By Malcom Mackerras

In my last article here on the Nationals, I promised in the last paragraph that my next contribution would be on the Greens who I described as “the left hand equivalent of the Nationals on the right”. I give it today but I cannot be as warm about the Greens as I was about the Nationals. Nor can I be as objective. Indeed I am downright angry with the Greens – on almost every score. However, before I launch into the Greens I give a post-script on Barnaby Joyce. He will win New England again this year and Tony Windsor will prove the folly of a “has been” like him seeking a comeback.

Until about a month ago my experience of talking to members of the Liberal Party was that we would agree in our criticism of the Greens, that criticism being the proposition they are “the party of moral vanity”. However, a sudden change of tone has come over my Liberal friends. They now love the Greens, if only it be a temporary love. The Liberal Party is now seriously proposing that Liberal preferences should help the Greens take from Labor the inner-city seats of Grayndler and Sydney (NSW) and Batman and Wills in Victoria. Their argument is that Labor should be pinned down in all its marginal seats, of which there are two kinds, Labor versus Coalition and Labor versus Greens. Further, it is argued that in 2013 Labor could treat Grayndler, Sydney, Batman and Wills as safe. Not in 2016, it seems. The principled position of 2013 is to be abandoned in the interests of expediency. 

There are no prizes for guessing the reason for this change of mood. The Greens are helping the three-way stitch-up between Malcolm Turnbull, Richard Di Natale and Nick Xenophon to put in place an unconstitutional rigging of the Senate electoral system in their joint favour. For this coming week at least it will be nothing but pleasantries between the three of them: but what about next week? I’ll tell you the answer. Turnbull will tell the Greens: thank you for your help but from now on we are enemies – except in Grayndler, Sydney, Batman and Wills. “You have helped my double dissolution strategy no end: you are fools and I am going to win. I am happy for you to get some crumbs from my table - see names above.”

I shall return to that theme, but first I should explain why there is so much agreement on the proposition that the Greens are “the party of moral vanity”. It is best illustrated by the refugee issue. As is well known John Howard stopped the boats. Then Kevin Rudd, in the most extraordinary lapse of political judgment, started the boats coming again. Julia Gillard could see Rudd’s folly. When she became Prime Minister she tried to stop them again – for which she received Rudd’s condemnation on the ground she was “lurching to the right”. After Gillard was confirmed as Prime Minister in what was, in effect, a Labor-Greens-Independents coalition government, one would have thought the Greens might be more co-operative with Labor. But no. Their moral vanity took over and they, in effect, helped Tony Abbott to stop the boats again – by thwarting Labor’s Arrangement with Malaysia.

The truth is that the Greens will always place their short-term electoral interests ahead of every other consideration. My above paragraph is a very good illustration of that. In 2013 the Greens suffered a severe loss of votes. Where they had won 13 per cent of the Senate vote in 2010 they secured only 9 per cent in 2013-14. Yet they retained every one of their then existing seats in the federal parliament and even gained a Senate seat from Labor in Victoria. They were able to keep Sarah Hanson-Young in her South Australian seat with only half a quota courtesy of preferences from Clive Palmer’s party.

Perhaps a better example of my proposition comes in the case of Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009. Had the Greens supported that scheme it would have become law. Again, no. It was not strong enough for them and it made too many concessions to trade-exposed industries. So they rejected it – as did the Coalition under Tony Abbott’s leadership. Both Abbott and the Greens then achieved their aims at the August 2010 House of Representatives plus half-Senate election but Gillard was confirmed as prime minister by the Greens. They were then able to get what they saw as a “decent” scheme. However, it went too far for public opinion acceptance. So, the Greens got what they wanted but most of what they were able to get from Gillard was repealed by Abbott.

It is now pretty clear that there will be a double dissolution of the federal parliament on Wednesday 11 May for a general election for both houses on Saturday 2 July. It will be the eighth such general election, earlier cases being in 1901, 1914, 1951, 1974, 1975, 1983 and 1987. It will also, I hope and confidently predict, result in the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Given that the Greens are supposed to be staunch opponents of the ABCC it would be nicely ironic if, once again, they put their short-term electoral interests first – ahead, as usual, of every other consideration. 

There are, of course, supporters of the Greens who will say the Greens put principle first – even if it turns out to produce a negative outcome for them. I dispute that. The filthy deal they have done with Turnbull over Senate reform is not based on principle. The kindest thing I can say for it is that it represents a piece of pragmatic pandering to the powerful.