Labor’s ferocious attacks on the Greens have stepped up a notch after the Senate voted on June 19 to delay Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) bill until October 16, after the National Cabinet considers renters’ rights.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Greens and the Coalition now make up a “No-alition” — implying they oppose everything and for the same reasons.
Others in Labor went further, accusing the Greens of being part of an “unholy alliance”. Senator Don Farrell hyperbolically described the Greens as part of an “axis of evil”.
In fact, the Senate vote was a procedural matter and does not signify policy agreement between the Greens and Peter Dutton’s Liberals.
Labor, however, has voted with the Coalition on a range of significant policies, including the Stage 3 tax cuts, the continued incarceration of refugees and funding for AUKUS militarism.
Over several weeks, the Greens clearly exposed the limits of HAFF, including that it would not guarantee funding for public, social and affordable housing nor would it tackle out-of-control rent rises.
The Greens have been pushing Labor to negotiate on the housing bill, their key demands being: a guaranteed $2.5 billion (reduced from $5 billion) in annual funding for public and social housing; and motivation for state governments to implement a rent freeze or at least limit rent rises.
Labor responded in mid-June with a tepid promise to guarantee $500 million in housing funding and on June 17 announced a one-off $2 billion “social housing accelerator” allocation.
The corporate media has run Labor’s campaign, demanding the Greens stop denying homeless people a roof over their heads.
The ABC’s Sarah Ferguson pressed Greens housing spokesperson Max Chandler-Mather on June 21, saying the Greens ought to “compromise and pass the long-term bill”. Her angle of attack was that the Greens are being obstinate, and “noone wants” a rent freeze or a rent cap.
ABC commentator David Speers said “this housing stand-off hasn’t followed the usual script of Labor-Greens policy disputes” and implied that the Greens should “bank [Labor’s] concessions as a win and back the bill”.
Paul Karp, writing in The Guardian, said the Greens strategy is a “risk” to Labor but “none of this is to say [that] stalling the HAFF is fair, or that delaying 30,000 social and affordable homes is a good call”.
Chandler-Mather responded saying the Greens could not “turn to a renter and say, ‘Hey, we fought for the $2bn for social housing but when it comes to fighting for you we’re just going to roll over.’ No way”.
Labor announced it is looking into the option of calling a double dissolution election if the Greens refuse to support its bill in October. The government has the option of calling a full house and Senate election if the bill again passes the House of Representatives but not the Senate.
Labor is hypocritically accusing the Greens of game playing in a housing crisis. In fact, the Greens have done well to flush out the inadequacy of the HAFF, given the housing emergency. Given Labor is in government in all states, bar Tasmania, and federally, the buck stops with them.
Chandler-Mather believes this battle around a better housing policy is about restoring hope. “They’re trying to crush our hope,” he told Greens supporters in May.
They think “You should not ask for more” and “if you do ask for more, you’ll be attacked and called stupid and bad and illegitimate and crazy and you’ll wreck the economy”.
“None of that is true,” Chandler-Mather said, “but the more you hear it, the more people are demobilised, the less people will hit the streets and join a political movement that might actually start to demand something”.
Chandler-Mather accused Labor of playing political games instead of implementing solutions.
“The property developers and the media will do everything they can to make you forget there are over a million people [who need] a social and affordable home.
“They want you to forget that and think, ‘Oh does this play well for the Greens politically?’ Forget that for a moment. We’re fighting to redistribute wealth just a little bit, to the extent that, at least, everybody gets a home that they can afford, and live in, and not have to feel stressed about.”
Labor, he said, is fighting “just to destroy the Greens” because that for them would be a “political win”.