It must suck being the ALP. Is it really a party which can handle the challenges of the future? Is it the death rattle that we can hear? Is it like a headless chook which is technically dead but the rest of its body doesn’t seem to realise?
The saddest part for the ALP is that it struggles philosophically to express its identity. It used to be the worker’s party, but the shift in the right wing end of the spectrum stole most of that support. It dabbled with being the wooly-headed humanitarian party, but that just pushed its traditional voter base further into the hands of the LNP. And now it’s got the Greens stealing the wooly-headed, confused-about-the-world vote.
What to do?
There are two major parties in the Australian landscape: the LNP (which is technically two parties but the National Party is a complete non-entity these days) and the ALP. Due to the weird way the Senate is elected, a third party is usually elected from the run-off preferences. Previously, this spot went to the Democrats but they suffered electoral oblivion. Now, it’s a role serviced by the Australian Greens.
Why do the preferences run-off like that? Neither the LNP nor the ALP want to preference the other. You can usually spot which parties are completely repugnant by who sits lower on the preference list than the other major party. Traditionally, both major parties would prefer to have their preferences go to the Greens than to the other major party.
In the last election, this spread to the Lower House. See for example the result of the seat of Melbourne in the last Federal Election. The ALP came up short of 50% based on primary vote alone. It needed about 7,000 votes to be directed to it from preferences. Instead, the 14,000 people who voted for the LNP preferenced the Greens. Thus, the seat was ‘won’ (I still hate that word for election results) by the Greens Party based on LNP support.
Since then, it’s been a nightmare for the ALP to deal with the Greens. As it’s in a minority government, it relies on negotiation with the Greens. For a variety of complicated reasons, compromise has not been received as a virtue by the Australian electorate. Thus, every time the ALP works with the Greens, the ALP is criticised for watering down its policies to work with the Greens (‘Bob Brown is the real Prime Minister of Australia’, &c.).
On the other hand, every time the Greens frustrate the ALP’s plans, supporters of the Greens see this as a triumph. Take, for example, the asylum seeker debate. By siding with the LNP, the Greens were able to take credit for blocking the ALP’s scheme.
Both parties (but the ALP in particular) now have to face a new reality in Australian politics. If they preference the Greens, they create an entity in Parliament who will make the larger parties appear weak both when they work with them (through compromise) and when they do not (through siding with the Opposition). It is in neither the ALP’s nor the LNP’s interests to support the electoral success of the Greens.
It’s weird, really. It is a better long term strategy to support the party which will block you outright if it has the chance rather than to support a party which will work with you sometimes.