On the eve of the Eden-Monaro by-election I emailed the campaign team saying, “I think we will be doing well to get 8 per cent, so we need to brace ourselves.” Earlier in the day I had sent a similar text to our candidate Cathy Griff who’d replied, understandably, that she was dreaming of double figures. After the intensity of the previous month’s campaigning I finally had some time to think about the mood out there in voter land and how it might be reflected in the primaries. And I was decidedly pessimistic.
Geographically speaking, the majority of the 41,617 square kilometres that comprise Eden-Monaro was directly affected by the bushfires of Black Summer. Population-wise, it was an entirely different story, with the largest concentration of voters living in the Queanbeyan region, where it was smoke rather than flames that impacted people’s lives over those long and frightening months.
Despite that, many people thought that climate change and its role in the fires would also play a big part in the campaigns of most of those contesting the by-election, and the polls were indicating it too. And who better to promote the cause than The Greens, we thought, with our track record of strong policy and action on climate change and energy.
We also had just released our fully costed Invest to Recover program specifically developed in response to the fires and the virus, to give hope and support to the many people who have not done so well under a LNP government and who would be doing even worse once the current forms of Jobkeeper and Jobseeker disappeared.
But instead of gaining ground, our vote dropped. This article is not about blaming others or shifting responsibility – we will no doubt reflect on ways we could have better campaigned and where we may have gone wrong. What follows are some of my observations over many years of involvement with The Greens of why we haven't managed to achieve wider electoral success.
The virus ensured it was going to be a very different campaign from the start, with fewer public forums, even online. And following public health guidelines, we determined that we would not be asking our volunteers to do the usual proactive handing out of How-To-Vote (HTVs) cards at polling booths.
The most obvious factor however was the number of candidates. Fourteen is a large field, and five candidates in addition to The Greens were putting forward a progressive platform, on one or more issues. The combined primary vote of the Science Party, HEMP Party, Sustainable Australia and the independents Karen Porter and James Holgate was 6.34 per cent, at least some of which may have gone to The Greens, whose primary vote was 5.67 per cent. So altogether, the progressive, small party vote was 12.01 per cent. The ALP's vote was 35.87 per cent and the Liberal's was 38.33 per cent, so preferences were crucial to the ALP's ability to hold the seat.
MYTH: Voting 1 Green is a wasted vote. Perhaps it was because it was a by-election. Perhaps it was because anyone who cares about the environment knows how important it is right now not to concede a seat to the Liberals. In this election more than in some others, people who support the ALP after The Greens wanted to make sure that Labor held the seat. So, in the mistaken belief that the chances of the ALP winning would be jeopardised if they voted one Green, they voted for the ALP first, and then The Greens.
Preferential voting is easily the most misunderstood concept in our voting system and of endless frustration to those holding the balance of power and trying to ensure accountability in politics, such as The Greens and the Democrats before them.
A voter came up to us at the booth and asked what we were doing with our preferences. We showed her the HTV with a number ‘2’ in the box for the ALP candidate but reiterated that the final decision was in her hands. “Yes, I know that's what you say you are doing, but what happens after that?” she insisted.
It became clear she thought that somehow, once she had voted, her preferences would be ignored by The Greens and we would magically direct them somewhere else. And she was also still holding on to something that happened in a Queensland State Election last century, where The Greens had recommended their voters preference the Coalition instead of the ALP in five key seats because the ALP was determined to bulldoze a tollway through crucial koala habitat. It only happened once, but we have never heard the end of it.1 1https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/preferences-row-what-strategy-greens
Many people don't understand that they hold the power, and no matter what a party recommends, how they number the ballot paper is their choice. The preferential voting system needs to be properly explained as part of Civics education from primary school level nationwide.
Most Greens voters align us closer with the ALP, so all those who voted ‘1’ Green and ALP ‘2’ (or put the ALP before the LNP) contribute to the ALP's vote because the preferences flow directly to them once The Greens are excluded from the count, and this is sometimes the only thing between a party winning or losing a seat.
