Against expectations, The Greens held their seats at the election, winning a Senator in each state and re-electing Adam Bandt in Melbourne. Their Senate vote increased in Queensland and South Australia in particular. This was an indication of the desire for more serious change than Labor was offering, on climate change in particular.

But leader Richard Di Natale ran a campaign that focused on trying to win votes in wealthy and middle class areas around issues like Adani.

In Victoria, the party’s focus seats included blue ribbon Liberal areas in Higgins and Kooyong, where The Greens ran high profile barrister Julian Burnside. Di Natale summed up the logic by saying, “people in seats like Kooyong, traditional Liberal voters, want action on climate change”.

Their hopes of picking up new lower house seats did not eventuate. In other target seats including Wills, Cooper and Grayndler, The Greens’ vote declined.

And the focus on winning over Liberal voters will lead The Greens away from emphasising policies such as union rights and taxing the rich that turn off wealthy Liberals.

By contrast the party failed to see the importance of the union Change the Rules campaign. So while The Greens had very good policies on industrial relations on paper, the issue was almost completely absent from their campaign.

And the way The Greens often depict Labor and the Liberals as just the same does nothing to help win over unionists and working class Labor voters.

With over 1.1 million voters in the lower house, The Greens could play a significant role in building and championing union struggles and social movements outside of parliament. But The Greens have moved a long way from their social movement roots as a radical force campaigning to shift politics.

Federal leader Richard Di Natale’s focus is almost exclusively on parliament. When he outlined the party’s achievements during the election campaign he simply pointed to parliamentary motions on marriage equality, the Banking Royal Commission and the refugee Medevac Bill.

Instead of a force shaking up the political status quo his appeal to Labor was for a repeat of the disastrous period of the Gillard Labor government when the party struck an alliance with The Greens, saying, “I would hope Shorten would show the maturity that Julia Gillard demonstrated”.

But the left’s future lies opposing the increasingly distrusted political system, not in helping to run it.

By James Supple

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