Monday, March 19, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Stunt politics fails
Super Saturday was good for the major parties, but don’t write off all the minors yet


Predictably, political commentators are lumping together Nick Xenophon’s failure in Saturday’s SA election with that of the Greens in Batman, and concluding that the major parties have got their mojo back. In today’s AFR, for example, Laura Tingle writes [$] that “two political movements which should have been able to make really big inroads into the majors have gone kerfutt, and, as a result, changed the psychology of Australian politics.” If the major parties are not credibly threatened on their left or right flank, Tingle argues, they may be freer to focus on the political centre. In The Australian, Paul Kelly writes [$] that the old empires of Liberal and Labor are “striking back” and “the hubris and limits of the minor parties are starkly revealed”.

The minor parties are not all the same. As I argued on Thursday, the Greens have nothing in common with Xenophon’s SA Best, nor with the Jacqui Lambie Network, the Palmer United Party, Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives or Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Dismissing all of these groups as homes for protest votes is simplistic. A vote for a minor party is not always a protest vote: voters who supported the DLP or the Democrats were not mere protesters. Sure, the Greens have a venerable history as a party of protest, and their parliamentary representatives were traditionally frontline activists. But over the course of three decades the Greens have developed a broad policy platform that is constructive, not purely oppositional, and which has been constantly pilfered. This effort has been completely beyond all the others, from Xenophon, Lambie, Palmer or Hanson.

Conversely, a vote for the major parties can be a protest vote: the best example is Tony Abbott’s in 2013, when he won an entirely negative mandate to stop the boats, axe the tax, and end the debt and deficit. Once he had undone everything Labor had done in the previous six years, Abbott ran completely out of ideas.

Securing 13.7 per cent of the primary vote was not a bad first outing for SA Best but – you can bet any money – that vote will not be repeated. Xenophon himself conceded over the weekend that he was “stretched too thin”, running too many candidates and not focusing enough on the seat he was contesting, Hartley. SA Best’s silly Bollywood ad tanked. It is anybody’s guess what happens next with three bedraggled NXT federal MPs – down one senator since Tim Storer, sworn in today [$], went rogue and turned independent – or the two SA Best state MPs that were elected on Saturday. At state and federal level, the next elections will be tough for Xenophon’s protégés.

It is not the same story for the Greens, who have been contesting elections since 1972, if you count the original United Tasmania Group, or 1983 if you count Bob Brown’s election to the state parliament on a countback, or 1984 if you count the NSW Greens’ first (unofficial) outing, or 1993 if you count the first federal election the Australian Greens contested. At last count the party has 37 MPs around the country – a level of success neither the DLP nor the Democrats ever achieved, and which has come slowly and painfully, with breakthroughs and heavy reversals along the way. The Greens finished 2017 strongly with historic wins in Victoria’s Northcote and Queensland’s Maiwar, plus a measure of vindication on the citizenship saga and same-sex marriage, but they have made a shocking start to 2018. Suddenly there’s a litany of woes: a dismal performance in the Tasmanian election, now too in South Australia, plus the loss in Batman, scorched-earth factional warfare in NSW, and now a flare-up of speculation over Richard Di Natale’s leadership. Anything could happen from here: future growth is not inevitable, but it is overstating things to say that the Greens have wiped out after Saturday.

Hopefully the Batman by-election and South Australian election will prove to be a historic tipping point: away from stunt-driven, policy-free, personality politics, and a shift back to a more substantive, serious politics. If they don’t self-destruct, the Greens should have a place in that debate.

since this morning

Fairfax Media reports that the Turnbull government is aiming to have the Senate vote on its company tax cuts within two weeks as it intensifies its crossbench lobbying efforts.

From the banking royal commission, the ABC reports the ANZ stands accused of breaking responsible lending laws by taking no steps to verify the living expenses declared by mortgage applicants.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has told radio 2GB that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is “absolutely right” about the need to prioritise white South African farmers through Australia’s refugee program.

The Australian reports that the Greens have blamed the federal government’s failure to address climate change for a cyclone and bushfires that have ravaged communities across Australia over the past 48 hours.

in case you missed it

The Guardian reports that Richard Di Natale has called for the expulsion of Greens members responsible for leaks against the party’s candidate, Alex Bhathal, before the loss in the Batman by-election.

The ABC’s business editor, Ian Verrender, writes that the tax system overwhelmingly favours older Australians

At a pro-life rally in Brisbane on Sunday, the outspoken Liberal National MP George Christensen, joined by the incoming Queensland senator Amanda Stoker, hit out at his own government for funding abortion services in Australia and around the world.

by Mungo MacCallum
Unholy trinity suffers a setback
The sacking of Roman Quaedvlieg is only a minor impediment to Dutton’s plan

by Jo Chandler
The Totten hots up
A major Antarctic glacier is becoming dangerously unstable

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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