CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Behind the collapse in the Greens' vote
, November 24, 2012
The recent election result in the Australian Capital Territory was further confirmation of a gradual decline in support for the Greens from what could well have been the party’s high water-mark at the last federal election.
It would be rash to interpret that spate of poor recent results as presaging the beginning of the end of the third force in Australian politics, but the Green juggernaut is clearly slowing down.
Since the last election, the Greens have gone backwards in state elections and many local council elections. The slide has probably accelerated since the retirement from the Senate of the party’s charismatic leader and founder, Dr Bob Brown, in July.
In the 17-member Legislative Assembly of the ACT, the Greens dropped from four members to just one, with the Labor and Liberal parties winning eight members each.
It was a woeful result for the Greens in what is arguably Australia’s most left-leaning and socially liberal city.
Of course, it was no surprise when the solitary successful Greens candidate, Shane Rattenbury, threw his support behind the incumbent Labor Party in the tied chamber, despite the Liberals winning a majority of first-preference votes.
The Greens MP also demanded and received a ministry while insisting on up to 100 other conditions for his ongoing support of Labor, including a new 90 per cent renewable energy target.
The ACT Greens blamed a Liberal Party’s scare campaign on soaring council “rates” for its poor showing, while claiming to have let itself down by not campaigning hard enough in the last week of the election.
In fact, the ACT result is more likely attributable to the electorate’s rejection of a raft of social policies over the previous term that had begun to set off alarm-bells among voters.
While Canberra is a public service town, and therefore a Labor stronghold federally, the cultural views of its citizens are not too dissimilar from their counterparts in other parts of the country.
Under the ACT Labor-Greens alliance there have been a string of law changes from the banning of fireworks to the banning of plastic bags in supermarkets (Canberra shoppers must buy plastic bags, resulting in a higher cost for consumers but largely the same number of plastic bags being produced).
The Greens and Labor are pushing to allow prisoners in the ACT’s new jail to be given syringes in order to shoot up drugs “safely” while incarcerated, despite the very strong objections of prison guards.
And then there are the Greens’ most important policies — its ongoing campaigns to legalise euthanasia and enact the same-sex marriage agenda in the ACT.
While Canberra voters might agree with some of these proposals individually, taken as a whole they encapsulate the relentless Greens agenda, with more to come.
The attraction of the single-chamber ACT parliament, so far as the Greens are concerned, is that it can serve as a social laboratory for the rest of the country.
Over the last decade, the Greens’ vote nationally has climbed from just under 5 per cent at the 2001 election to a peak of just under 12 per cent at the 2010 election, according to Australian Electoral Commission lower house results.
But voters are also starting to see what it is actually like with the Greens in power, particularly after the Gillard federal government’s Labor-Greens experiment, and it would be a surprise to see the Greens’ vote exceeded this time around.
Tasmania struggles as a virtual welfare state because any serious proposals for development run into trenchant opposition from the Greens.
The difficulty of dealing with the Greens, as the Labor Party is starting to realise, is that there is no way of satisfying their policy agenda.
Appeasement does not work. Granting a concession means only moving the goal-posts for the next battle.
At the federal level, there is likely to be a backlash against the Greens at the coming election, and, in the absence of the plausible presentation of Bob Brown to win over the media, there are growing public concerns about the party’s deeper radical agenda.
Labor also knows it has to stand up to the Greens to stop a party to its left devouring its own membership.
For its own survival, Labor has to take on the Greens as a political force.
Meanwhile, there remains a strong and fervent Greens supporter base, nurtured by many teachers in schools and universities, that is likely to keep the Greens momentum going for some time regardless of any collateral damage its MPs inflict on the country.