As was reported in the mainstream media and on a few different blog posts, it was announced this week that I would run for the House of Representatives seat of Brisbane for the Greens. Having spent nearly 11 years in the Senate as a Democrat, and another nine years before that in a wide range of roles within the Democrats, it’s an interesting change on a few counts.
Deciding to stick my head up again as a political candidate after 16 months of being able to get involved in issues without a party label on my head is not without its impact. I had just about fully adjusted to being a private citizen and activist without any political party involvement, so I had to be quite sure I was prepared to once again jump back into politics. The dismally inadequate response from both major parties to the issue of climate change played a key role in convincing me to put my hand up as a candidate again, although there is no shortage of other issues also needing more attention than they’re currently getting.
Getting involved in the Greens is not much of an adjustment from the Democrats, apart from having to get a better handle on some of the structures and who some of the office holders are. The Greens are still evolving and have developed a broader focus in recent years, and have been shifting into the space and role the Democrats used to play in the Senate. There are far more similarities than differences in the past policy approaches of the two parties. They’ve shown they’re willing to negotiate and compromise, and have put a lot more effort into participating in Committee inquiries — something which is hard to do with a only small number of senators.
The Greens have even taken on a few of the private senators bills originally produced by Democrat senators, including one of mine requiring a parliamentary vote before troops can be sent into combat overseas, which has been reintroduced by WA senator Scott Ludlam.
Despite the obvious fact that the Greens have now become the third party in Australian politics, it should be recognised that they still only have five Senators. The Democrats had more than that from the mid 1980s onwards, right up until their final few years. It was still very hard work being in a team of just 8 or 9 Senators, so for the Greens to have even fewer than that means some issues just cannot be fully engaged with.
This makes the next election crucial for the Greens in a number of ways. The first goal is to obtain sole balance of power in the Senate. This will be dependant on the Coalition losing Senate seats, as well as Greens gaining them.
It is still a difficult ask for a third party to break through in an entrenched two-party system. But that is what has to be the goal for a party such as the Greens if they are not to tread water by only having one or two senators from each state into the foreseeable future.
The Greens tactics will also include concerted pushes in a number of House of Representatives seats with a goal of winning at least one. Like the Democrats, the Greens vote has been smaller for lower house seats in recent times than in the Senate, a pattern which for the Democrats reflected their Senate focus and profile, For the Greens, a higher vote in the House of Representatives will almost certainly also translate into a higher Senate vote. Running a strong and credible campaign in a House of Representatives seat should therefore assist the chances of achieving the Greens’ goals in the Senate, as well as strengthening and broadening the Greens vote base. This is one of the key reasons I decided to contest a House of Representatives seat, rather than try for a Senate spot, despite the differences in campaigning for a lower house seat.
Winning a House of Representatives seat would be a bonus and a breakthrough — something the Democrats failed to achieve, despite a couple of close calls. Seats such as Grayndler, Sydney and Melbourne, and perhaps one or two others, should be goals for the Greens and winning them is not out of the question. Getting the seat of Brisbane up on to that list is a goal for the party and for me.
The Coalition will inevitably lose one of their four Senators in Queensland up for election this time — which will be Russell Trood, who is stuck at number four on the single ticket of the merged Liberal National Party (a bit of a shame really, as he is one of the Coalition’s more thoughtful contributors). There needs to be at least one more Coalition seat lost in one of the states for the Greens to hold the balance of power on their own, although the likely failure of Family First to retain their sole seat from Victoria and the fact that Nick Xenophon won’t be running this time (unless it’s a double dissolution) means there will probably end up being only one person sharing the Senate cross-benches with the Greens.
Apart from aiming to gain the balance of power, another core Senate goal for the Greens will be to increase the size of their representation. Only two of the five are up for election again at next year’s poll — Christine Milne (Tasmania) and Rachel Siewert (WA). Milne is very likely to be re-elected. Siewert’s position is not as safe, but she is still in with a good chance. The big opportunity for the Greens doesn’t lie in retaining these seats, it is how well they go at picking the four or five extra seats that are potentially winnable for them.
Unless their primary vote is close to a quota (approx 14.3 per cent of the primary vote) by themselves, minor parties are always dependent on preferences from both smaller and larger parties. The way these preferences flow is itself complicated by factors such as how much the two major parties poll relative to each other. This makes predications difficult. But there is no doubt the Greens have a credible chance of new Senate seats in all six states, as well as the possibility of a chance in the ACT if they can get a strong candidate. Given they currently have no federal representation at all from the three biggest states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland, it will be crucial for their community and media presence (as well as the sharing of their parliamentary workload) for them to get seats in these three places.
Queensland is particularly important for the Greens, as unlike every other state and territory they have no representation at any level of government here, including local government. The need to regain a Queensland voice in the Senate outside of the two major parties is one of the key reasons I decided to lend my weight to the Greens and get back out there as a candidate. The gap created in a state’s representation by not having a member in the Senate from a third party — for the first time since 1981 — is very obvious, at least to me. As well, a seat in Queensland will give the Greens a presence across the nation.
The more seats, the more profile and the more resources, as well a chance to better share the workload. This makes it important for the Greens, and for the future shape of the Senate, for the Greens to make a very strong effort to win every Senate seat they are a chance in.
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