Today I read two articles arguing why Labor should not vigorously campaign to take votes from the Greens as we approach the federal election instead allowing both parties to focus attention on tackling the conservatives.
You can read the article by Dennis Altman here and by Nicholas Barry here.
I’m not getting into whether the suggestions by Altman or Barry are worthwhile aspirations instead I want to address their key points in our current political climate – and I just don’t buy the core political arguments being made.
The first broad argument is laying off the Greens can deliver a better preference deal for Labor; the second argument, Labor should see the Greens as kindred-spirits and work more cooperatively to maximise the non-conservative vote.
Both suggestions would have been useful to the Greens and Labor at last federal election but the current political climate is very different.
The preference argument doesn’t stack up for me because Labor is in the box seat where Greens preferences are concerned. Federally, voters must indicate a preference and I just don’t see how the Greens could or would, in the current political climate, encourage their supporters to preference Liberal. This leaves the question of the Senate and I think here, based on recent polling trends, it will be the Greens most in need of Labor preferences. I’m not convinced Labor could easily be convinced to back off attempts to retake votes from the Greens in this climate – there just isn’t enough in it for them.
The higher your vote the better position your party will be in to negotiate a preference deal. Labor will simply campaign hard, taking as many votes from the Greens as possible and only then make a final decision about preferences.
The second argument is Labor should work more cooperatively with the Greens to maximise the non-conservative vote. Since Labor has already devised a strategy to begin retaking many of the votes they have lost to the Greens over the last three election cycles its hard to see why Labor would now see any political benefit for themselves in soft pedaling on the Greens.
It is time the Greens realised Labor is unlikely to do them any favours prior to the federal poll – you can argue all you want about whether it is in the long-term interests of both parties but the fact is Labor is going to be interested only in their own political health. And if you listen to Labor figures like Paul Howes the Greens could well be the focus of a good deal of Labor’s attacks.
This means the Greens need to work out why their vote is softening, realise Labor will not be doing them any favours and start thinking seriously about where the preferences needed to retain senate seats are likely to come from.