Big green vision


Polling by ACNielsen published yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald shows that as many as 12 percent of Australian voters will vote Green in the Senate next Saturday.

Expect this prediction to be dampened by ferocious attacks this week from the Coalition. Howard knows that if Labor leader Latham is elected — and it all hangs on the balance — it’s most likely to be on Green votes, which could surge up to or even beyond the million primary level on 9 October. Some of these votes will be in key marginal seats, where the election outcome lies in the balance.

The reality of this quiet groundswell has encouraged Latham to take the $800 million plunge, for the forest, jobs and green votes in Tasmania.

In the longer term the Labor Party stands to lose seats, and hearts and minds, to the new green sentiment. For example, consider Gemma Pinnell, Greens candidate for Melbourne, up against left-wing Labor incumbent Lindsay Tanner. Pinnell is a 31 year old union official who grew up in Richmond, and has been a student activist interested in public education, women’s issues, refugees, and young people’s rights. She served as the National Women’s Officer for the National Union of Students. Her concerns include inner urban environmental issues, free university education, same-sex marriage, and industrial relations. In the State election, Pinnell won 48% of the two-party preferred vote. Which party would Pinnell have naturally stood for twenty years ago? Labor.

No longer. Young people who once upon a time would have voted for or worked themselves into Labor Party careers are crossing the Green line. Pinnell isn’t alone. Alison Xamon is the Greens candidate for the inner city of Perth and is — guess what? — a union official, with a history of activism in the areas of education, East Timor, indigenous rights, the feminist movement, gay and lesbian rights, anti-nuclear and peace campaigns, the forests and animal rights. Like Pinnell, Xamon has just started her career.

What should this be signalling to Labor? And look at Hobart: in the Greens’ epicentre, Denison, candidate Helen Burnet is a podiatrist, but she’s also the Health and Community Services Union delegate at her hospital, and president of the union’s health professional sub-branch. Unionism used to mean supporting Labor. Now people who care about the red and the green have someone to vote for.

But the threat is not just to Labor. Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson may rail against the watermelon Greens, but it’s more his own constituency he’s trying to hold. The National Party in Western Australia, for example, has on several important occasions found common cause with the Greens, most notably around forestry and globalisation issues. Three out of five Green upper house seats in Western Australia are in rural and remote electorates, not metropolitan ones. The Greens run candidates with backrounds in landcare expertise or small business and professional occupations.

Once the Greens were criticised for being single issue; now Howard criticises the Greens for trying to portray themselves as a one-issue party so that no-one talks about their other policies.

He might be worried. In the city, disenfranchised Liberals who may be fiscally conservative but socially progressive have somewhere else to dip their toes. Swinging voters are looking to curb the PM in the Senate. In Bennelong, John Howard has ex-ONA Andrew Wilkie campaigning against him, aided by 500 not-happy-John volunteers who letterboxed Bennelong three times before the PM even declared the election. Former Liberal President John Valder seems to quietly regard Greens Wilkie as the best candidate. If voters start putting Howard last on their ballot paper, it won’t be just ankle-biting. Should Howard’s vote drop down to around 45%, with voters preferencing Greens after their first choice, there is an astonishing chance that Howard might lose his seat even if the Libs win the election.

At the minimum, the Australian Greens could just score two extra senators, keeping the total number of Green Senators next July 1 down to four, denying them party status in parliament. The House of Representatives election could just see a tidy result in the twenty percentiles, but no more. But if things go differently, and all the not happyjohns and preferences line up, the Australian Greens would score a senator from each state, and one from the ACT, giving nine senators in all by next July; Michael Organ would keep his seat and make history; and a seat like Melbourne or Sydney might fall.

Whatever happens, Greens look like keeping a presence, if not continuing to steadily rise — somewhat unnoticed, but winning in idiosyncratic ways, changing Australia’s political landscape. Without Labor, Liberals or the mainstream press having a clue about what’s going on.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.