Greens could fatally wound this Labor government, as they have done before


One of the less appealing features of Australian politics is the reflexive reaction to election results, in which the winners are hailed as geniuses and the losers are dismissed as hapless dopes. Over the years, the directors of the winning campaigns have even been given a chance post-election to expound on their brilliance in an address to the National Press Club. Their explanations of what happened have then been accepted as holy writ by the media.

To be sure, winners deserve to be grinners. The Labor Party is now in office, so it got more than a few things right. But every election result contains complexities and surely this election more than any in living memory was overflowing with them. The national electorate has hedged its bets.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addresses the first Labor caucus meeting at Parliament House.Credit:James Brickwood

There are still two seats undecided, but the provisional count suggests that the Coalition lost 19 seats, Labor picked up an extra nine, independents seven and the Greens three. The Albanese government has a majority of one or two.

There’s been a lot of talk about the disruptive force of the teal independents and whether the Liberals need to steer left or right (mostly right, say their media boosters) but less discussion about what the rise of the Greens will mean. The Greens look set to have 12 senators and, if they want, will be able to thwart much of the government’s legislative agenda.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the new government can’t go on to a long and happy existence; performance and events will determine that. But there are lessons in this result for all sides and they mostly go to beliefs, philosophy and policy. One question parties should be asking themselves is: when it comes to ideology, how much is enough?

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The downfall of the Coalition government proves yet again that politics must ultimately be about more than power. We’ve been here before. There’s a strong parallel between the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government and the Fraser government. Both served three terms. In both cases, prior to taking office the Coalition struggled to cope with being consigned to opposition and the fact the public had elected and then re-elected a Labor government.

Apart from Malcolm Turnbull’s brief, ill-fated attempt to work with Kevin Rudd on an emissions trading scheme in 2009, the Liberals and Nationals during both eras squandered their opposition years. Sure, they destroyed their opponents within two terms, but they didn’t have the debates about how to re-equip and develop a fresh policy perspective. Once back in office, they didn’t set out to do much. All they knew was politics. All they had was politics.

By the third term, voters wanted something more forward-looking. Neither Fraser nor Morrison could provide that. Morrison’s philosophical and ideological vacuity was not an accident. He was chosen out of panic after the Liberals had worked through Abbott, whose most successful setting was negative, and Turnbull, who was said to be too left-wing but was not, having agreed to stifle many of his inclinations to win back the leadership.



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