allowed to demand their policies be implemented when they received a tiny percentage of the vote. Who do they think they are, the Nationals?
More seriously, the lesson of allowing small minority parties to have large influence over policy is not a lesson that Anthony Albanese has forgotten. Long may this strategic competence continue.
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