Podcast #11 – Greens seats in Victoria


In this episode, I talk to El Gibbs and Paddy Manning about the Victorian election, with a particular focus on inner-city Greens contests.

This was the first episode recorded at the studios of 2SER radio in Sydney. Thanks to them for the help with the show.

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  1. More analysis from “experts” claiming the Greens are in a bad place that completely ignores the reality of the situation. The facts are that at the 2016 federal election the Greens increased their primary vote by a massive 300,000+ additional votes and received the second highest swing in the House of Reps of any party (only behind Xenophon who’s vote was all but confined to SA and has since collapsed). The undeniable truth is that the Greens are stronger now than they ever have been and continue to grow at a rapid rate. Conservative commentators have been claiming the Greens are “dead” or dying for literally decades yet they continue to go from strength to strength.

  2. Yes, if you look at trends from Europe, its the mainstream centre-left parties that are dying, not the Greens. Look at the SPD, PS and PD in Germany, France and Italy. I wouldn’t discount that happening here too eventually.

  3. I don’t think any of us claimed that the Greens are dying… Paddy quoted a friend saying that as an example of groups of activists who’ve been alienated by the Vic Greens.

  4. In my opinion, if the Greens vote in this state election stays flat (or perhaps even regresses a little) it will say very little about broader Greens trends and will mostly just be an indication of progressive voters’ approval of the Andrews government.

    Remember he was quite unknown in 2014 and therefore so were the ALP’s progressive credentials. Four years later he has a huge profile and popularity with left-wing voters and his government has proven itself to be the most progressive in the country by far.

    That difference in the Andrews factor between 2014 & 2018 alone is likely to shift some ALP-Greens swing voters back to the ALP, which in effect will probably neutralise any broader natural growth in the Greens vote at least for this election.

    Next year’s federal election will be more reflective of the natural Greens trend in my opinion, because the wider differences between the ALP & The Greens (in voters eyes anyway) is more typical of the norm.

    Looking at my local area, I expect that the ALP’s share of the combined ALP-Greens vote will be better in Prahran & Albert Park than it will be in the corresponding Macnamara & Higgins booths next year.

  5. If/when Labor enter a sequence of coalition governments with the Liberals, then the recent surge in support for the German Greens will be a relevant comparison to Australia. In France and Italy Green parties have not at all been beneficiaries of the collapse of the establishment centre-left. The suggestion of a Green tide sweeping across Europe has been well debunked by more neutral analysts. They are doing well in some countries, and not so well in others.

  6. El is terribly wrong when she says Greens haven’t done anything about Daniel Andrews sell off of Public Housing.

    The Vic Greens have actually be campaigning quite forcefully on this issues, and have had large presence in all the rallies and have been quite vocal against them in Parliament. Sam Habbins had a meeting with the Public housing tenants just yesterday.

  7. I believe the Greens are in a bad place. Look at the Fremantle by-election the Greens weren’t even the second party (2 Party preferred) in the end. Fremantle used to be a Greens Bastion. The Greens held the state seat, yet could not even get into second place (2 Party Preferred). Then look at Batman – a seat that should have been won and yet was lost. The Greens are in a Bad Place.

  8. I don’t think El Gibbs’s implication that if the majority of the Green vote remains the “professional” class that they “can’t call themselves the party of the left.”

    Being the party of the left is surely to do with policy positions not voter demographics. Using the example of Germany mentioned above, the AfD vote correlates negatively with income and Die Linke and the Greens vote correlates positively with income… I guess the AfD are the real party of the left?

    Her point about candidates I think is much stronger though, I think the Greens should strive to pre-select candidates in winnable seats from all demographics. They have had a lot white environmental lawyers and medical doctors so far, especially federally. Though I actually think the Victorian Greens are the best at the state level for this, though this may be just a fact of them having so many more winnable seats compared to other states to slot candidates into.

  9. I don’t think the Greens are going to do well at all, and I say that as a very strong supporter.

    Compared to the Sanders style Democrats in the US or Corbyn’s Labor, they really don’t seem to have anywhere near as much energy and seem detached from the issues they talk about, despite having nearly exactly the same platform and the same niche (in an electoral system where major party infiltration isn’t necessary).

    For example they don’t take any corporate donations and want a stronger ICAC, but the policy on the Victorian Greens website is “politics for the public good” – hard to even know what that means.

    There was an interview with Samantha Ratnam on 9 News. She sounded intelligent, but very detached, almost disingenuous. She couldn’t elaborate how the Greens were better on the issues that all the parties were making claims on (eg. Public Transport), or why the niches the Greens do actually have (eg. pokies) were important.

