Much has been made of the Greens’ future prospects following the Tasmanian and South Australian elections and a federal by-election in a Victorian seat Batman. Half of Batman is comprised of a state seat Northcote in which the Greens defeated labor convincingly. In South Australia the Greens attracted 6.6 per cent of the vote, down 25 per cent
on their vote four years ago.
In Tasmania there numbers in the 25- member Legislative Assembly were reduced two, down from five in 2010 ― their worst result in 20 years and disastrous, particularly bearing in mind that Tasmania has a Senate-style voting system for its lower house. Over the latest two state elections support for the Greens has halved. In Batman there was a swing of 6.5 per cent to Labor, even though the Liberals did not nominate a candidate. Pundits and experts predicted an easy win for the Greens and during the campaign polls suggested that the Greens had a lead of up to six per cent.
On the back of these results some commentators are hailing the demise of the Greens. Clearly the results expose Greens’ grandiose ambitions such winning 25 seats in the House of Representatives for what they are. Whether these results justify writing the Greens off is another question. South Australia always has been a weak link for the Greens and Cori Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives fared just as poorly, losing their Upper House seeking re- election. Since the elections their other Upper House member has joined the Liberals.
For Nick Xenophon the results were disastrous. It seems that voters decided that a 16 year-old government presiding over crises and scandals had to go and, to some degree, minor parties were collateral damage. The trend in Tasmania looks more significant. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the Greens’ poor showing was influenced by one off factors such whether, and if so to what extent, Labor’s policy to ban poker machines drowned other issues other than economic issues.
Then there is the retirement of two Green members after one term and the impact that had on the result, if any.
More significant is the question as to whether the Greens’ decision years ago to broaden its appeal by becoming a human rights party as well as an environment party has deprived the Greens of a distinctive brand and backfired.
Their leader Cassy O’Connor might be well-regarded around Hobart’s Salamanca Place, but does she have the credibility of Bob Brown or Christine Milne, genuine environment warriors?
This is a question with implications for the Greens’ federal leader Richard di Natalie. As for Batman, local factors played a critical role. Retiring member David Feeney was a poor fit for the electorate. However Labor’s candidate Ged Kearney was an ideal fit.
Internal divisions between the Greens’ candidate Alex Bhathal and some local Green leaders, including Green councilors was critical. Some Greens actively campaigned against Ms. Bhathal as demonstrated by the leaking of a 100-page dossier to The Age which eventually published the story.
The Greens were in trouble from the moment the story was published. Local divisions manifested themselves in practical ways such as a significant reduction in the number of signs placed in houses.
Even if the Greens had been united, the result in Batman always was going to be closer than the result in the Northcote by-election. The internal divisions put the outcome beyond doubt.
The results of the latest three elections certainly have dented the Greens’ belief in the inevitably of their progress. However it would be premature to assume that the Greens have passed their peak and are on a downward trajectory.