Christine Milne and Adam Bandt, the leader and deputy leader of the ‘third force’ in Australian politics, are learning that Kermit was right – it really isn’t easy being green. Especially when your primary vote has dropped by a third in the most recent federal election and six of your key staff have just quit.
Following a week of rumours and rumblings about the leadership of the party, Milne and Bandt held a joint press conference today to laugh off suggestions that the latter has challenged for the top job.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wasn’t laughing at the end of last week though when she announced to journalists that the party had just re-elected the leader who would march them to a slow death.
While Bandt’s recent success in the seat of Melbourne was truly stunning, the party’s performance as a whole was disappointing. There are many theories for this, one of the most obvious being that the party has suffered since the inimitable Bob Brown stepped down. There have also been plenty of suggestions that Milne’s leadership style has not been as inclusive or effective either. The Leadbeater’s possums think she’s pretty great though.
I believe that the most significant factor in the party’s demise has been the reality of the sort-of-pseudo-coalition with Labor following the election of a hung parliament in 2010.
One of the great strengths of minor political parties actually comes from their weakness. What I mean by this is that their policies can be incredibly grand and ideological, precisely because they will never be required to implement them. Protest parties use these policies as a platform from which to push for changes to legislation proposed by the two major parties.
Upsetting this delicate balance has led to all sorts of problems for the Greens. Expectations of what they could deliver were understandably high following the 2010 election. The clean energy scheme was the first indication that they were perhaps going to struggle to meet these expectations.
Milne herself has admitted that entering the deal with Labor hurt the party’s support, although she denies that it was a “fundamental strategic error”.
The Greens certainly have their work cut out for them to reshape the party in the post-Bob Brown and post-hung parliament era. Reshape they must though, because they will not be able to increase their primary vote as a protest party and that, at least according to Milne, is the goal. If the Greens do want to replace Labor as the major player on the left of the political spectrum, they will need to develop a series of policies that are both realistic (in terms of budget and implementation) while still being in line with the core values of the party and their supporters.
If Milne, Bandt and the green gang can pull this off – then perhaps Labor really will have something to worry about. Until then, it seems that they will have to compete for air time with the new Palmer United Party. And Clive’s certainly not someone who you would ever want to fight for space.