From one side of the country to the other, the Greens’ vote dropped in this election. In Tasmania, home of party elder statesman Bob Brown, their portion of the vote halved compared with the 2010 election. In Western Australia, they were down by around one-quarter, in Queensland by two-fifths and South Australia by one-third.
In the Sydney seat of Grayndler, which the Greens have long earmarked as a possible win from Labor, the party’s share of the vote also dropped – as it did in the seat of Sydney. In both cases, Labor picked up a swing against the trend.
The Greens maintained themselves in Melbourne. Adam Bandt’s win in that seat came with a positive swing, increasing his vote by more than one-fifth. Elsewhere in the city, the party either got a positive small swing or kept the loss to a minimum.
In the Senate, despite their vote dropping by about one-third, they have managed to increase their representation.
The Greens tried to distance themselves from Labor in the run-up to the election, and to that extent they filled the space to the left of the ALP. But the left alternative that the party offers is little more than the sort of wet liberalism that even former Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser can endorse.
As Bandt noted on Sunday, after the election, his vote came from people “right across the political spectrum who said, ‛Tony Abbott doesn't represent the values of small-l liberalism that I hold.’”
The Greens have contributed to the general malaise of the left through their inability to articulate clearly a vision of the world in class terms. Where the Communist Party or the left wing of Labor in years past were able to galvanise supporters with a vision that put workers at the centre of political life, the Greens campaign for people of all classes simply to “care”.
This is no basis on which to build opposition to ruling class attacks. To create a genuine left opposition to the ALP, the Greens would need to galvanise those sections of the working class tired of both tough-talking sell-out politicians, and wishy washy political hand wringers. They would need to build a base in the unions with an eye to mobilising the class to fight for its own interests.
But the party has done little in this regard, and continues to show no interest in changing course.
The situation was clear in Tasmania, where they are in coalition with the budget-cutting ALP government and where the swing against the party was most savage. Tasmanian Greens Senator and former investment banker Peter Whish-Wilson highlighted the party’s problems before the election when he described weekend penalty rates as “just a white Anglo-Saxon cultural thing that we've inherited”.
Even though the party quickly rushed to disown this comment, it indicated that the party’s leading figures have little intention of trying to build working class resistance to employer and government attacks.