    But the main thing that struck me was a distinct lack of energy – I don’t see “Ratnamania” or a “Green Wave” coming even if she got the chance to have a televised debate with Andrews and Guy. On the other hand I see people like Richard Di Natale, David Shoebridge, or Michael Berkman being able to turn an opportunity like that into something huge.

    Maybe it’s different on the ground but something seems missing in between the policies and the campaign. Despite Andrews being quite progressive, the Greens have found a good range of issues where he’s falling short (Pokies, Forests, Planning, Waste, Toll Roads, Drug Law reform), and are still outflanking him on issues like Renewable Energy and Transport. There may be an effect like the Northcote byelection where Labor doing well on Green issues only served to convince voters that Greens were worth having.

    However something just doesn’t feel right at all when it comes to momentum. Maybe it’s their relatively poor social media game.

    Then there’s their Legislative Council seats. None of the Legislative Councillors are exactly household names, and many of them got in on preferences that may not be coming any more – after all the Greens federal reforms destroyed the fortunes of micro parties. Parties like Reason and Victorian Socialists will take votes from the Greens and send them back to Labor, all due to a very poor Green preselection choice in Richmond.

    Barring the unlikely scenario of Liberals preferencing Greens over Labor, I am currently predicting the Greens will retain their current seats, pick up 1 new lower house seat (Brunswick), lose 2 or 3 upper house seats, and go backwards overall. I think even Albert Park is more likely than Richmond.

    Labor won’t need to worry about balance of power as they’ll pick up new seats off the Liberals – looking at Daniel Andrews social media page, they’re working South Barwon, Bass and Ripon hard and even seem to have their eye on Caulfield and Eastern Suburbs seats (looking at the new level crossing removals list).

  10. Agree with all of what Bennee and John said. El may not have intended to imply that you have to be poor or working class to be “left”, but that’s what ended up coming out. That kind of thinking belongs to the way “left-right” was defined 50+ years ago.

    Philosophically, I should probably be a Greens member. In theory they tick all the right boxes and fwiw I think Sam Ratnam is great. But things like preselecting Maltzahn (and to a lesser extent Bhatal) are a big turn-off for me, they’ve really shot themselves in the foot multiple times.

    Interestingly enough – a friend of mine who knew Anthony Albanese a long time ago said a similar thing. On paper, a lot of Albo’s views looked like he actually would fit better in the Greens than in Labor, but for many reasons that was never going to happen (among other things, wanting to actually be in government).

  11. Also, Joanna Nilson (candidate for Northern Metro in the upper house) will get a bit of negative press for the Greens – regarding a Facebook post bragging about her shoplifting skills, and another about how hungover / how much she smelled like weed on that particular day. The Murdoch papers at least will have fun with that.

    She immediately resigned when it came to light, but still not a good look if you’re a party trying to shake the bong-smoking hippy stereotype and go mainstream.

  12. I’ve heard a few times about how the Greens get affluent voters, small-l Liberals, and other demographics that make them not a “true party of the left”.

    I say it’s very self defeating for progressives to have a go at the Greens for that, considering those are demographics that would otherwise be voting Liberal, and are now voting for a economically left wing, pro worker party.

    It’s an entirely good thing as long as long as policies aren’t watered down (as we’ve seen from Labor on tax cuts and other neoliberal policies).

    The entire basis of the Greens is caring about issues that are important but don’t directly or immediately affect you. People can come around to the benefits of social democratic policies without being the immediate beneficiaries of them.

    With that I think they shoot themselves in the foot actively trying to win the support of unions. Not only do they get many demographics of voters off side, but they are mostly joined at the hip with the ALP which takes precedence (hence the quiet dropping of the anti-TPP campaign as soon as Labor supported it). The Greens would do better to pursue good pay and conditions for workers as a “cause” in and of itself.

  13. These are interesting perspectives. I always find it odd that some sections of the Greens seemed overly concerned with having the ‘right’ kind of people voting for them and not the ‘wrong’ kind of people voting for them, whereas I’d tend to want to approach politics as getting what you think are the right policies and then welcoming anyone to vote for you. I think that is more of an issue in NSW than in Victoria though. I also agree that pursuing union support, as opposed to just having policies that protect workers’ rights because they’re the right policies, isn’t necessarily the best strategy.

