When Richard Di Natale joined the Greens in 2000, Victoria had one local government counciLlor and no state or federal representation. Now, we’ve grown so much that green government is no longer a pipe dream.
BY RICHARD DI NATALE
Leader of the Australian Greens, 2015–2020
y son recently attended the dentist for his annual check-up and a brochure in the waiting room proudly proclaimed free children’s dental care under Medicare. After a decade in parliament, it is one of the policy achievements I am proudest about.
This Greens policy that we implemented now provides billions of dollars of dental care for many children who would otherwise miss out. It was only possible because the Greens made Medicare-funded dental care a key condition of our support for the then Gillard Labor government. Our family’s visit to the dentist was a timely reminder of the real difference that the Greens can make in people’s lives when we are in a power-sharing government, where no single party is able to form a majority.
As Labor fell over the line in a couple of closely fought contests at the recent election to secure the magic number of 76 seats needed to form majority government, I’m sure the Labor machine men were popping the champagne corks while dividing the spoils of victory among the factions. Instead, they should see this election result for what it was: a rejection of the major parties in record numbers and a sign that Australians want an end to politics as usual.
The result should not have caught people by surprise, because the major party vote has been on the slide for decades. In the early 1950s almost every person in the country voted Labor, Liberal or Country Party, and right up until the 1970s the major party vote was almost always over 90 percent.
At this election, that number dropped to 68 percent – the lowest on record.
It was once said that you could not win government without a primary vote over forty percent, yet the Albanese Government was sworn in with only one in three Australians giving them their first preference.
“Australians want an end to politics as usual.”
The decline in the major party vote shows no sign of changing. When Australians vote for a Green or independent, they like what they get, and they’re often returned with an increased margin. The major party vote is highest among older Australians, but it declines sharply with decreasing age so ongoing demographic changes alone is likely to accelerate the demise of the two-party system.
Majority government will soon be the exception in Australia, rather than the norm.
any successful European democracies, as well as our New Zealand cousins, have proportional representation, which means they have had power-sharing governments for decades. Indeed, even when Jacinda Ardern’s Labor won a rare majority at the last election, she still chose to make the leader of the New Zealand Greens the minister for climate change. She understood that representing a diversity of voices within her team made for better government.
In contrast, Albanese has said that majority government is “a very good thing for stability”. After being at the centre of the Rudd/Gillard leadership turmoil and witnessing the Abbott/Turnbull leadership spill, some self-awareness would be nice but so far there are precious few signs that the Labor government has got the message.
More coal and gas, tax cuts for the wealthy and a near total disregard for the Greens show that they continue to be one of the political arms of corporate Australia. One of the biggest wake-up calls I got in the job was witnessing the stranglehold that big business had over both the old parties through their massive donations and the revolving door between lobbyists and government.
Of course, there are challenges for the Greens, too, in this new political world. Back in NZ there continues to be a debate about whether the Greens should fight for change from outside of the political system or continue to work within the machinery of government, with the messiness and compromises it entails. For what it’s worth we can and should do both.
“Majority government will soon be the exception in Australia, rather than the norm.”
hen I joined the Victorian Greens back in 2000, we had one local government councillor and no state or federal representation. In the blink of an eye, the Greens have grown so much that green government is no longer a pipe dream.
At the 2017 Greens national conference in Hobart, which marked 25 years for the Australian Greens, I said that over the next 25 years our ambition was to win a list of 25 Lower House seats. We won four of them on election night. If we can win just a few more we will be central to future power sharing governments and Medicare-funded dental care won’t just be available to children like my son, but to all of us.