Oz Blog News Commentary

Towards deliberative Parliaments: Greens success at recent elections points the way

March 25, 2024 - 06:29 -- Admin

Elections over the last week have seen some pretty good outcomes for the Greens and some very bad outcomes for both Labor and the LNP.

Here’s what ChatGPT came up when I asked for a representation of Green Labor

In the Brisbane Council elections, the Greens got 23.1 per cent of the vote, barely behind Labor on 26.9. The combined total of exactly 50 per cent wasn’t reflected in terms of seats, mainly because of preference leakage and exhaustion, but I want to focus on the longer term implications here.

In Tasmania, the incumbent Liberals suffered a 12 per cent swing on primary votes, falling to 37 per cent, after a series of elections in which they received an absolute majority, or very close to it, on first preferences. Most of the aggregate loss went to independents and the Jacquie Lambie network with Labor and the Greens each picking up small gains.

That doesn’t mean that all the people who voted for JLN and independents switched from Liberals. More likely, the Greens (and maybe also) Labor picked up some Liberal voters, but lost ‘protest’ voters to JLN in particular. What’s really striking here is that the combined vote of Labor and the Liberals was below 66 per cent. “Other (including informal/blank)” comfortably outpolled Labor, and came close to beating the Liberals.

Finally, in the by-election for the South Australian seat of Dunstan (vacated by the former Liberal Premier), the Greens polled 22 per cent of the vote. Starting from a primary vote of 32 per cent, which would once have been considered disastrous, Labor won the seat comfortably on preferences, a rare by-election defeat for an opposition party.

Despite this striking evidence of dissatisfaction with the two-party system, journalists reported the Tasmanian outcome as a “hung Parliament”. This is a nonsense way of describing the situation. A hung jury is one that can’t reach a verdict. An election in which no party wins an outright majority of seats is a verdict rejecting the idea that the Parliament, or at least the Lower House, should be a rubber stamp for the winning party (or rather for the leader of that party) in between elections, when the voters have a chance to switch one ruling party for another. For some years, Tim Dunlop and I have been pushing the term “deliberative parliament” to describe this outcome.

The two-party system is one which is familiar and comfortable for the political class, including political journalists. It’s striking to observe that, while there are plenty of journalists who are clearly identified with either Labor or the Liberals, or can be seen as balanced between the two majors, there are none who align with the Greens, or Jacquie Lambie, or the teal independents, even in general terms.

All of these parties, along with the various rightwing parties that have won seats in Parliament are treated by the Press Gallery as alien intruders who will soon be gone. Similarly, a “hung parliament” of which we have seen at least a dozen in Australia, in recent years, is treated as an unfortunate aberration.

For the left, the big problem here is the difficulty of establishing a working relationship between Labor and the Greens. The only place this has worked consistently well is the ACT, where some form of Labor-Green coalition has held office since 2008. There are two big problems here. The first is the general problem of a centre-left coalition (or less formal arrangement) in which the centrist party (in this case Labor) is dominant, and the left party (the Greens) must take responsibility for policies that disappoint their voters. The second, local factor, is the toxic relationship between (large groups of) Green and Labor politicians and activists, of which Anthony Albanese is a notable exemplar.

One way or another, these difficulties will have to be resolved. That will take time, and perhaps some generational replacement, so that those making Labor-Green agreements won’t be distracted by the question of who did what to whom in 2010. But the days of pliant parliamentary majorities are drawing to a end, and democracy will be the better for it.