“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 Greens increased their vote by 3.6 per cent in the lower house and almost 4 per cent in the Senate to record 12.96 per cent of the vote nationally. They may end up with as many as nine seats in the Senate, and will hold 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, 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. 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.
Key figures in the party want to position it as a moderate centre party which also chases Liberal votes and is open to forming a coalition government with either Labor or the Liberals. On election night Bob Brown left open the prospect of co-operating with Tony Abbott, saying, “Whether it’s an Abbott government or a Gillard government we will work with that government”.
This shows the danger in The Greens focus on winning the balance of power and negotiating with the government of the day. An Abbott government would be a disaster, and would be recognised as such by the majority of Greens voters. If Abbott cobbles together a government the most important thing for The Greens and the left to do is to make it clear that we oppose his real agenda and will fight him every step of the way.
The Greens should be prepared to use their parliamentary numbers to block Abbott’s agenda where they can—and help build campaigns outside parliament to force him back where this is necessary. And since the Liberals agree with Labor on much of their agenda The Greens numbers may often not matter.
The Greens’ numbers in the Senate will not be enough to force either a Gillard or an Abbott government to act on climate change, gay marriage or stop the fear mongering on refugees. They would only be able to block new government bills.
Whoever emerges as Prime Minister the vote for The Greens should be an encouragement that there is a wide base of support for the fightback which will be necessary to really shift politics in this country.