The Politics    Wednesday, June 8, 2022

It’s not easy, with the Greens

By Russell Marks

Image of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during a press conference in Darwin today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during a press conference in Darwin today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

In an era of declining support for the major parties, Labor must reconcile with the Greens

The Albanese Labor government has hit the ground running this week, holding crisis energy talks with state and territory ministers and bringing the Murugappan family home to Biloela. Perhaps the more apt metaphor is that it’s picking off some of the low-hanging fruit left by a Coalition administration that was committed, in the end, to nothing except nastiness.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has claimed a mandate for Labor’s policies. Mandates make sense in two-party systems, but Labor no longer attracts half the nation’s vote. Its primary vote has now dropped below a third, and the proportion of us voting for someone other than the two major parties is now more than 31 per cent.

Albanese’s stirring speech on election night perhaps distracted from the fact that his wounded Labor Party was still limping its way into government. And as the count dragged on, we could almost see the true believers frantically hauling up the drawbridge behind them to prevent hordes of Greens and “teal” independents surging in. Labor managed it, in the end. But only just.

The low-hanging fruit will soon make way for some thorny branches. Labor can’t rely on Peter Dutton’s Trumpesque Coalition to pass its bills in the Senate, so it will need the support of the Greens, who have 12 seats – the most the party has ever had – and effective control of the crossbench. Labor would then need just one additional vote, and independent candidate David Pocock – former openside flanker for the Wallabies – is likely to provide it.

The Greens aren’t inside the citadel of government, but they’re in a position to hold siege. Even the early, relatively easy pickings contain kernels of discord: Labor and the Greens have very different policies on energy and refugees. Today, Albanese is already batting away calls to provide support to low-income earners, citing the $1 trillion national debt.

The Greens will say there’s a way through. A week before the election, when they were hopeful of being in the balance of power in a minority Labor government, Adam Bandt issued seven policy demands. It’s instructive to assess Labor’s position on them. No new fossil fuels? Not quite. Expanding Medicare to include dental and mental health? No. Building one million affordable homes, and improved renters’ rights? No. Free childcare? No. Cancelling student debt? No. Lifting income support? No. The only demand that Albanese signed up to, in the end, was committing to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Greens costed these policies at $173 billion over four years, and would have paid for them by way of increased taxes on super profits and billionaires, and by ending the gigantic subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. Labor, meanwhile, campaigned on the need to reduce taxes, implicitly accepting the Coalition’s outdated formula: taxes bad, spending bad.

Social democratic parties, with their roots in the labour movement, have made way nearly everywhere for parties of the environmental movement. The inevitable disputes centred on resource industries – especially mining and forestry – have exposed the divisions. The challenge now is to reconcile those movements and their parliamentary expressions. Elsewhere, there are signs that this is happening. In New Zealand, Labour (then in Opposition) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Greens before the 2017 election – and it delivered Jacinda Ardern a minority government. And in the ACT, the Greens have consistently supported minority Labor governments since 2008. That’s pushed Labor into more progressive territory. For instance, in August 2020, the ACT became the first Australian jurisdiction to commit to raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, which is (so far) a policy to which, at a federal level, only the Greens have committed. (Capital territorians are still waiting for this legislation. Meanwhile, Tasmania’s Liberal government this week announced that it will raise the minimum age at which children can be detained to 14.)

Following the election, Albanese deployed all the traditional anti-Greens bluster. Labor hates the Greens, but the fact is that it needs them in this era of declining support for the major parties. If Labor isn’t careful, it risks a kind of impotence in a political culture that demands solutions.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

The Politics

Image of Health Minister Mark Butler during a press conference at Parliament House, June 22, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Taking stock

From vaccines to carbon credits, the new government announces more reviews into the old one’s messes

Image of then NSW deputy premier John Barilaro and then treasurer Dominic Perrottet enjoy a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2021. Image © Dean Lewins / AAP Images

The tool of the trade

What made John Barilaro and the NSW Coalition think they could get away with such blatant nepotism?

Image of Fatima Payman, Labor senator for Western Australia, May 28, 2022. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Census and sensibility

Between the census data and orientation day for incoming MPs, this is clearly no longer Scott Morrison’s Australia, if it ever was

Image of Independent Member for Warringah Zali Steggall speaking in the House of Representatives, October 27, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Very cross bench

Labor appeals to fairness to justify a crossbench staffing decision that looks distinctly unfair

From the front page

Composite image showing John Hughes (image via Giramondo Publishing) and the cover of his novel The Dogs (Upswell Publishing)

A dog’s breakfast

Notes on John Hughes’s plagiarism scandal

Image of Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe. Image supplied

App trap: ‘Chloe’

‘Sex Education’ writer Alice Seabright’s new psychological thriller probing social media leads this month’s streaming highlights

Pablo Picasso, Figures by the sea (Figures au bord de la mer), January 12, 1931, oil on canvas, 130.0 × 195.0 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris. © Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency, 2022. Photo: © RMN - Grand Palais - Mathieu Rabeau

‘The Picasso Century’ at the NGV

The NGV’s exhibition offers a fascinating history of the avant-garde across the Spanish artist’s lifetime

Cover image of Paul Dalla Rosa’s ‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

Alienations and fantasies of escape unify the stories in Australian author Paul Dalla Rosa’s debut collection