Surge in support puts Greens in the box seat


Significantly, another 8 per cent said they would support someone other than the major parties or the Greens. Together with the Green vote, this effectively meant that a staggering one in four respondents supported neither government nor Coalition.

Rudd had no choice, really, but to hope aloud that many of those people were merely parking their votes until election day. But it’s wishful thinking. Half those who currently support someone “other” may return – or drift – to Labor.

But the Green vote is probably a different story.

Greens leader Bob Brown and his confidants are taking a conservative view of Tuesday’s poll result, effectively building a 3 per cent negative margin of error into what they assume to be their true level of support. But even with a vote of 12 or 13 per cent, Brown’s Greens will easily win the balance of Senate power and maybe a seat or two in the House of Representatives.

There are many reasons for the sudden surge in support for the Greens which – according to the party’s own research – has happened across Australia, in both the cities and the country. Not least, of course, is the sense that Rudd-Labor has failed to fulfil election promises on a range of issues (you know them) and that Tony Abbott is not a trustworthy, viable alternative at this stage.

There may also be a weariness with what third-way parties like to call the “old politics” of adversarialism, whereby two (almost invariably) blokes bang it out amid a cacophony of unedifying yelling and abuse over the issues of the day.

There has long been distaste in Westminster-style democracies for gladiator-style politics. And occasionally a third centrist party emerges to capitalise on that distaste.

For many years the Australian Democrats filled that gap. That party’s genesis rested with disaffected Liberalism. It largely used its balance of Senate power status judiciously, undertaking good-faith negotiations with governments and all the while bolstering its reputation as a centrist third political force.

In June 1998, however, support for the Democrats began to steadily wane. That was the point at which the party, under the leadership of Meg Lees, supported John Howard’s goods and services tax.

From then until its eventual demise exactly a decade later, the Democrats were cast as Liberal-aligned. They ceased to be a credible third force. The Greens have largely stepped into that gap.

In the past three years they have broadened their base dramatically, capturing the moderates left behind by the Democrats while keeping their traditional core supporters. Along the way they have garnered support from major party voters who feel abandoned on environmental issues such as climate change.

Unlike the Democrats, however, the Greens are not political centrists.

They emerged from the activism of the extreme Labor Socialist Left. The party’s soul remains there, although its parliamentary wing, as represented by Brown and his four fellow senators, is far more moderate and politically pragmatic.

The Greens, not the Labor Party under Rudd, are the true ideological bete noire of Australia’s political right and the reactionary commentariat, such is the very minimal distinction between the Labor and Liberal mainstreams on core social, economic, environmental, security and immigration policies. The real reason Coalition politicians so despise Rudd is because he apes them so effectively, while espousing the Labor brand. In Brown, they see a true ideological opponent.

But consider this: some on the extreme left of the Greens view Brown as an unpalatable moderate, for the very reason that he engages with representative politics at all and, worse, for his willingness to negotiate on government legislation. This illustrates, perhaps, the crossroads at which the Greens find themselves as their base broadens to include more traditionally conservative voters.

But Brown has always been an astute political juggler. After the Rudd government (foolishly, in my view) made it clear from the outset that it would not negotiate with the “radical” Greens to win passage of its emissions trading scheme, Brown opposed it on the grounds that its reduction target was not sufficiently ambitious. Labor largely blamed the Liberals for the impasse.

The Greens, however, have supported other critical government measures, including the economic stimulus packages. They will also support the mining tax, if or when it reaches the Senate.

Brown turns 66 later this year. He has four years of his current term left and may seek another six years. All the while he is nurturing a range of talented, ostensibly presentable and politically astute individuals in various parliaments, to make way for his eventual succession.

As the election approaches, the Liberals will tell you that Rudd is an untrustworthy policy flip-flopper. Labor will tell you Abbott is an erratic, economic illiterate; a man who’d prefer to run marathons than engage with the hard work of government.

You can be assured that both will highlight what they see as the danger of the radical Greens, especially on issues such as illicit drugs and forestry management.

Now, back to the poll we began with.

When Rudd challenged for leadership in late 2006, the ALP figures who orchestrated the change focused heavily on Labor’s low primary vote under Kim Beazley.

One of those who was most instrumental in the anti-Beazley push constantly insisted that Labor should have been sitting on a primary vote of 43 to 45 per cent.

Back then, Labor’s primary vote under Beazley was 37 per cent. Today, under Rudd, it is 35 per cent according to Newspoll, translating to a two-party result of 51 per cent for Labor. Anyone who says this is not seriously threatening to Labor – and Rudd personally – is deluded.

It’s a result predicated on the flow of Greens preferences at the last election, which were largely allocated to Labor.

This time Brown will urge voters to make up their own minds on preference.

A small variation in Green preference allocation could, therefore, have a dire consequence for Rudd Labor.

Source: The Sun-Herald