Opinion and Analysis

The Batman by-election, triggered by the resignation of often controversial, often clumsy Labor MP David Feeney over doubts about his citizenship status and eligibility to sit in Parliament, was an election that pitted Labor and the Greens against each other in a two way contest. For the Greens, it was a question as to whether the party could cement its status as a significant political force in the once safe Labor strongholds in the inner city of Melbourne. It was also a test for Labor and whether they could potentially hold off the Greens, or whether these once safe seats falling to the Greens is an eventual inevitability.

This by-election told us that Labor, with the right combination of candidate and policy, can hold off the Greens. Though despite their win in Batman, Labor are still far more pessimistic about their long-term fortunes in these electorates, as one Labor source told me: "Ged Kearney has bought us a term, maybe two at most, in Batman. As house prices rise, the old working class is gradually being replaced by a wealthier younger demographic, people who's parents voted Liberal, who are economically liberal but socially progressive; they care about refugees and environment but the base economic concerns that working class people face don't really register with these voters. If Malcolm Turnbull was running the Liberal Party how he wanted to, or if the Greens didn't exist: these voters would probably vote Liberal".

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Back in June of this year, I remarked that if the Federal Greens Party Room expelled NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon from sitting in the Federal Greens party room, that it would spell the end of radical grassroots leftist politics within the Greens. That did not eventuate, but it wound culminate in a preselection contest between Rhiannon and soft-left contender (who was backed by the centrists and other careerists within the party) NSW MLC Mehreen Faruqi. Make no mistake, despite Faruqi's own political brand, and the fact that a number of her supporters talk her up as being "just as left-wing" as Rhiannon, it does spell the end of the Greens being the radical political party it was founded as, as the party as a whole chases the middle ground in the name of being respectable and electable.

Though difference in ideology no doubt had some influence in the preselection result: the biggest factor was undoubtedly differences in style and presentation. While Lee Rhiannon is an old school activist, rooted in the ideals that change is best achieved through the creation of social movements, as well as in socialism and almost unrelenting criticism of capitalism and neoliberalism and the need to change the system; Faruqi's style is more focused on pragmatism and achieving incremental change that doesn't upset the apple cart (read: the Murdoch press and the conservative forces it supports) to a great extent. The defeat of Rhiannon by such a large margin will be felt most heaviest by the Greens in NSW, but it will also be felt across the country, and the message is clear: be respectable and do deals even if it means sacrificing principles, and especially don't attract negative media attention, or get out of the party.

There's been no doubt that the party was already heading down the trajectory of respectability and achieving a peaceful coexistence with the status quo rather than advocating for radical change, but the Federal leadership of Richard Di Natale has all but amplified this process in all divisions of the Greens; and while the leadership of Christine Milne allowed both radical and pragmatic elements within the Greens to exist together without any major public spillage; the leadership of Richard Di Natale has all but emboldened the more opportunistic elements of the party to rally against the radical elements, who have been under increasing attack in the last year by the former elements at the rank-and-file level that has seen increased media coverage as a result, in order to weed such people out of the party.

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We are seeing it happen again: One Nation is outpolling the Greens, according to the latest Newspoll. Not only this, but they are outpolling the Greens by their widest margin yet. Yes, this is the same One Nation of that is chastised for possible electoral fraud. The same One Nation that is being investigated by the Australian Electoral Commission for not declaring donations made to it. The same One Nation whose candidates and representatives consistently distorts the truth, and merely only pretend to stand up for everyday Australians.

The Greens, by contrast, are almost perfectly and seemingly clean; at least on the surface, anyway. So much so they go to great lengths to ensure that they can't possibly be portrayed in a negative light in a way that they can't defend their way out of - to the point that they'll even water down potentially controversial (read: radical) platform positions to avoid negative media attention. Yes, One Nation, the Russel Coight of Australian politics, the party where "if something can go wrong with it, it will"; is outpolling the Greens (sorry, I don't have a suitable analogy here); a party that goes to great lengths to keep out of any sort of trouble.

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There is no denying it. Unemployment is a social burden, and a major driver of inequality in our society. There are a few countries now flirting with the idea of giving everyone cash payments with no obligations as one way of resolving this. The Greens platform advocates for a UBI, and it’s time for our Government to seriously look at the idea as well.

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In the event of a marriage equality plebiscite, all supporters of equal marriage in Australia must fight tooth and nail for the yes cause. It does not matter if you, like me, are opposed to the whole idea of a plebiscite. It does not matter on what grounds you are opposed to a plebiscite; whether it be on monitory grounds or on the grounds that equal rights should not be subject to a popular vote. It does not matter. We must all fight and campaign for the yes cause.

