Greens advance as Labor returned in Qld election

November 1, 2020
Greens campaigners in South Brisbane
Greens campaigners in South Brisbane

The most important result of the Queensland election is the advance of the Greens. The Greens have increased their representation from one to two members of parliament.

Also significant is the return of the Palaszczuk Labor government. This is a vindication of the generally good (albeit inconsistent) approach taken by Queensland Labor in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal Liberals and the Murdoch media have campaigned for months against the state government's handling of the crisis, in particular the closure of state borders. However, that approach won little resonance among voters. Labor won a swing of more than 5%, though this was not even across the state.

The Greens' Michael Berkman has been returned in Maiwar and Amy MacMahon won the high-profile seat of South Brisbane from former deputy premier Jackie Trad.

The Greens also performed strongly in McConnel and Cooper, but at close of counting on election night the ABC was predicting that Labor would win both seats.

While the state-wide Greens vote did not improve, these results are still a vindication of the stridently progressive social democratic platform the Queensland Greens took to this election.

In particular, the Green vote rose in inner Brisbane, where its grassroots campaign was strongest. Queensland is arguably the most left-wing state branch of the Greens at present.

Deputy premier Steven Miles seized every opportunity he could during election night commentary to blame the Liberal National Party (LNP) for the election of the Greens' Amy MacMahon in South Brisbane. However, this is a disingenuous argument.

It is true that the LNP directed preferences to the Greens which contributed to the Greens' win. However, the swing to the Greens this time was greater than the margin they lost by in 2017 when the LNP preferenced Labor. So, even if the LNP had not directed preferences to the Greens, there was still a good chance they would have won.

Further, the pro-Labor spin from Miles ignores that Labor suffered a swing of 1.3% against the party in South Brisbane, compared to 2017.

By contrast, the Greens' vote rose from 34% to 38%, bringing the Greens ahead of Labor's first preference tally.

Labor has to recognise that more voters had confidence in the Greens than it in that seat.

No doubt people with a personal connection to Trad will feel the sting of her loss. It is also clear that she was one of the more left-wing Labor parliamentarians.

However, there is a fundamental dishonesty by Labor apologists on social media that the Greens betrayed their progressive agenda by campaigning successfully in this seat.

The argument goes that a "strong, progressive woman" has been defeated, which is a "loss for the parliament". This, of course, ignores the fact that MacMahon is also a strong, progressive woman whose win is a gain for the parliament.

More to the point, Trad was loyal to the Labor "left" tradition of privileging caucus solidarity over progressive principles. She never once voted against Labor on critical policy like supporting the Adani coal mine or freezing public sector workers' wages.

It doesn't mean very much to argue for a progressive agenda within caucus, so we are told, if that never translates into political pressure on the government.

In practice, the Labor left serve to help the party as a whole deliver a pro-capital policy agenda in government (even if the LNP's agenda is worse).

The increase in Greens representation in parliament is much more likely to result in left-wing pressure on the government, than the election of an extra "progressive" Labor MP.

Even in those cases when the Labor party oversees progressive change, it almost invariably comes in a context of grassroots campaigning for change. Abortion law reform is a case in point.

The issue was raised by the extra-parliamentary campaign group Pro-Choice Cairns. Then it was put on the agenda in parliament by former Cairns MP Rob Pyne only after he'd left the ALP — frustrated by the lack of progress he could achieve from within.

Another feature of the election result was the collapse of the One Nation vote.

However, many establishment pundits are highlighting this without acknowledging that the One Nation vote was artificially inflated at the last election.

Those same pundits gave One Nation a big boost in 2017, with media profile and inclusion in the leaders' debate, disproportionate to their level of support.

Progressive candidates such as the Greens and Socialist Alliance never get such coverage, until after their successes cannot be ignored.

The Socialist Alliance did not run in this election, instead calling for a vote for the Greens.

[Alex Bainbridge is the national convenor of Socialist Alliance.]

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