Far from a wasted vote, it is in effect a double vote, because you can send a message that Green issues are important to you but still direct your preferences to one of the parties you would like to form government over the other, or win the seat in the case of a by-election.
MYTH (AND REALITY). Australia has a two-party system.
We don't, because clearly there are many parties who stand for election but are never as successful as the ALP and LNP. But we do, because those parties, in cahoots with the media, have perpetuated the idea of the two-party system for what seems like forever.
In a true democracy, all voices have a right to be heard and even represented if they have enough electoral support. This is recognised in Tasmania and Aotearoa New Zealand for example, where they have systems of Proportional Representation. In multi-member electorates every voter is represented proportional to the number of votes the group/party received above a baseline percentage. Such a system would especially suit large electorates like Eden-Monaro but instead, votes are counted on a “two-party preferred” construct and we end up with one member who is required to be everything to everyone.
For some party volunteers, it's the highlight of the day to go in at 6pm with the other scrutineers and watch the AEC staff divide up the papers into piles of first preference votes. Then, the piles with the smallest numbers of votes – that is, those for everyone except the ALP and the LP – are distributed according to which of those two parties the voter chose over the other. So, it's bad luck if you are a small party, because no matter how many of the other candidates' piles indicate a second preference for you, two-party preferred means that everyone with the smallest number of votes apart from those two parties are excluded from the preferences allocation.
In 2013 I was the first Eden-Monaro candidate to be announced for that year's election and by the time the LP and ALP candidates were also announced, The Greens had been campaigning for ages. I heard on the day it was broadcast that ABC TV Canberra was doing a story on the candidates and when I emailed the journalist to inquire if The Greens could be included, I was told they were only talking to people who were likely to win. Perpetuation of the two-party system writ large!
The ABC (nationally anyway) continues to forget we exist. On The World Today after the election it was reported that the ALP would get in due to preference flows from HEMP and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, with no mention of The Greens, despite nearly all of Green voters' preferences heading the ALP's way.
From the outset it was clear to me that yet again, it would be hard to make a dent in the mindset of people who have shaped their opinions over years of listening to (especially) the Murdoch media, and even the ABC, not to forget the ALP and LNP, all telling them who The Greens were and what we stand for.
And some of the comments directed at me on the day at the two booths I was working on only served to reinforce that. Apart from on social media, which I increasingly have to avoid for mental health reasons, rarely are Greens attacked and abused as savagely and maliciously as we are on polling day; to our faces we are told we should be ashamed of ourselves, we should all die, or gun fingers are pointed at us.
During the campaign and at the booths, just as it has been at almost every other election, we repeatedly hear the myths. Here are some that my colleagues and I heard this time.
MYTH. Greens are inner-city latte sipping watermelons.
In rural/regional seats like Eden-Monaro, there can be a resistance to The Greens because people don't always realise that we are everywhere. There are Greens groups all over the country, many of them in rural, regional and even remote areas. Our occupations are varied – we are farmers, teachers, nurses, psychologists, doctors, scientists, cleaners, artists, electricians, writers, public servants and unemployed. Some of us are also rural fire service volunteers.
MYTH. The fires were The Greens' fault because Greens don't allow hazard reduction burns.
Greens policy supports a scientific approach to hazard reduction and utilising the knowledge of traditional custodians wherever possible. Even if we wanted to, we couldn't stop hazard reduction burns because we are not in power, but it is clear to us that the way we are “managing” the bush is not working. However, no amount of hazard reduction burning will have much of an impact on the increasing fire intensity brought about by global heating, and if we want to reduce the severity of fires, we need to urgently stop burning fossil fuels.
MYTH. The fires were The Greens' fault because Greens have locked up the forests.
Again, The Greens are not in power and even if we wanted to, have not locked up any forests. National Parks have also been blamed, with some people saying that NPW staff wouldn't let the RFS in to fight the fires. This is also a myth. There are very few areas that are “locked up” (read, where there is no vehicular access) and ironically those are the ones that studies have shown to be least susceptible to fire spread because they are generally wetter and too dense to allow wind to dry out the vegetation, in contrast to where there are roads and large piles of debris such as can be found in logging areas.