    Whether consciously or not, there are lots of people who end up expecting the Greens to be their idealised version of Labor, perhaps because the two-party system mentality is quite ingrained in our political culture. I think this is now clearly both an external and internal source of tension for the party. It’s a problem because I don’t see how the Greens could pursue this ‘idealised Labor’ approach without having to drastically change the party’s identity, something which is pretty hard to do. Is there anywhere for example internationally where a ‘green’ party has had broad success expanding beyond the ‘middle-class’ constituency? But as long as the pressure remains, due to Labor’s shift to the right and the lack of any other viable ‘left’ party in Australia, it compromises the ability of the party to try and grow elsewhere.

  14. The vibe tells me that the ALP are headed for a comfortable overall, and I think the Liberals not running in the inner city seats is a bad look, sure they cannot win them but they do have pockets of support in Melbourne, and Richmond and could do okay in parts of Brunswick and Northcote if they had good candidates.

    Regarding the Greens, I think they will hold Melbourne and Northcote, with Prahran being close, the only gain I can see is Brunswick, but I think the Green may again come up short in Richmond, Richard Wynn seems like a good local MP, and if the Greens are unsuccessful then surely it would be time for them to find a new candidate, maybe someone with a professional background similar to Licia Heath.

    I think this election is really about the ALP v Liberals and if there is any evidence of a Canberra backlash, on that basis I think the Greens will get a pass mark if they can hold their current seats and gain Brunswick.

  15. The Greens and demographics, the Greens do themselves no favors by trying to be seen as a “working class” party yet its an old definition of working class that bares little resemblance to the people that mostly live in the Greens heartland areas and actually vote for them, it leads to the Greens doing okay as long as the issue is Gay Marriage or Climate Change but the minute the conversation turns to economic management, the Greens struggle to maintain their support levels.

    I am not saying the Greens need to become neoliberal, they can base their economic policy on a mixed economy with a strong government and at the same time drop their attitude towards financially successful people in jobs they look down upon then I think the Greens can start to become a big threat in seats like Hawthorn and Albert Park.

  16. I don’t think that the Greens are going to do well at all, either. I mean, the Greens in Victoria in recent history have never put on very bold or inspiring election campaigns but their campaigning so far has been pretty lacklustre, and there isn’t nearly as much energy as there was this time in 2014. There is a real risk that they could lose their upper-house seats in West, South and Eastern Metro IMO, Prahran is also at serious risk.

    In my area, there are a few generic “vote 1 Greens” placards up around the place next to Samantha Ratnam placards – absolutely none of the local candidates and it is pretty evident they are not running much of a ground campaign when they actually did in 2014 – the lack of name to face recognition will hurt them. the party also only formally announced their candidate in my seat last week and there are still scores of other seats throughout the state where they haven’t formerly announced a candidate yet. In my upper house region, where the Greens had hopes of gaining a seat this time around, their lead candidate wasn’t announced until about a month ago.

    It might be different in the inner northern Melbourne seats but by all reports from people I know who live in and around those electorates; the campaign is a bit flat even there, especially when comparing to their activity in these areas this time 2014 and during the 2016 Federal Election.

    All of this demonstrates that the Greens are not in very great shape at all; both organisationally and in terms of being able to adequately rally the troops on the ground. I predict they will come up short again in Richmond because Kathleen Maltzahn is such a toxic candidate, and that Brunswick will be lineball due to the high-profile Reason candidate.

  17. Matt, I differently agree the Green campaign has been flat, considering after 2014 there was a real sense that the Greens could win seats on both sides of the Yarra to the north, south and east but thus far they really do seem to be relying on their brand without any notable campaign, this is why the Greens seem to struggle without a big ticket social issue to drive their vote.

    But the flatness isn’t just the Greens, the Liberals have been poor so far and the ALP are just going through the motions of reminding voters about all the projects, this is leading me to assume that the internal polling is showing the ALP to be well in front but then again campaigning may ramp up after cup week.

  18. Pencil and Nick C make good points. The Greens sometimes seem embarrassed or even angry about getting the “wrong kind of voter”.

    I think they should push the same policies, but on an intellectual level, not a “class struggle” level (except in very safe ALP seats where that message could tear strips off bad ALP MPs).

    They should put resources into talking about very progressive workers rights policies (including ted talk level “fulfilling work” stuff), but also calling out bad Labor Right unions like the SDA and CFMMEU. This would send a message to people across the political spectrum that it’s about policies and issues, not picking sides in a power struggle. It will also convince voters who are to the left of the Liberal party but don’t like unions to vote Green. The people who’d be upset by that are likely rusted on Labor identity voters anyway.

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