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In both state elections this weekend, the Greens have won fairly decisive victories. With punishing votes against the Labor party in heartland seats, the SA Rann Government is clinging onto government by sole virtue of the fact the Liberals weren’t a sufficiently promising alternative. The deal is a whole lot worse in Tasmania where the Labor government has suffered the worst possible defeat. Not only has it lost government, but the Liberals have not succeeded in getting a majority of seats either… they are reliant on the Green minority.

It’s not really surprising – after all, the Liberals are fairly disorganised at the state level just about everywhere and unable to mount an effective Opposition, whereas Tasmania has always been the Green’s strongest state – Bob Brown founded the party there, and they’ve had consistently strong primary votes (rather than relying on preferences like everywhere else).

This is a big blow to Bartlett in Tasmania because ALP strategy has been focussed on one thing, and one thing only – do not let the Greens grow any bigger. That’s why Peter Garrett has yet to be fired, or demoted to the rank of pond scum. He’s needed to keep the inner city votes in the ALP. It’s why Rudd refused to negotiate with the Greens in the Senate to pass the Emissions Trading Bill and focussed on the Liberals. He doesn’t want them to gain a higher profile, or any sort of power. As the ALP moves closer to the centre, it’s wary of being flanked from the left by the Greens. And the ALP must inevitably move towards the centre (just as the Liberals must) because that’s where the evidence lies. Sometimes left-wing ideas work, and sometimes right-wing ideas work. If you abandon the centre to fight the Greens, you abandon the richest part of the electorate – independent voters who care about works, the voters who swing seats.

But, for my part, I think that gaining power will be the downfall of the Greens. Their brand of ultra-left policies only works if its never implemented. There are many logical critiques of capitalism which I think are quite valid, but they can’t be implemented in the piecemeal fashion that a minority party would be able to implement. A piecemeal approach where some regulations are much tougher than others are what (partially) causes the US regulatory problem (and therefore, the Global Financial Crisis). Plus, you’ll find that many Greens policies tend to be impromptu reactions to bad government (or opposition) policy and tend to be ideologically contradictory. For example, they’ll take a laissez faire attitude to crimes like drug use or terrorism but a very harsh, “innocence is no defence” approach to crimes like war crimes or anti-competitive behaviour. Once you actually implement their policies, and begin to see some of the (obvious) negative consequences, the Greens begin to lose a lot of their lustre. It’s all very well to condemn free markets, but once you’re in government and start implementing protectionist measures that raise the price of goods (and hurt jobs) people begin to lose trust in you.

The Greens, to their credit, are cannier than you might think. They realise that they aren’t an ideological force so much as a brand name. They don’t have detailed policies anywhere on their website, and they stick to a few core issues their base cares about. To force them into a position of actual power (namely a ministerial position) would force them to have detailed positions, which could seriously hurt them in the long run. That’s why neither the SA or Tas Greens are willing to form a coalition government with either Labor or Liberal. They’re perfectly happy to play the minority party. They’ll vote for everything but a few key pieces of legislation that they know their base will support. It’s actually quite smart really.

If I were the new government, I would offer to make the Greens my Treasurer. That would be hilarious.

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2 Comments

  1. If the Greens can grit their teeth enough to participate in a competent government, then wouldn’t they support the idea that they could actually be responsible in government and make it easier for Tasmanians to vote for them in the future? A big if granted, but this could be the start of a decisive shift.

  2. The Greens have an idealistic platform (I say this not as a criticism, but as a description of their valuable role in reminding us of our ideals)

    Their core constituency consists of people who want policies which may not be able to be implemented. Hence, whilst Greens gain ground by being part of a “responsible government” in some constituencies, they lose their core constituency.

    The problem is that if you’re part of government, you can’t just pass bills on minor issues like legalising marijuana, you have to pass bills on every issue. And even stuff like protecting trees can cause issues with the CFMEU. When you try to turn idealism into concrete reality, you always always run into difficulties eventually. And that’s why the Greens should avoid taking office at all costs.


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