Why Not Vote Greens?

12 August 2013
Since the release of the ABC's Vote Compass, where people can see how their political beliefs align with the positions of the parties running for the upcoming Federal Election, I've been seeing a common refrain on Twitter from those posting their results: "Funnily enough, I'm most closely aligned with the Greens - but I never vote Greens, only Labor." I've seen this sentiment before, and wondered why. Why do good, progressive, lefty people refuse to vote for the one parliamentary party that actually has consistent progressive policies? I think I've worked it out - it's a matter of perception and a misplaced pragmatism. Unfortunately neither do much good for the progressive cause in Australia, but that's what we've got.

Many in Labor, many of their voters - and not a few of their opponents - see Labor as a left wing, progressive party. Compared to the Coalition, they sure are. But given the societal shift to the right of recent generations, the Labor party is, at best, a Centrist organisation; extending offshore processing of asylum seekers, holding to a paltry 5% target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, forcing single parents onto unemployment benefits, having had six years to legislate for marriage equality and failing to do so until finally sensing the national mood and promising to do so if re-elected...the depressing list goes on. But its easy to ignore all this, if you choose, and focus on the tone, the words; politics is all about spin after all, and the spin from the Labor party is we care. We're the party of activism, of care and concern for your fellow human being, of making sure what everyone has access to the same quality of education, of health care. It doesn't matter that they continue with the inequitable system of schools funding that sees million-dollar grants to elite private schools, or maintain the system of private health insurance rebates that have created a two-tier healthcare system in Australia; what matters is that they mean well.

There's more to it than that though. Many Labor voters are well aware of Labor's failings, but vote for them anyway, stating "The Greens will never win government, they couldn't run the nation; at least the Labor party can get things done." There's some truth, I guess, to saying that as things stand it is very hard to imagine the Greens forming government in the next decade or so. But voting for Labor only sends them the message of support for them to disparage the Greens, continue with their unjust and unfair policies. Voting for Labor isn't working to help change them from within; it's telling them they're okay to continue on as they are. My fondest wish for Australian politics would be to see a strong, united left that stands up for progressive principles - things like abortion, workplace rights and marriage equality that surveys show are supported by most voters but don't register with the major parties -  isn't cowed by the Murdoch press, and balances pragmatism and progressive values not in a vain attempt to appease talkback radio callers, but for the economic and social good of the nation. (Okay, my fondest wish would be a peaceful socialist revolution, but I'm being pragmatic here).

How can the Greens win over these progressive-but-vote-Labor people? What can we do? We have to be realistic. We need to get our message out, about the policies we believe in. We have to make it clear we will work with the government. And we have to try to remove the stigma that still hangs over the Greens. I do wear my Greens shirt when out and about with my family, a tiny gesture showing Greens are normal people with jobs, families, kids; we worry about housing costs and grocery prices too, we're not all living in the inner city. This close to the election, that's what we can do. We can't beat people over the heads with chai lattes; but we need to get people seeing that if they care about progressive principles, vote Green - preference the ALP - tell the ALP and the nation that these are the things so many voters care about and they need to tailor policies to us, not expect us to compromise our values for them.


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