MYTH. The Greens want to lock up the forests.
There are hardly any native forests left. Most old growth is gone. So yes, we want to protect what remains, so it can be enjoyed by people and as a habitat for biodiversity; not made into woodchips as the vast majority of our native forests have been, enabled by huge tax-payer subsidies.
MYTH. The Greens stopped action on climate change by opposing the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009.
The Greens followed the advice of many environment groups and scientists who said that this was not the answer and would only entrench an increase in emissions. Elected Greens tried to have the Bill amended so it would do what it was meant to do – address climate change – but the then PM Kevin Rudd would not negotiate.
The Greens' view, shared by others such as Ross Garnaut, was that “the CPRS (was) not designed to drive the transition to a zero-carbon economy, but rather (was) intended to maintain the profitability of fossil-fuel-based industries. The legislation would have actively prevented the kind of emissions reductions Australia needed to achieve to play a role in the global effort to prevent climate catastrophe."
Four years later The Greens worked with Julia Gillard in a hung parliament that quietly co-operated to pass more than 700 pieces of negotiated legislation including the carbon tax which was demonstrably successful in lowering emissions. But Tony Abbott abolished it and the Climate Commission almost as soon as he was elected, after a campaign based on the lie that the tax was responsible for a rise in electricity prices. It has been a downhill ride ever since.
MYTH. The Greens don't care about workers.
Most unions recognise The Greens' Industrial Relations policy as the best there is, but they seem unable to acknowledge this. When our candidate was not invited to participate in an online forum organised by the community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) in the lead-up to the by-election, I made contact to say we would like to be included. This request was unsuccessful and the best we could achieve was the agreement that a written statement would be distributed to members. I don't know if it was. Even when it comes to jobs for coal miners and native forest loggers, we have never suggested that they be cast out into the wilderness but rather, there be a just transition, so they are not disadvantaged by a move to a healthier and more sustainable economy.
So, where did all these myths spring from?
Social media has been a marvellous tool for activism, but it also has been instrumental in the rapid exchange of disinformation. A lie or myth about The Greens can travel much faster now than ever and depending on the social media bubble you are in; you may never be exposed to the truth.
But before social media, there were, and still are, newspapers, radio and TV. It's hard to know why, but journalists are largely uninterested in anything that isn't what they perceive to be the main game, unless it involves conflict. Is it because they are attached to the power, or are they just lazy?
As illustrated by my own experience, mentioned earlier, the mainstream media seems unwilling to give anyone other than the LNP and ALP a serious platform. As New Matilda said in its 2010 article
The exclusion of third-party candidates from election events is usually justified by their political irrelevance. Why should broadcasters give equal time for a party for which most viewers won’t vote?
Of course, that’s wonderfully circular. Without publicity, a third party remains unknown — and the unknown third party is accordingly deemed unworthy of publicity.
Although its roots are visible earlier, the entrenching of this attitude may be traced back to 1996, when Bob Brown gave his first speech in the Senate and, by putting a positive and uncontroversial spin on things, unintentionally paved the way for The Greens to be ignored or sidelined from then on. Because simultaneous to Bob delivering his speech, Pauline Hanson was giving hers, and from that moment it was the divisive and destructive ideas that she presented, often adopted by John Howard, towards which the media gravitated.
To this day, nothing has changed. The One Nation leader enjoys regular media appearances and only last week used her airtime to accuse the people in the Melbourne lockdown towers of having English as their second language, being drug addicts, unemployed or used to hardship because of where they came from – you name it – further exacerbating the racism, division and prejudice that she has helped to spread since she was first elected.
Anyone in doubt about the media's intentional influence need look no further than Rupert Murdoch. On October 28, 2010, in an article in one of his own newspapers, The Australian, Murdoch is quoted as saying in a speech to businesspeople
This country is sailing forth. It is a wonderful land of opportunity, with the right leadership, the right governments, the right bureaucrats and so on... Whatever you do, don't let the bloody Greens mess it up.