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It is easy to dismiss Pauline Hanson supporters as simply a bunch of redneck racist troglodytes; indeed, the most vocal of her support base fall very well into this category, and browsing her echo chamber on social media also makes it incredibly easy to get this impression. However, more than 4% of all voters across the country put a '1' in the box next One Nation, in the Senate, at this year's federal election, including more than 9% of Queenslanders. A few hundred vocal people on Facebook is not representative of the hundreds of thousands of others who voted the way they did.

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A battle between the Greens, Liberal Party and Labor is playing out in the seat of Melbourne Ports, with the Greens only a couple of percent behind the sitting Labor MP, who are both well behind the Coalition candidate. This seat will be a repeat of the state seat of Prahran in the 2014 Victorian State Election, whereby preferences from minor party and independent candidates allowed the Greens candidate to leapfrog from third into second place ahead of Labor, allowing the Greens to take the seat on the back of Labor preferences.

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There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the electability of Nick Xenophon, or more specifically, his new party that he is now leading, and that is standing candidates in a number of seats around the country. But is the Nick Xenophon Team really a good alternative for progressive voters who are tired of the major parties? I'm not so sure. I may be biased in assessing this, but there are some serious issues when it comes to Xenophon that need to be addressed.

Granted, Nick X has been a reliable and relatively progressive voice in the Senate; and he is literally the most popular politician in the state of South Australia, which is where he sits as a Senator for. He is good at marketing himself as a mainstream alternative for progressive Labor voters, and small-l Liberal voters alike, and he is good at getting himself into the media by making a mockery of himself. One thing he is not good at, and has a sketchy history of, however, is selecting credible support candidates that aren't borderline crazy.

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I have been seeing a lot of nonsense claims in recent weeks that claim that the Greens support for Senate voting reform will send them the 'the way of the Democrats', or that Richard Di Natale is the 'Meg Lees of the Greens', among other similar lines. Not only is it ridiculous (and a borderline fallacy) to compare the implementation of voting reform with the implementation of a regressive tax (it's like comparing apples and oranges), it is also a ridiculous argument that the Democrats' support of the GST was the sole instigator of their downfall. Fact is, there were a number of factors that led to the downfall of the Democrats that don't apply to the Greens at all.

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I've been getting a few people saying that the Senate voting changes will cause 'vote splitting'. I think this is better addressed as a separate post rather than in the post about the Senate voting reform.

First of all, for those who don't know - vote splitting occurs whereby there are two or more ideologically aligned candidates in an election, causing the vote to be split between them. This ultimately results in the candidate of the opposing ideology being successful. It is often talked about that the Labor and the Greens vote splits between each other in House of Representative seats, resulting in lower primary votes for the Labor Party when compared to the Liberal Party/National Party. However, because of full-preferential voting (and even in states that use optional preferential voting), this doesn't result in the final outcome favouring the Coalition, as it would in a first-past-the-post system.

Because of the potential for vote splitting in a first-past-the-post system; this has people ultimately gravitating towards two major parties (one on the Left, the other on the Right) and see's those who would normally vote for minor parties, vote for the corresponding major party in the form of tactical voting, generally out of fear that the candidate they oppose the most will otherwise win the seat. This ultimately sees two major parties dominate, and smaller parties fall. Look at the United States as an example, in particular.

Now, with that out of the way: claims that Senate voting changes to abolish group voting tickets and moving to part-preferential voting above and below the line would result in the progressive vote being split is absolute hog-wash.

  1. Vote splitting, as mentioned above, can only really occur in a first-past-the-post system, and can only really occur where people are elected into single-member constituencies. The only situation where vote splitting can occur in a multi-member constituency is if the winner takes all system is used.
     
  2. Senators are elected proportionately, into multi-member constituencies (being, the states), not into single member constituencies, and this isn't changing.
     
  3. Because voters will still have to direct preferences regardless of whether they vote above the line or below the line; the vote won't be split between progressive parties because votes to unsuccessful progressive parties and candidates will still flow according to voters choice.
     
  4. The savings provision for above the line voting very likely won't factor in because, believe it or not, a vast majority of voters actually read the instructions on the ballot paper (which will instruct them to number at least six boxes above the line) when they vote. If they didn't, there would be an alarmingly high rate of informal voting in the House of Representatives.

In fact, a vast majority of proportional systems around the developed world don't use preferential voting at all, and these systems still see considerable political diversity. Claims that vote splitting will occur as a result of giving individual voters more power simply doesn't stack up to fact.

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