The Greens: The mono-coloured rainbow

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The Greens believe they are cut from a different political cloth than the major parties, but Greens voter Eric Athurson says they have similar problems with diversity.

The Greens Rainbow: all white on the outside.
The Greens rainbow: all white on the outside.

FEAR NOT, the progressive bastion Independent Australia has not been breached by a right-wing troglodyte. I voted Green at the last election. But I did so with great reluctance.

The problem I have with the Greens is this: they lack diversity. They have an uncomfortably narrow demographic of elected representatives. It is ironic that an organisation that sees itself as a paragon of tolerance and socially progressive views has such a depressingly homogenous line up.

If there are any federal Greens representatives that are not white, over-educated, and achingly bourgeois, I can’t see them. To their credit, they have more than 50 per cent female senators, which is great. But that’s about it.

Where is the Indigenous representative? Or queer? How about an ex-refugee? Person with a disability? Asian-Australian? Or – heaven forbid – someone from a working class background? Only one or two break the stereotype of the inner-city progressive.

More than this, I naïvely believed the Greens being cut from a different political cloth than the major parties. Something purer, something much more ‘right on’ than the machine men of Labor and the Libs.

Yet, exactly like the two major political parties, the current Green representatives consist mainly of ex-lawyers (Bandt, Wright, Waters) and political staffers (Hanson-Young, Ludlum). There are a couple of academics and a GP thrown in for good measure, plus an ex-communist.

Now, it may seem strange to choose this moment to criticise the Greens on diversity, when the Coalition has just announced its crusty all-white, all-male, all-the-time cast (with the always token Julie Bishop).

My response is this: when it comes to the Coalition, we assume they are one of the least diverse political parties. If anyone was surprised when Tony Abbott appointed only one woman to his cabinet, then they hadn’t been paying attention for the past three years.

We’re talking about the Greens, who make tolerance, diversity and inclusivity the driving forces of the organisation.

As an outer-suburban voter from a working class background, when I vote for the Greens I vote for representatives I have no personal identification with. I vote for them based on a couple of their better policies, sure, but always with a sinking suspicion the perspective they apply to political problems in Australia is particularly narrow.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] The Greens team in 2011: like in 2013, they all have one thing in common.[/caption]

The voting base of the Greens confirms this. On current counting, the share of the primary vote for the Greens has fallen from 11.76 per cent in 2010 to 8.39 per cent in 2013 — or a drop of 28 per cent. The campaigning brilliance and hard work of Adam Bandt aside, this is disastrous. The Greens were outpolled by Clive Palmer in Queensland, and he is breathing down their necks nationwide on a vote of 5.5%. The Greens vote particularly suffered outside the inner-city areas.

Let’s consider the one place the Greens have had the most success: Melbourne.

With a median age of 31.4, Melbourne is the second youngest out of Australia’s 150 electorates. It has the highest proportion attending university (15%), highest number of rentals (57%), and has the 7th highest number identifying themselves as Buddhists (right on!). It is also the number one electorate for atheists. The seat of Melbourne also has the second lowest proportion of single male parents (0.9%), ranks 131st for number of indigenous Australians, and 149th for children under the age of five.

According to an electorate profile by respected psephologist William Bowe, while Melbourne has substantial Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean populations, these vote strongly for Labor. The Greens do best in the trendy areas of Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond. They are weakest around the central business district (where the Liberals poll well) and at Ascot Vale in the seat’s outer north-east (also strong for Labor).

Put another way, the Greens appeal strongly to white Buddhists with no children studying at university.

With that sort of appeal, they’ll be able to keep winning Melbourne (especially with an excellent local representative like Adam Bandt) and be competitive in a lot of other inner-city electorates. But that’s it.

Diversity, both in elected representatives and the party’s base, matters. It matters because this feeds into policies and priorities. It’s more than just being able to personally identify with elected representatives (though this is important), it’s the knowledge that elected representatives from different walks of life and different socioeconomic conditions help the development of sophisticated public policy with broad appeal.  The fact is right now the Greens don’t do this. Look at their base, look at their vote: it is a niche party.

When I vote Greens I do so because their policies on the environment and some of the social issues they champion matter. But I’ll never stick exclusively with the Greens, because they lack an economic and cultural vision for Australia that extends beyond the boroughs of Fitzroy or Newtown.

Greens policies are sort of like going for breakfast in an inner-city cafe. The meal is tasty and comes with all the extras, but you worry that it’s too expensive, and it is served by a sneering elitist wearing sleeve tattoos and hemp pants.

Voting Green makes a lot more sense in the senate. I’d rather they had the balance of power than an eccentric right-wing billionaire who thinks climate change is a scam, or than someone who believes Howard betrayed Australia by banning high-powered rifles after Port Arthur (Liberal Democratic Party), or that homosexuality is an abomination (Family First).

The problem with this sort of rationalisation is that it makes voting Green exactly the same as voting for a major party, insofar as it is about voting for the least worst option. It is a democratic decision made purely in the negative.

It would be nice if there were one political party in Australia where this wasn’t the case.

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