On January 12, 2012, Miranda Devine in The Daily Telegraph said
If the Greens say it's a good idea, it's not.
In 2004, conveniently not long before a federal election, that same newspaper had featured a front-page article about Greens drug policy, effectively telling readers that the Greens wanted to sell ice on street corners. And people believed it.
The marginalising and disregarding of The Greens by the media are examined in the New Matilda article referenced above which highlighted more of the Murdoch media's intense dislike of The Greens.
"Greens leader Bob Brown has accused The Australian of trying to wreck the alliance between the Greens and Labor," the Oz editorialised in September. "We wear Senator Brown’s criticism with pride. We believe he and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box."
Laura Tingle continued her long career of disparaging The Greens in her post by-election commentary on ABC 7.30 andRN's Late Night Live, a career which goes back to the early days of Greens (WA) senators Dee Margetts and Christobel Chamarette and Tingle's time as a Newscorp employee.
In an article about The Greens WA in the January 1994 edition of the magazine Chain Reaction, then Margetts advisor Dhanu River refers to the piece Tingle wrote when these senators were trying to make the 1993 budget fairer towards the 80 per cent of people who weren't benefitting from it.
Almost the only media mention was in a two and a half broadsheet page tirade against the Greens by Laura Tingle of The Australian. Tingle was abusing The Greens over the budget without managing to mention substantive issues and in the process mentioned The Greens' opposition to GATT to show what 'real fruit loops' they were.
It was good because we got a letter printed as 'right of reply' and put our position on GATT before the public.
And there are multiple other, similar examples over many years, especially from shock jocks like Alan Jones and his ilk, on radio and TV.
The discrediting of The Greens is not exclusive to the media and the LNP does it on a regular basis. Listen to almost any broadcast of Parliament and you will hear MPs of many persuasions disparaging The Greens every chance that they get, including, disappointingly, the ALP.
There are many instances of ALP members belittling or misinforming people about The Greens, especially when they have watched traditional ALP voters switching their allegiances because The Greens have better policies on issues like refugees. Ex-Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who did not re-contest the Victorian seat of Batman in 2013, is quoted by Peter Martin in his April 2011 Herald article as saying
(The Greens) want to sit under the tree and weave baskets with no jobs. Those poor unemployed baskets. But no doubt The Greens will find the some work somewhere.
While the ALP is not reluctant to distance itself from The Greens, it is much more common for the LNP to portray us as incapable of holding public office. After all, our commitment to economic justice threatens the very foundation of their “survival of the fittest” mentality. Their throwaway lines can be read regularly in newspapers and heard in news reports and panel discussions, with one of the more recent instances during ABC 24's by-election coverage on July 4.
Minister for The Environment Sussan Ley was desperate to portray the close contest between the ALP and LP as disastrous for ALP leader Anthony Albanese and referred to the (unnamed) party to whom the ALP had recommended their second preference (The Greens) as the party that supported land invasion.
What this actually meant was difficult to pinpoint – did it refer to animal liberationists (possibly members of the Animal Justice Party) going to pig farms to expose extreme cruelty, or public servants entering properties to stop illegal land clearing and then getting murdered for doing their job? It's easier and much more expedient for the LNP to lump us all in together to appeal to the people who believe that a landholder should be allowed to do anything they like on their land simply because they “own” it.
On that same night, the National Party candidate was given airtime by the ABC to give a concession speech. At that point in the evening he was on 6.7 per cent of the vote, a whole .3 per cent more than Cathy Griff.
MYTH. The Greens are a single-issue party and shouldn't get distracted by other issues.
Of course, without a healthy planet there will be no economy and no society, but The Greens were founded globally on four principles – ecological sustainability, social and economic justice, grassroots democracy and peace and nonviolence.
In short, Earth, justice, democracy, peace. Surely most people would be supportive of a policy platform that centred around making sure everyone had access to quality housing, health and education while living in a society that was safe and healthy and being able to properly participate in decision-making on the issues that affected them.
