Labor wins by-election with sneaky politics

Greens candidate Cathy Oke won the highest primary vote in the Melbourne by-election.

The ALP has narrowly held on to the Victorian seat of Melbourne despite a swing to the Greens in the July 21 by-election. Greens candidate Cathy Oke won the highest primary vote, getting 36.5% to ALP candidate Jennifer Kanis’ 33.4%.

But distribution of preferences gave the ALP 52% and the Greens 48%. The Greens’ vote increased by 4.6%.

The Liberals did not run in the election, although a Liberal Party member running as an independent won 4.7% of the primary vote.

The election was ostensibly fought on local and state issues, but in the weeks leading up to the poll ALP leaders nationally made a number of public attacks on the Greens, despite the federal minority ALP government relying on Greens support.

What was notable in the local campaigns was that both main candidates — and most of the 14 other candidates — pitched their campaigns toward progressive voters: supporting increased public transport and public housing and opposing the Victorian Liberal government’s cuts to TAFE.

But it was overshadowed by vitriolic attacks on the Greens by ALP leaders in the national media and at the July 14 NSW ALP conference.

NSW ALP secretary Sam Dastyari launched the attacks. Federal parliamentary whip Joel Fitzgibbon foreshadowed a motion to the conference to automatically preference the Greens last in elections, as was done to the far-right One Nation Party in the 1990s.

Using the language of Tony Abbott’s Liberal opposition and the Murdoch tabloids’ stable of right-wing columnists, they called the Greens “loopy”, “fringe” and “extremist” on account of progressive social policies apparently unacceptable to “mainstream Australia”.

In a July 8 column in the Sunday Telegraph another figure from NSW ALP right, Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes, made attacks in a similar vein.

After negotiating with the left faction, the NSW motion was modified to not automatically give the Greens preference.

ALP left faction leaders attacked the Greens along more nuanced lines. Senator Doug Cameron explained that the Greens were not loopy or extremist for having progressive policies but were obstructionist for sticking to them. “It’s all care and no responsibility for those guys,” he said in the July 10 SMH.

The context was the Greens’ refusal to compromise its human rights-based policy on refugees in federal parliament and choose between the ALP’s policy of deporting refugees to Malaysia against the Liberals’ policy of deporting them to Nauru.

The media echoed the claims that the Greens’ progressive policies are an electoral liability. But the swing to the Greens in Melbourne is consistent with steadily rising support for the Greens throughout the country.

In contrast, the ALP’s electoral fortunes are declining.

The Sex Party’s Fiona Patten came third in the Melbourne by-election with 6.6%. The Sex Party has a social libertarian outlook: opposing internet censorship, and supporting legalised abortion, gay rights, voluntary euthanasia and the decriminalisation of all recreational drugs.

Given the ALP’s attacks on the Greens for holding similar policies on these issues it is surprising that the Sex Party gave its preferences to the ALP over the Greens. Patten justified this in a July 19 interview with 3AW with concern over “anti-sex feminists” in the Greens.

Leaving aside the improbability of even the most dour feminist in the Greens being more anti-sex than the religious conservative elements in the ALP, this ignores the Greens’ and ALP’s actual policies. Moreover, as with the policy supporting marriage equality adopted last year, when the ALP does adopt progressive policies the party’s religious right is allowed to use “conscience votes” to make the policy meaningless.

Given the narrow margin by which the ALP won the two-party preferred vote, the Sex Party’s allocation of preferences was possibly decisive in the by-election result.

Comments

Why did the Sex Party preference Labor, which is anti-gay-marriage and pro- internet censorship?? Total hypocrisy on behalf of the Sex party.

Leading figures in the right-wing Labour Unity faction were also seen (and photographed) handing out cards for the Liberal Party member, David Nolte, who ran as an independent (and directed preferences to the ALP ahead of Greens of course). See http://t.co/NEkkRdpV

And why did The Greens preference the Sex Party below the ALP in the Melbourne by-election if their policies are so compatible? And why did the Greens preference the ASP second-last down with the hateful Christian parties in the Niddrie by-election? Why are there elements within the Victorian Greens who brutally and continually attack the ASP at every opportunity? What are the Victorian Greens doing to help repair/build the relationship with the ASP?

A balanced report on the by election. Thank you. But the issue of Sex Party preferences to Labor was no great secret and certainly not a conspiracy of some kind to dump on the Greens. They simply wouldn't talk to the Sex Party. At the previous by election in Victoria (Niddrie) the Sex Party's President, Fiona Patten, called the Greens about a preference deal and left messages for them none of which was returned. when the Greens how to vote cards were printed, they had put the Sex Party second last! So you'd be an idiot to think that there wasn't a message in that. When the Melbourne by election rocked around there was no call from the Greens to the Sex Party and because of what had happened before, it was assumed that the Greens weren't interested. So when Labor offered a good preference swap, it was better than one with Family First or the Christians. The day nominations were announced the Greens called but it was way too late at that point. The Greens admin in Victoria simply stuffed up. They would have won that election if they'd been on the ball and hadn't put the Sex Party off at the previous election. Preference swaps are like that. You build relationships with other parties and you do the best deal to get yourself elected. That's politics. Its not rocket science.

The Greens snubbed the sex party first in the niddrie byelection. The bias reporting here fails to mention this, this is what i expect from murdoch not GLW.

No, preference swaps are not like that. Progressive parties should give their preferences on principle to other parties that have the most similar politics to their own. The Sex Party pretends to be a progressive party but this election shows that helped elect an anti-women, anti-sex party. Shame on the Sex Party.

If "progressive parties should give their preferences on principle" then why have The Greens repeatedly given low preferences to the Sex Party in the last two Victorian by elections?

I think what you mean to say is that "The Sex Party should give their preferences to The Greens no matter what, and The Greens should be free to do whatever the hell they want without consequence, because the only acceptable outcome here is a one-way relationship where The Sex Party acts as a feeder to The Greens. Also, Greens candidates and supporters should feel perfectly free to bash the Sex Party and still get preferences." This is the subtext running through all of the preference talk coming from The Greens' side in the wake of this by election. With this kind of smug, entitled attitude is it any wonder that The ASP has a better relationship with Labor?

Respect begets respect -- this is something that The Greens have continually failed to realise in their dealings with The ASP. Until you start to give it, you're not going to get it.

What about the Greens volunteers who were handing out for Stephen Mayne and Adrian Whitehead?

Yes the Greens may have progressive policies on paper. But Kathleen Maltzahn - who opposes legalisation of sex work and uses anti-trafficking as a cover for abolitionist policies - is a key Vic Greens leader. Until progressive politics purges itself of anti-sex feminists like Maltzahn, no one blame libertarian outfits like the ASP for being wary.

Sure, that makes total sense. After all, the Catholic-dominated right wing of the ALP is so well known for its sex-positive politics.

As much sense as having a leader whose views obvious conflict with the parties' policies? How can we trust the Greens any more than the ALP?

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