Why Run If You Can't Win?


Rose Read is the Greens candidate for Goldstein in September’s federal election. Goldstein is a safe Liberal seat, won by shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb in the last three elections with an average of 53.8 per cent of the general vote.

“Are you sure you want to spend six months on losing an election?”

At the last Bayside-Glen Eira Greens branch meeting, a member wanted to make sure Read knew the commitment of running. She is confident in her reply.

“I thought long and hard about standing and ultimately felt that I had to stand up, dispel my personal doubts about my abilities and be prepared to be the face of the Greens here. I knew the campaign team would share the load,” she says.

At the preselection meeting for the Victorian seat of Goldstein, held in suburban Bentleigh in March, Read was officially confirmed as the Greens candidate. She faces a conservative electorate, which has always voted for the Liberal Party and its precursors.

When the most obvious achievement in an election (getting elected) is not possible, candidates motivate themselves by moving the goalposts. Read’s goal is to get 20 per cent of the first preference votes in Goldstein, and improve the electorate’s knowledge of Greens’ policies.

“It’s also important to make people aware of the difference the Greens’ have made in the current parliament, and for people who are still not aware of the breadth of issues that the Greens campaign on and what they stand for,” she says.

The Victorian Greens have two main priorities this federal election; the reelection of Adam Bandt MP and the election of Janet Rice to the Senate. The next priorities are the Victorian seats of Melbourne Ports and Batman.

The previous Greens candidate for Goldstein and local councillor Neil Pilling says the safe Liberal nature of the seat means there is little effort from either major party.

“We have an opportunity in Goldstein because Labor is hardly even running. In 2010 they only received 27 per cent of the vote, so there is not a lot of motivation to run it any different this year,” he says.

Pilling considers his 2010 campaign a success, as he increased the Greens vote by six per cent on 2007, to 16 per cent.

Minor parties have gone in and out of favour with voters several times in the last 20 years. There has been the rise and fall of One Nation and the fall of the Democrats. Then the Greens took their first ever seat in the federal lower house in 2010, while also having the balance of power in the Senate.

The Greens are now campaigning to have leader Christine Milne involved in any leadership debates between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Their argument is that 10 per cent of the national vote buys them access to these scuffles.

Victorian Greens state secretary Larissa Brown sees the Greens as the only place for progressive Australians to turn to, as federal Labor policies leave many traditional supporters disappointed.

“Every person who votes Greens in the federal election sends a clear message to the old parties that they care about our environment, our poor, and our refugees, and that they want a society with properly funded health care and education for all,” she says.

There are other minor party options, however. The Palmer United Party has expanded beyond its Queensland base and even recently announced a candidate for Goldstein,

Other new arrivals on the federal scene include the Future Party, the 21st Century Australia Party and Katter’s Australia Party, which won two seats at the 2012 Queensland state election.

Jamie McIntyre, founder of the 21st Century Australia Party and candidate for the NSW seat of New England, says via email that the resurgence in minor parties has come about because “the political circus in Canberra is so bad people want change”.

While he is unlikely to gain a foothold in the seat to be contested by sitting Independent Tony Windsor and Senator Barnaby Joyce, McIntyre says current “failed” government policies are the only motivation he needs.

“When you’re passionate about transforming a country’s outdated 19th Century flawed education and political systems and bringing them into the 21st Century and saving the country from inept political leaders there is plenty of natural motivation, ” he says.

Despite an ambition to promote the whole range of Greens policies, Read, who is a sustainability consultant to local councils, still picks the environment as her number one concern. She highlights the fact that bayside Goldstein would be one of the first areas to be hit if sea levels rose. Her opponent Andrew Robb is strongly sceptical of anthropomorphic climate change, nominated “small business profitability” and “retirement” in the local Leader newspaper as being the key issues he would focus on in the campaign.

The Bayside-Glen Eira Greens take a very hands-on approach to campaigning. Previously volunteers have hand-addressed and delivered thousands of campaign letters to houses in the area. Read says this will be a smaller part of the effort this year, as they will be focusing more on face-to-face contact with voters. This means approaching people in shopping centres, on busy streets and at train stations.

Opinion of the Greens has improved in the area, according to Read. When she first joined the party in the 1990s, the most damning response from people was “who?”, and so even what she calls “negative comments” are an improvement.

“I’ve been a member of the Greens and sort of working on campaigns for quite a few years now, and I notice there are more and more people who are receptive or curious, whereas in the past, certainly in the street, you’d get quite a bit of negative comments about the Greens, where people would only see you as an environmental party,” she says.

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