But political leaders here and elsewhere are taking us further and further away from achieving this, and it's not hard to see that when people are struggling to meet their basic needs, they have little time to devote to thinking about environmental activism. This suits the big business interests that control the ALP and LNP.
The large donations to political parties give the corporations who bestow them unrivaled access to the politicians who then make laws that will allow them to continue to exploit the natural environment until there is nothing left to take from it.
Looking back, looking forward........
Well before the fires started, on the very day I attended the September 2019 School Strike for Climate in Canberra, I was prescribed anti-depressants by my GP after I told him how I had been crying every day for at least a year, didn't want to be alive in this world but had reassured my daughter that I wasn't going to kill myself because it wasn't fair on her.
I stayed on the tablets for nine months and then eased myself off them, but in the last fortnight I am back on them again, just a half dose daily so I can stay afloat. And I am not the only one. I've recently discovered that many of the people I know who have time to think about the state of the planet are on anti-depressants too.
The most recent (2016) available State of the Environment (SoE) Report[i] says that
around 5 per cent of Australia's higher plants, 7 per cent of reptiles, 9 per cent of birds, 9 per cent of freshwater fish, 16 per cent of amphibians and 23 per cent of mammals are listed as Extinct, Endangered or Vulnerable.
...Over 5 million parrots, honeyeaters, robins and other land birds are killed each year by land clearing. For every 100 hectares of bush destroyed, between 1,000 and 2,000 birds die from exposure, starvation and stress. Half of Australia's terrestrial bird species may become extinct this century unless habitat destruction is rapidly controlled.
Nearly half our mammal species, including some wombats, wallabies and bandicoots, are either extinct or threatened with extinction as a result of land clearing, habitat destruction and other threats.
Australia has lost more plants and mammals to extinction than any other country and has more threatened animals than 98 per cent of the world's countries.
The Australian Museum[ii] lists the disappearance of:
- 75 per cent of rainforests and nearly 50 per cent of all forests;
- over 60 per cent of coastal wetlands in southern and eastern Australia;
- nearly 90 per cent of temperate woodlands and mallee;
- more than 99 per cent of south-eastern Australia's temperate lowland grasslands;
- over 83 per cent of Tasmania's lowland grasslands and grassy woodlands;
- about 95 per cent of brigalow scrub that originally grew in Queensland;
- over 90 per cent of Victoria's grasslands.
The Museum's figures are from November 2018, a whole year before the fires destroyed huge tracts of habitat and unimaginably high numbers of fauna and now we are told by scientists that koalas will be functionally extinct in NSW by 2050, as a direct result of the loss of their habitat through logging, bushfires and development.
It is not about who has the power to bring about change, it is about making sure that change happens. If the ALP and LNP took on Green policies because they could see that people care, great. We could go home and relax.
What is perhaps most disturbing about people who care about the planet not voting Green or for another progressive with a good climate change position and/or environmental credentials for that matter is this: when people's votes don't reflect their concern, it sends a message to the ALP and LNP that the environment and climate change are not important. Indeed, the Prime Minister has already made statements to that end, construing it as a licence to continue with business as usual.
Business as usual is precisely what we can't afford. And neither can the planet. Our children and theirs need to be able to grow up with hope, not anti-depressants.
Catherine Moore has been a member of The Greens since 1992, a candidate thirteen times for all spheres of government, a local government councillor between 2004-12 and was The Greens, Bill of Rights, Indigenous Peoples' delegate to the 1998 Constitutional Convention. She was the campaign co-ordinator for The Greens in the Eden-Monaro by-election but has written this from her own perspective. She lives in the bush on the western flank of the Currowan fire in part of a small area that escaped incineration.
 General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs
 Economic Orthodoxy – it's a Greens thing, Peter Martin, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 2011
 Glen Turner was murdered by Ian Turnbull on July 29, 2014, during a prosecution process against the family's illegal land-clearing
New Bush Telegraph acknowledge that environmental destruction and climate change are having a profound impact on the mental health of people within our community and beyond. We encourage those experiencing distress to reach out to their friends and family and Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 or LifeLine on 13 11 14 for support.