5 February 2018
The Liberal Party enabled the Greens to enter the House of Representatives. This might sound strange, but it’s pretty accurate if you ask me.
The Greens first entered the House of Reps via a by-election for what’d been a safe seat for the Labor Party, in late 2002. With the Liberals opting against running in that by-election, it should’ve been a non-event. But the Greens ended up winning.
Would the Greens have won that by-election if the Liberals had run? I suspect not, but at the time I didn’t believe that the Greens could win it, with or without a Liberal rival. Having followed politics and elections for only a handful of years back then, I’d have been less aware of what can happen when major parties skip by-elections.
Nonetheless, with the Liberals skipping that 2002 by-election, Liberal voters there would’ve been looking for someone else to support. The question was where their support would go, whether to Labor or some other candidate. And that by-election had plenty of candidates. As it turned out, the votes ended up flowing to the Greens, albeit via preferences, because more people had Labor as their first choice than the Greens, who ultimately won the seat.
But the triumph didn’t last too long. When the next Federal election came, in 2004. Labor regained the seat.
Presumably, Liberal voters in that seat disliked Labor, but they were more or less resigned to the idea of their local MP being a Labor person.
Meanwhile, the Greens didn’t win another seat in the House of Representatives until a general election in 2010, when they won another safe Labor seat. With sitting MP Lindsay Tanner retiring after holding the seat for seventeen years, it would’ve been more vulnerable for Labor – albeit not to the Liberals, whose vote hadn’t been that strong there. The seat in question was Melbourne, right in the heart of the big city of the same name. This was a Labor-held seat for most of its existence, dating back to 1901. But over time, as the area became more gentrified, with wealthier residents enjoying lives comfortable enough to pay more attention to social issues like identity and environmentalism and so on, the Greens became attractive to such people. And because Liberal voters in that region simply disliked Labor, their preferences ended up flowing to the Greens, who took the seat on the back of those preferences.
The Green who ended up winning that seat in 2010, Adam Bandt, is still there today.
He might’ve been on some sort of probation after his win. When MPs are elected care of other candidates’ preferences, after trailing someone else on primary votes, there’s sometimes a question about the legitimacy of their wins. Of course, the wins are perfectly legal, but they still have some sort of stigma about them. As such, the 2010 win for Bandt had more than one element of luck in it.
However, when voters next went to the polls in 2013, Bandt topped the primary vote count in his seat, before holding it on preferences. You couldn’t have expected him to do more than that. And he did it again at the next election, in 2016. I reckon that he’ll hold it for as long as he likes.
Over the years, support for the Greens has grown in inner Melbourne, well beyond just Bandt’s seat. Indeed they won a few inner Melbourne seats at a Victorian State election in 2014. More recently, they won another inner Melbourne seat in State Parliament at a by-election last year, following the death of a Labor MP. The region was once really strong for Labor, but now the Greens are threatening Labor.
Now another Melbourne stoush looms in a safe Labor seat, following the resignation of Federal MP David Feeney, over dual citizenship. A by-election for his former seat of Batman, in Melbourne’s inner north, will soon happen.
The power of the Greens in inner Melbourne makes me think that the Liberals will ignore the Batman by-election. And frankly, for them, it’s a stoush better ignored, because the Greens will almost certainly win more votes than them if they run.
The Liberals should leave Labor and the Greens to fight over Batman. They’d make a wise choice if they do so, leaving them more resources to fight a general election where their chances of winning look less than the best. Going into battle in Batman won’t help them much.