The Victorian Greens entered the State election with eight MPs. It ended with only four, losing fifty percent of its parliamentarians. The Greens prioritised lower house seats to the detriment of the five upper house seats it held where it exercised the balance of power. There was no net gain in the lower house retaining three seats (Brunswick gain offsetting Northcote loss) while it lost four of its five upper house seats. To say this was a poor campaign for the Greens is an understatement. Yet the spin from the Greens is that its vote basically held and fault lay with the usual suspects, absolving itself of any major responsibility. If the Greens actually believe their own spin then that doesn’t bode well for the federal election or its future.
The Greens’ priority was attacking the Labor government to win Labor-held lower house seats. The Liberal National Party opposition was never attacked with the same vigour. The Greens had a good story to tell yet, like the Opposition, focussed on negativity.
Assisted Dying legislation, abortion clinic exclusion zones, increase in renewables and Australia’s first Treaty laws were all possible because of the Greens’ contribution, as they held the balance of power in the upper house. The Greens placed no emphasis in its campaign on the importance of the upper house, its role and why Greens should be elected/re-elected.
The Greens were also caught flatfooted by the micro parties’ preference deals. Irrespective of this, the Greens too were reliant on preference deals in the upper house. With the exception of Northern Metropolitan Region, preferences were vital to retain the other four seats.
Previously the Greens relied on like-minded minor parties and the Labor Party for preferences. Those minor parties now saw their future with micro party deals. The Greens going all out to win Labor lower house seats meant it was unlikely to secure Labor upper house preferences. Just as the Liberal National Party was friendless on preferences, so too the Greens in the upper house.
Many voters responded positively to the Labor government’s achievements and its campaign on issues such as infrastructure and renewables. The government had its flaws such as the red shirts scandal and logging native forests, but a strong majority voted for it. The Greens’ attacks on the government not only failed but backfired. In four of the five seats which the Greens targeted, Labor increased its primary vote.
Despite the Greens targeting lower house seats, its state-wide vote decreased. The emphasis on the lower house saw its upper house vote state-wide drop further. There was a swing against the Greens in all eight upper house regions. I live in regional Victoria. In the 2016 federal election I did not receive any Greens election material. The same in the Victorian election. The Greens having wall to wall advertising and campaign material in a handful of inner city seats is not going to result in retaining/winning upper house seats outside that catchment.
The results also highlight that the Greens chasing Labor votes has reached its use-by date. For all the resources devoted to winning seats from Labor, its state-wide vote decreased and its lower house representation did not increase. On the other hand, where it could exert influence – the upper house – it was reduced to one member.
The Greens need to learn from the Victorian election if it is to retain its Senate seats. In the federal election the Greens have six Senate seats up for re-election, one in each state. In the 2016 federal election the Greens prioritised the House of Representatives. Its national vote increased for the lower house but not for the Senate.
If the polls are correct Labor is heading for a comfortable win. The priority for the Greens is the Senate where it can exert influence. In a half Senate election 14.3% of the vote is required for a quota. On the 2016 results the Greens are short of a quota in each state. The Greens need to increase their vote and get preferences.
The Greens need to box cleverly in the federal election. Should Labor win, it needs the Greens to have the balance of power in the Senate to get much of its reform agenda passed. Most other crossbench Senators have indicated they will oppose Labor reforms on negative gearing, capital gains tax concessions and franking credits. In defending over-generous tax concessions for the better-off which are unsustainable and inequitable, this only entrenches inequality and lack of opportunity for those more in need.
Attacks on Labor are legitimate over issues such as asylum seekers and Adani. However, it should not focus its attack on Labor over the Morrison Government. What is clear from the Victorian Election is that that strategy does not pay dividends.
The focus for the Greens in the federal election is the Senate. The Greens face a formidable task retaining all its six senators up for re-election. This election is about consolidation. Just as the major parties are being challenged by disruption, so too the Greens. New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia in particular pose significant challenges.
There are more non-metropolitan voters in Queensland than metropolitan voters. In New South Wales there are just more metropolitan than non metropolitan voters. The problems in New South Wales are exacerbated due to bitter internal divisions. In both states the Greens need strong campaigns also in non metropolitan areas to enhance their chances of retaining those Senate seats.
This is not to say campaigning in non-metropolitan areas is not important in other states. It’s just that the low vote in New South Wales and Queensland in 2016 coupled with the metropolitan/non metropolitan split means a metropolitan-centric campaign will not garner success.
The micro parties, buoyed by their success in Victoria, will be out to replicate this at the federal election in the Senate. The Greens will clearly be in their sights again. The Greens need to state the importance of voting Green in the Senate, what it has achieved and what it can achieve. Preference deals are also crucial.
The future of the Greens is at stake at the federal election. It has achieved much at federal and state levels. Is it up to the challenge and will it take heed from the Victorian election result?
Vincent Mahon is a former Greens Election Campaigner.