Labor vs Greens: This Can't End Well

20 March 2016
"Greens leader Richard Di Natale floats Greens alliance with the Liberals" proclaimed the headlines a week ago. The quote was all over twitter; Di Natale had said of an alliance "never say never". That doesn't sound right, I thought, so I did what I always do in these circumstances: go straight to the source - an interview Di Natale did with GQ magazine - to get the full quote, in context. Here's what Di Natale actually said about a possible Liberal alliance:

 "It’s a question for the party but I think it’s never going to happen. I don’t see a time when we can form a coalition with the Liberal Party, particularly this Liberal Party, because our views are so far apart. [Still], 'Never say never' is the quote I'd use about everything in politics."

 That's it, I thought? An alliance is nearly impossible, but taking a pragmatic view on politics generally? I could see why "Greens-Liberal alliance" would prove irresistible to headline writers, with it's "no, really?" clickbait allure but surely no intelligent person or observer of politics would actually believe it?

 It turns out that lots of people whose intelligence I respected believed it, or at least claimed to. For the next few days, Twitter and Facebook were awash with Labor supporters who endlessly posted hundreds of versions of "a-ha! Greens in bed with the Liberals all along! We are the true party of progress!"

At first it seemed as incredulous as those who believe the hot days of their youth disprove global warming. But it went on and on. It didn't matter if the quote was given in full context, or it was pointed out that Labor votes with the Coalition six times more than the Greens (including just this year on government data retention and in favour of returning a group of asylum seekers including Baby Asha and her family to Nauru).

 Why were they doing this? You'd think Labor would have learned something from the saga of the carbon tax "lie" (which I and many other Greens supporters spent years pointing out was not a lie at all) about the importance of nuance and full context. So why were Labor and its supporters misquoting, distorting, so determined to insist that something that isn't and wasn't true was and is?

 It got pretty nasty, down to Labor senator Sam Dastyari calling the Greens a cancer over the weekend (delightful - I haven't seen any other Labor politicians or supporters condemn this). But it died down as these things always do, and I hoped it was a forgotten blip on the road to this year's election, until yesterday when Labor and their supporters on social media caught fire again. "Greens vote against same sex marriage!"

 If the notion of an alliance was founded on distortion and lack of context, the same sex marriage thing was a blatant lie. There was always a Senate debate on same sex marriage on the calendar for Thursday. Monday was scheduled for debate on Senate voting reform. Senator David Leyonhjelm attempted to bring the marriage equality debate forward to Monday, partially to prevent debate on the reforms which if enacted could well cost him his Senate seat. The Greens, spotting this as a stunt, simply sought to have both debates on the original intended dates.

 Not according to Labor. The line went forward that the Greens voted against same sex marriage (there was no vote) or at the very least, delayed discussion in order to impress their new BFFs in the Liberal party. Penny Wong, who I'd quite liked - in spite of that she was a prominent member of a Labor government that did nothing to advance marriage equality for six years - went off like a frog in a sock, claiming that she'd never seen "leadership without backbone like this" (umm...this is awkward). The Greens, who have supported same sex marriage since it was seen as a fringe issue of the far left, delayed a debate by three days, and Labor ran with the line that Di Natale was ditching the cherished belief of marriage equality to protect an alliance with the Liberals that doesn't exist. Claiming outrage and personal offence at something you know damn well to be untrue, well that's dirty politics. There's no nice way to put it.

 Some Labor supporters, when the truth of what the Greens actually said and did was pointed out, replied "well, it's still not a good look." Not a good look that they are being lied about? That's victim blaming, no more or less. Meanwhile, the actual debate is on Thursday. It would be awkward for Labor if any of their number voted against the bill, wouldn't it? Really darn awkward. Except that it would be dismissed with Labor's excuse for everything - pragmatism.

 Why are they doing this? What do they hope to achieve? One of two things I believe, and the first you can almost forgive them for. Being a left leaning Labor supporter means walking some pretty tricky moral ground. You have to reconcile yourself with that the party supports mandatory detention of children, takes donations from fossil fuel polluters, and was in government for six years without taking action on marriage equality, amongst much else; the usual coping mechanism seems to be reminding each other of "the big picture" and the need to be pragmatic and what Labor can achieve as a party with the ability to form government. Slandering the Greens gives Labor supporters the chance to reaffirm their own ideological purity. The Greens only care about their own self interest! The progressive policies were just for show! We're the real champions of the oppressed. 

But the main motive would be fear. The Greens vote has increased in real terms since the 2013 Federal election; despite inner Liberal chaos, Labor's has not. Labor has decided an election winning strategy is to go after the Greens'. But what votes they can get from former Labor voters returning to the fold won't compensate for several negatives to their strategy. First, what Greens votes they might lose from hoodwinked and deluded supporters returning to vote Labor may well be countered by loyal Greens who are so angry at Labor's lies and distortions we no longer wish to preference them. I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet. If not preferencing was an option at the Federal election, as it is in NSW state election's, I think I would exhaust my vote after giving my first preference to the Greens. I used to be a Labor voter and volunteer, and if they were ever to win my vote back, it would be on policies, not lies. I could never preference the Liberals, but just don't want to reward Labor's deceit either.

 As it stands electorally right now, Labor would almost certainly need Greens support to govern if not pass legislation in the Senate - the same support Di Natale said is a far more natural alliance for the Greens. I know it should and will never happen, but it is amusing to imagine Labor needing this support after a tight election and Di Natale telling them to go piss up a rope.

 But the main reason Labor needs to knock this nonsense off is to remember who is the real enemy here - the Liberal-National Coalition - and take the fight to them. Labor needs to be calling the Coalition out on its dire economic record and austerity plans. But more than that, Labor have displayed astonishing hypocrisy in many of the things they've attacked the Greens for. Do they think the Liberals are just going to let it slide? At least with the Coalition you know where you stand - knee deep in dung. I think it's in their party charter. "Fuck you, we're arseholes". They won't care if their terrible record is pointed out, it's their whole point. But for Labor to be attacking the Greens over matters of principle, the Liberals will lose no time pointing out the inconsistencies. The Liberals won't waste time or money attacking the Greens; they'll go straight after Labor. And we'll be stuck for another three years of incompetence and bigotry.

 This fight has been bizarre and depressing. I really, really hope this ends soon. We need to fight the real enemy. Come on, ALP. Do you want Tony Abbott to come back?


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