As a new election approaches I’ve noticed a number of comments in comment threads of articles and Facebook posts attacking the Greens leader Richard Di Natale. Typically they accuse him of not really being Green or of being right wing or secretly in league with the Liberals. None of these accusations stand up to any scrutiny, but they are clearly part of a campaign to discredit him and drive votes away from the Greens. Let’s take a look at why these claims don’t add up.
Where is the evidence?
The whole idea seems to be to construct this narrative around Di Natale taking the party in a radical new direction, but it falls down when you look at what he has actually done. The party’s principles and policies have had no significant changes under his leadership. This isn’t too surprising really, he has a very long involvement in the Greens going back at least to being the top senate candidate in Victoria in 2004, he put a lot of work into the party before becoming an MP. Whenever someone claims that he has taken the party to the right I ask which policies are right wing, and I am yet to get a response of such a policy. You can go and look at them yourself here. http://greens.org.au/policy
Rather than policies, what I usually get in response to questions for evidence are instances when the Greens have voted with the Liberal Government in the senate. The first thing to note is that none of these have been to implement right wing policies.
Senate voting reform
Recently the Greens voted for reforms to the Senate voting system. The main motivation was to get rid of Group Voting Tickets which allow parties to allocate voters’ preferences and instead require voters to express their own preferences. So as to not make voting too onerous a task, this also involved allowing ballots without a full set of preferences. While in general I support full preferencing, in a multi-member electorate like the Senate it is less important and is a good trade-off for putting preferences back in the hands of voters. In fact I previously wrote about voting reform after the 2013 election and again in 2014 when proposals were put forward, and the changes that have been made are in line with what I wanted then.
Perhaps the main point is that supporting these changes is not any radical change of direction for the Greens, Bob Brown first proposed the abolition of group voting tickets in 2004, put forward legislation for it again in 2008 and made it part of his deal with Julia Gillard in 2010. This is very long running Greens policy. In fact, you can even find a speech by Lee Rhiannon in NSW parliament in 1999 proposing similar changes there (which were subsequently brought in by the Labor government).
The main source of the idea that this was somehow right wing was some absolutely woeful reporting in the Fairfax press which just reproduced propaganda by the preference whisperers who had a vested interest in the old system. They ran a scare campaign saying that the changes would hand the Senate to the Liberals, which was based on very deceptive “modelling” which was demolished by various psephologists such as Antony Green and Kevin Bonham.
In 2007 John Howard splashed around a lot of cash in the budget, desperate to stay in Government. One example was in giving a part pension to people on higher incomes who didn’t previously get it. As a result some people with over a million dollars in assets in addition to their own homes would then qualify for a part pension. The Greens opposed this as they support welfare for those who need it most, and oppose unnecessary middle class welfare. What’s more they have consistently campaigned to improve the pension for the poorest people who rely on it.
Last year the Liberal government, suffering from their own confected budget emergency, needed to claw back some funds and proposed to change pension indexing, effectively winding back John Howard’s changes. The Greens agreed as long as the changes at the lower end went the other way, with poorer people on part pensions receiving the full pension.
Clearly this is not evidence of a recent turnaround in Greens policy since it is in agreement with their position in 2007, and it is hardly a move to right, unless you think John Howard was being a lefty by giving millionaires a pension. The confusion stems from the fact that Labor decided to take the opportunity to run a scare campaign, trying to tell pensioners that the Greens were cutting their pensions.
The full details on pension are here http://greens.org.au/node/11448
What about preference deals?
Also there has been a lot of talk from Labor types about some secret Greens/Liberals preference deal. I have seen zero evidence for such a deal, but I think I can see what their game is.
First lets back up for a minute and remember that thanks to the changes the Greens supported, no party can control anyone’s vote. The only sort of “preferencing” that can now happen is to recommend a preference on a how to vote card. It remains to be seen what people will do with Senate how to vote cards under the new rules, but for the lower house people typically provide a full set of preferences to show a formal vote on their card. An alternative is an open ticket where you ask people to vote 1 for your candidate and then choose their own preferences. The Greens have never recommended preferences for the Liberals. They have sometimes used open tickets to let voters decide for themselves. Given that they are now taking seats from the Liberals (Prahran in Victoria) and Nationals (Ballina in NSW) this makes sense, there may be many voters who would never choose Labor over Liberal, but who would give a first preference to the Greens but might be put off by a how to vote advocating a preference they disagree with.
Now there is a long history of the Liberals, particularly in Victoria, having disagreements over whether to put Labor or Greens last. This has at time had an affect on the outcomes of both Federal and State elections. Michael Kroger has very publicly been pushing the idea of preferencing Labor last, some are using this as basis for their rumours of a deal, but it seems more to do with him floating his idea to get support for it within his own party.
For Labor I think the talk of a deal is a bit of an insurance policy, if Kroger does get his way, then that puts some of their seats at risk, but they hope to get back some votes by claiming that the Greens have done a dirty deal with the Liberals, even though the Liberals are going to have to decide one way or another even in the complete absence of any deals with anybody.
It’s quite clear that the Greens will not recommend preferences for the Liberals, they would surely lose votes by handing out how to votes asking people to do this since the majority of their voters prefer Labor, on the other hand the one person who has been talking about giving preferences to the Liberals is Labor’s Michael Danby, though the party seems to have quietened things down on that.
Related to this topic is a lie that turns up from time to time to try and discredit the Greens, which suggests that Adam Bandt won his seat due to a deal with the Liberals. This is flat out false. The origin of it is that he did win with some preferences from the Liberals who put Labor last on their how to vote card, but this was their policy at the time, they put Labor last in every electorate, there was no deal. At the next election they reversed their policy and put Greens last, so their preferences went to Labor, I don’t see the same people claiming that Labor did a deal with the Liberals then, and the reason is that there was no deal in either case – given that they decided to show a full preference list then they had to put one above the other.
What is really going on?
Labor are feeling threatened by the Greens because they are in real danger of losing seats to them. As a result certain elements in Labor are trying to push the message that the Greens are now close to the Liberals. They are helped by the fact that when Labor and Liberals agree on something, as they do often, it becomes a non-issue for most of the press who focus only on a battle between Labor and Liberal for Government. The positions of these two parties set the frame for what is up for discussion, nothing else gets attention. Thus the lie that the Greens are close to the Liberals, even though they actually oppose them more than anyone else in parliament, can get some traction. The strategy is to repeat the lie often enough that it becomes accepted wisdom.