Tasmania's progressive alliance: A political convenience or a necessity?

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(Image screenshot ABC News)

At the same as announcing of an election in March, Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings also announced a formal distancing between the State’s Labor Party and the Greens. Chris de Bono suggests this is a shortsighted move.

ON THE 16TH OF JANUARY, Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings announced that Tasmania will go to the Polls on March 15. At the same time, she announced that Greens Leader Nick McKim and fellow Greens member Cassy O’Connor would have their cabinet positions within the Labor/Greens coalition government terminated, effective 17 January.

This is a rather hasty termination. Strategically, it allows the Labor Party to launch their campaign without having their message overshadowed by questions regarding a future Labor/Green alliance; the alliance is in no uncertain terms terminated.

The decision by the Labor Party to sever their ties with the Greens is not entirely unexpected. There has been a significant amount of internal Labor pressure to ditch the Greens long before now.

One of the most vocal critics of the alliance has been Brenton Best — who lost a vote for the deputy speakership to the Greens’ Tim Morris. Other opposition to the alliance has stemmed from within the party membership. This public opposition to an alliance, from within Labor ranks, has been more damaging to the Labor brand than the actual alliance, with the most recent polling showing Labor significantly down and the Greens remaining steady. Further analysis of polling data shows that Lara Giddings’ approval rating has been low ever since taking office. These figures conspire to suggest that it is the choice of leader and the Labor brand that is unpopular with voters, not the Greens or Labor’s alliance with the Greens.

Given the success of this most recent coalition, enduring for a full term, it is difficult to see how Premier Giddings is going to be able to sell this divorce from the Greens to the Tasmanian voters.

Previous alliances have been forged with both a Labor Government (1989-1992) and a Liberal Government (1996-1998). Both have ended acrimoniously with the resultant minority government left to do little more than keep their head above water. In both of these instances, it is easy to see how it would be beneficial to distance yourself from something that effectively didn’t work.

The folly of cutting off the Greens in such a manner is further compounded by the Tasmanian voting system.

In Tasmania, the lower house is elected by the Hare-Clark voting system, through which it is difficult to consistently deliver majority governments. With this in mind, it beggars belief that Premier Giddings is so flippantly discarding the Greens to ‘save the furniture’.

(Dr Kevin Bonham provides an outline of the mechanics of the Hare-Clark voting system and why it is difficult to deliver a majority government here.)

This mantra of ‘saving the furniture’ and the strategy of distancing the Labor Party from the Greens may sound all too familiar and, indeed, it is the same strategy employed by Federal Labor in the lead up to the 2013 election.

The key element required to make this strategy successful is that the voting public needs to be dissatisfied with the Greens or the alliance/coalition that has been formed with the Greens.

Looking at the 2013 Federal election results, it can be seen across much of the country that the Labor vote went down while the Green vote remained steady or increased. Early polling in Tasmania shows this same trend. Polling in Tasmania has also shown that, like Federal Labor, the voting public has been dissatisfied with the Party and, in particular its, leader for some time; Premier Giddings has struggled to gain voter confidence from the outset.

Labor needs to stop trying to blame someone else for their current lack of appeal to the Australian voter. The Labor Party currently lacks direction and they are struggling to outwardly project a coherent identity.

Does an alliance or coalition with the Greens provide any advantage beyond the previously mentioned ability to form a majority government?

Based on similarities in the policies of both parties, it would seem that there are sufficient synergies to leverage off each other’s common ground. This does not ignore the fact that there are some significant differences in policy also.

The Labor Party National Plan lists their core values as Opportunity, Fairness, and Responsibility. Looking at the sub-headings under each of these core values it becomes clear that there are strong similarities with the Greens’ core values of Social Justice, Grassroots Democracy, and Peace and Non-Violence. The Greens also list Ecological Sustainability as one of their core values and, while this is not a Labor Party core value, they do devote 16 pages of their National Plan to the topic.

Launching a common ground campaign between two parties should appeal to any campaign manager. Beyond the obvious benefits of resource sharing and being able to leverage off someone else for your own brand penetration, there opens up a plethora of potential slogans and rhetoric about a new era of transparency in government, no more back door deals, and being open and honest, amongst others.

The Greens are becoming a more popular party in Australian politics and neither side of politics is wise to be ignoring this.

This growing popularity is being driven by general voter dissatisfaction and the search for an alternative voting option. Voters are looking for a party with strong environmental credentials and, more and more, they are recognising that the Greens’ policies are well grounded and coherent, not just die-hard environmentalism. The entire Greens platform, when examined in any detail, can be seen to be well-researched, well-considered and is a coherent base from which they can certainly expect to be a major player in a coalition government — indeed there is sufficient detail with which to govern.

In the early 1900s, it seemed absurd to suggest that a Labor government would ever form a majority government and yet, today, they continue to be one of the two main parties. A similar rise to prominence should not be overlooked when considering the Greens in the Australian political landscape.

With this in mind, the Labor Party cannot afford to continue sidelining the Greens as and when it pleases them.

But what’s in it for the Greens?

The short-term gain is increased publicity as a genuine alternative party, as opposed to ‘tree-hugging hippies’ with a ‘loopy’ policy agenda. Greens MPs holding regular cabinet positions will demonstrate to the voting public that elected Green representatives are able to perform in parliament as well as any other elected member.

Looking forward, the short sighted Labor Government led by Premier Giddings is likely to be convincingly voted out of office. They will claim that they saved the furniture, but the real winner is going to be the Greens who will maintain or increase their vote after coming out of an alliance with an obviously short sighted Labor cabinet.

Federally, the Greens will continue to strengthen their vote and Labor will continue to struggle to identify who they actually are to the voter.

And what will the Liberal/National coalition look like at the next election? That is anyone’s guess, but it certainly isn’t shaping up to be popular, communicative, environmentally conscious, socially aware, or progressive.

Chris de Bono is a financial member of the Greens. You can follow Chris on Twitter at @Chris_de_Bono.

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