Goodbye Greens & Death of the Dems?


Did last Super Saturday’s elections signal the death in their home States of the two progressive forces in Australian politics?

Yes and no.

The Democrats disaster was more like the twitching of a week-old corpse than the death of a vibrant political force, and is the natural result of half a decade’s infighting. The Greens were, at face value, also on the way to the morgue. Certainly, Greens leader Peg Putt resembled a political leader who’s used up all her cards when she conceded defeat with a spectacular dummy spit.

Thanks to Michael Atchinson

In seeing their Tasmanian seats reduced, the Greens fell victim to their own rhetoric. During the campaign, Putt’s ambitious suggestion that she might be Deputy Premier in a coalition government with Labor clearly failed to resonate with the electorate. And the catcalls and jeering from the floor of the tally room that greeted her rantings on Saturday night, reflected the turbulent nature of the campaign.

But as the dust settles, it’s not at all clear that the Greens are headed for the political cemetery unless they decide to wheel their own corpse there through a lack of political nous. They polled more than 16 per cent of the vote, and the swing against them was under 2 per cent less, in fact, than the swing against Lennon’s Labor Government.

Although most polls showed a gradual shift back towards Labor in the final two weeks of the campaign, the early polls suggested a very different result back in week three, they were showing a minority government as a likely outcome. And even the day before the election The Mercury published a poll suggesting 12 seats for Labor, seven for the Liberals, and five for the Greens, with one undecided.

Last week, we said in New Matilda that the final Statewide result could be closer to ALP 12, Liberals 9, Greens 4. Although the Liberals were campaigning well on the ground, we overestimated how this would play out through the tricky Hare-Clark system.

So why were more people saying they were going to vote for the Greens than actually put a number in the Greens box, in the privacy of the voting booth?

Putt blamed it on a ‘huge and vicious’ grubby campaign, and fingered a conspiracy of Labor, the Liberal Opposition and big business. Throw in a shadowy religious group, and you might almost have a plot for the X-Files. But was she on the money?

As we said last Wednesday: ‘ With all this flak directed against them, it will be very hard for the Greens to win the extra seats they need to gain leverage on government. ‘ To suggest that what happened was a conspiracy is like mistaking The Da Vinci Code for non-fiction. There’s no need for conspiracy theories when the best political strategy for both sides was to try to wipe out the Greens. And there are obvious reasons why big business which in Tasmania means loggers and polluters doesn’t want the Greens holding the balance of power.

What about the wayward polls? As a general rule, voting-intention surveys underestimate the conservative vote and overstate Left-wing support. Partly this is because of inherent bias in poll samples people who refuse to answer or say they are undecided are more likely to be conservative.

The shift back to Labor as the campaign progressed could be showing that, as more and more polls began to predict a minority Labor Government, some people who had intened to vote for the Greens early on changed their minds because that was not actually the outcome they wanted. While people may want to vote Greens, they sometimes don’t actually want the Greens to win. It’s as if they want to assuage their conscience (I’m a good person, I want to protect the environment) and absolve themselves of responsibility (don’t blame me, I voted for the Greens), while at the same time they don’t want the economic disaster that it was widely perceived would result from another minority government (I want my job to be safe and I have a mortgage to pay).

Are the Greens reaching the limits of their potential support? Changing demographics indicate otherwise. Much was made during the Tasmanian campaign of ‘gay seachangers and treechangers’ moving from the mainland to small-town Tassie, and helping change attitudes as they set up small businesses in tourism and hospitality. This is just one element in a broader movement that is clearly yet to mature in Australia.

The Democrats in SA are a different story. The current fuss about the demise of the Democrats is the news equivalent of a doctor pronouncing the Lindow man dead.

People have different expectations of different Parties. No one expects the Libs to be warm and fuzzy. People do expect Labor to have some social principles and be good on things like health and education. How much more do they expect of a Party whose slogan was ‘keep the bastards honest’? Let’s just say it didn’t involve turning around and letting the GST through without consulting with their members, as they were supposed to. From that time onwards they were the walking dead. The swing against them of 4.6 per cent in Saturday’s South Australian election was merely rigor mortis finally setting in.

The party’s poor showing nationally at the 2004 Federal election came off a lower base, but was a similar swing of 4.2 per cent.

Can the Democrats recover? There’s only room for one Lazarus in Australian politics he’s in Kirribilli House and not calling the removalists any time soon.

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.