Rudd is the Greens' accidental hero


Kevin Rudd overcome by a green glowKevin Rudd may have inadvertently helped the Greens. Their Senate balance of power was endangered by the prospect of a landslide Coalition victory. But a revitalised Labor will now almost certainly poll much more strongly in the Senate. This will ensure the continuation of a Labor-Green Senate majority regardless of how well the Greens themselves poll. Only three Green Senators out of nine are up for re-election. Surplus Labor Senate votes will flow to the Greens improving the chances of Green candidates even without a stronger Greens performance.

But a strong Green vote is also now more likely because of the major government policy changes to heartfelt Green concerns about carbon pricing and asylum seekers. The Greens' chances don't even depend upon majority opposition to these new policies, but just strongly-held minority views. This appears to be the case, especially with asylum seeker policy which is more clearly seen as a 'lurch to the right'.

At the moment, according to the Newspoll published in The Australian last week, the Greens are polling at 10 per cent, less than the 11.8 per cent vote they achieved in 2010. For some time the Greens' polling has been below their 2010 vote, but it is not that far below, and the issues are moving in the Greens' direction. Rudd has been pitching for the youth vote since his return. But his new PNG solution to asylum seeker arrivals is unlikely to be attractive to young voters, which is where Green strength lies, especially among younger women aged 18–30.

The Greens now offer a clear alternative outside the mainstream on asylum seeker policies, opposing PNG and favouring onshore processing. The same Newspoll showed considerable scepticism about the approach of the major parties to asylum seekers. Rudd has gone some way to balancing the ledger as far as Labor and Coalition voters are concerned. Voters still favour the Coalition by a seven per cent margin (33:26) but back in February it was a 27 per cent margin in the Coalition's favour (47:20).

But almost half of the electorate are still unconvinced by either of the major parties. Ten per cent favour no party, 12 per cent favour another party, including the Greens, and a whopping 19 per cent remain uncommitted. The bigger the asylum seeker issue becomes the more likely that a considerable minority of voters will look for an alternative approach. The Greens only have to attract some of these dissenters to improve their chances.

They will have supporters, including many elements of the the asylum and refugee movement who regard this political fix as inhumane. Many church-people, including the social justice wings of the Uniting and Catholic churches, are also aghast.

This election will be a huge test for Greens' leader Christine Milne. The Rudd policy moves have set the stage for her. She has been assisted too by Gillard's removal, as she remains the last woman party leader standing on the national stage. She needs to become the voice of a compassionate alternative, as Bob Brown was previously.

But it won't be easy for Milne as this will be a 'presidential' election, suiting Rudd's style. Airtime for minor parties will be at a premium. She has to connect with voters, especially younger voters, in a personal way that she has not yet mastered. If she can't do it, other Greens, including the young Immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, must step up.

Milne will have to play her cards very carefully, because the question of what is an appropriately compassionate response to the problem of deaths at sea, is a complex one. She will need to be both positive and compassionate in the face of a big government advertising campaign.

The politics will be ugly but the polls suggest that a sizeable minority of the Australian community will now listen to a view outside the mainstream. The Greens are well poised to capture some of this minority.


John Warhurst headshotJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and a Canberra Times columnist.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, The Greens, Christine Milne, Bob Brown, Sarah Hanson-Young



submit a comment

Existing comments

Is it just me or does this guy look familiar?

Annoying Orange | 30 July 2013  

Thinking back to the Hawke years, he possessed the two essential (and rare) ingredients for effective high political office: he was both a consummate politician and a human being. I think former Greens leader Bob Brown also qualified in that regard. So Christine Milne possibly needs to drop the severe look if she can and start relishing the contest. The Greens have many talented people in their ranks - and the only asylum seeker policy that approaches compassion. Pity about the siege mentality of the Aussie public.

Pam | 31 July 2013  

I think Christine Milne's brief appearance on ABC1 (clip) this morning certainly went over well. The "severe look" may have been due to poor eyesight. She looked fine. She came across as both sensible and compassionate about asylum seekers, panning both major parties' solutions as well as suggesting, in an attempt to help stop the boats, we increase our intake of refugees already processed as such by the UN in countries such as Indonesia. That sort of approach may well have wide acceptability amongst the majority of Australians. People like her and Sarah Hanson-Young, members of what I would call the old conservationist group, are I think, much more acceptable to most Australians than the likes of Lee Rhiannon who seem to have a different agenda. With the demise of the Democrats c/o Cheryl Kernot, I think the more small "L" Liberal Australians will probably look to the Greens, provided they don't get off the main game as per Rhiannon.

Edward F | 31 July 2013  

Ok, John, If as you say, there is now, sadly, a more presidential style of election Milne's "controlling mother" persona will not help her come across as a "compassionate alternative". There many people who have problems with controlling mothers who will have negative transference with a woman with political control.

Michael D. Breen | 31 July 2013  

Yes you are right, we need to give a Labor lesson by voting for Greens which at this stage is standing on the moral ground for refuges. Thank God for that!!!! Also we need to support W. Leaks Party of Julian A.

Ewa Komorowska | 27 August 2013  

Similar Articles

Australia's shrinking moral and intellectual horizons

  • Ray Cassin
  • 05 August 2013

It is economically illiterate nonsense to equate the state of the budget with the state of the economy, yet Labor and the Coalition have acquiesced in the view that delivering a surplus is the sole indicator of responsible economic management. If this election campaign fails to inspire many voters and drives some to disengage, it will be in large part because of where the contending parties stand or, more importantly, refuse to stand. 


Vulnerable are victims of the federal game of thrones

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 05 August 2013

If the last three years have been like the first three years of the First World War, now is the time for a final blitzkrieg. The treatment of people who seek protection in Australia is not simply one of many election issues. It is a measure of how far each political party will go, how much damage each will be prepared to do to Australia's honour, reputation, economic interests and relationships in order to gain and hold power.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up