“TOGETHER WE have made history today”, Adam Bandt declared, as he became the first Green to win a lower house seat in a general election. The surge to The Greens shows that, despite Gillard’s effort to race Abbott to the right, larger numbers than ever want a left-wing alternative. The swing to the Greens was 3.7 per cent, bigger than the 1.9 per cent swing to the Coalition. They will now have nine seats in the Senate, and the balance of power.
On the key issues of the campaign, where Labor capitulated to the Liberals, The Greens stood as a principled alternative. They called for an end to the demonisation of refugees, ending the war in Afghanistan, serious action on climate change, gay marriage, opposed the NT Intervention and stood up for union rights.
Adam Bandt was elected in the seat of Melbourne on the back of one of the most left-wing Greens campaigns in the county.
Damien Lawson, strategy and communications advisor to Adam Bandt told Solidarity: “This was a people powered campaign backed by some of the most progressive sections of the Victorian union movement. But fundamental to The Greens’ success was the popular and progressive political platform that expressed the values and concerns of people in Melbourne.”
Bandt made it clear that he was against the prospect of a Tony Abbott government and advocated a vote 1 for The Greens and 2 for Labor. This was in contrast to many other Greens local campaigns which treated Liberal and Labor as the same as each other.
But the hope that Bandt would be a left-wing voice within The Greens seems to be in doubt already.
The possibility that Bandt’s vote in the lower house might be needed to prop up the government has seen pressure on him to fall in behind the Greens’ electoralist strategy.
Key figures in the party want to position it as a moderate centre party that is open to forming a coalition government with either Labor or the Liberals. Bandt’s principled stand of backing Labor was at odds with this. So since his election he has started qualifying his statements about siding with Labor, saying that he will also talk to Abbott. He has also echoed Bob Brown and the independents’ promise of “stable and effective” government.
This shift is also noticeable in his position on climate change. He previously supported calls for direct government investment in renewable energy, and rightly warned that emissions trading meant, “giving the people responsible for the financial crisis another instrument to play with”. But during his election campaign he fell behind not just the idea of a carbon price but emissions trading as well. Speaking at the National Press Club a few days after the election he advocated, “a two stage process as set out by Ross Garnaut, that is first let’s put a price on carbon, a fixed price, and have that in place until we have a fully fledged robust emissions trading system up and running”.
This slide to the right is the consequence of an electoral strategy based on The Greens using the balance of power to work with government. But instead of dragging the government to the left, so far it has only dragged The Greens to the right.
The drift will continue unless The Greens and others build movements outside parliament that can really shift politics.