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03 October 2018
By Matt Hrkac

Victorian State Election 2018: Greens find themselves on hard times as the home stretch looms

Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam

Victoria is the most progressive state in the country, no question about that. It has also been the most electorally successful state for the Greens in recent state and federal elections. They have held the federal seat of Melbourne since the 2010 Federal Election, added the state seat of Melbourne as well as Prahran to their lower house representation in state parliament at the 2014 State Election, and recently gained Northcote in a by-election in 2017. The party is close to gaining at least two others; Brunswick and Richmond.

However, could the fire that delivered them these significant wins be starting to smoulder?

As far as the official statistics are concerned, the Greens in Victoria are falling flat. State opinion polling indicates that the party has not gained ground since the 2014 State Election and actually shows that its support has declined slightly. On the Federal polling front, according to data compiled by The Pull Bludger's BludgerTrack, shows that the Greens are in an even more precarious position. This is despite an overall (though not significant) decline in primary support for the Labor Party.

The Greens lack of fluster could very well be them keeping their cards close to their chest. This is true, on the surface at least. After over-estimating their support but under-delivering in terms of gaining more seats at the 2016 Federal Election, and again missing out on the seat of Batman (now Cooper) at a by-election earlier this year; there is good reason for the party to keep its ambitions more sealed and to play it by ear.

However, this extends beyond a recent failure to win seats - it extends to their preselection of candidates as well. As it currently stands, there are still several dozen seats where the party hasn't preselected anyone yet and have left it very late to preselect in scores of others, many of which at least some on-the-ground effort was made in 2014. They have also been very slow to preselect in seats where they do actually have a chance of gaining in the longer term. This is in stark contrast to the highly visible campaigning by the party at the same time leading up to the 2014 State Election. There are at least 20 lower house seats where the party is struggling to find anyone to stand in.

This runs deeper then a party just keeping its ambitions in check. The reality is that the Greens in Victoria are being squeezed on all sides by smaller emergent left-leaning parties.

Reason (the renamed Sex Party) is likely to pick up votes from that electoral space that sits to the Right of the Greens and to the Left of the Labor Party. They have now preselected candidates in a number of seats, some of where the Greens are yet to have any candidate  preselected. To the Left of the Greens sits the Animal Justice Party (who will also draw in votes from more moderate progressive types concerned with animal welfare) and the Victorian Socialists, who, particularly in the Northern Metropolitan region, are actively pulling support from the Left of the Greens and are running the largest and most visible campaign of anyone across the Northern Metropolitan Region. 

This is all compounded by the fact that the Andrews government has been blatant in pushing its progressive credentials around certain key Green issues - renewable energy, public transport and rental rights being just a few areas. The party is also being dogged by allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct by its most senior members. All of this is no doubt having a negative impact on moral within the Greens at such a pivotal time.

The Greens years of simultaneously being apolitical and non-ideological on one hand while being Left-wing on the other; on one hand arguing that it is a respectable party of government while on the other emphasising its support for activist movements is finally starting to bite them. The lack of ideological underpinning and clarity in their direction has meant that the party, despite its rejection of these claims, has relied on personalities and identity to draw in support. When parties with greater ideological underpinning emerge, people will flock to those parties despite the personalities, and this is what is happening now. The Greens may be coming out with some of the most Left-wing policy initiatives in a decade, but that is not at all stemming the bleeding out.

Looking at individual seats - Labor will likely hold on to Richmond after the Greens insistence of preselecting Kathleen Maltzahn, who's views on sex work run contrary to Greens policy, once again. Tim Read, the Greens candidate in Brunswick, will also be squeezed by Reason due to their preselection of a high-profile candidate - their preferences will be crucial to the Greens chances in that seat. In the upper house, with three seats in danger of being lost, there is probably little chance that the Greens will pick up a seat in the likes of Western Victoria, where they also left it very late to preselect Lloyd Davies as their candidate, as resources and effort go into sandbagging their most vulnerable seats, in both houses.

The home stretch of the state election is fast approaching. The Greens are certainly smouldering across the country, it is however a big shock that the flame has burnt out in the state of Victoria more than anywhere else, with no ignition in sight leading into the home stretch of the 2018 Victorian State Election.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and activist based in Geelong who regularly contributes to Green Left Weekly. He has particular interests in politics, elections and the trade union movement and has had extensive involvement in a number of local campaigns. He is a former member of the Greens.

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