During Saturday’s election, 31.5% of the voters deserted the major parties, with a swag of female teal independents tipping Liberal MPs out of their heartland urban seats.
By contrast, the underestimated Greens had a sensational election, surprising many pundits with the strength of their support.
Even though their lower house vote increased by just 1.5% overall, their concentrated support saw the Greens gain two, potentially three, seats in Brisbane. Their traditional strength in the Senate is set to grow, potentially to an all time high of 12 senators. That would give them the balance of power.
So, how did the Greens do it? A combination of good timing and hard work. The climate election arrived at last, Scott Morrison was deeply unpopular, and the third party of Australian politics harnessed support it had been quietly building for years, especially in conservative-leaning Queensland. The only surprise is that many of us weren’t paying attention.
How did the Greens do it?
The Greens have hit a new high-water mark in the lower house with 11.9% of the vote. While good, it’s barely better than their 2010 best of 11.76%. Even so, because of the concentration of their support, their leader Adam Bandt will likely be joined by two other Greens in the lower house and possibly one more.
If Labor is unable to secure a majority, the Greens will likely support minority government. Australia’s only other Greenslide election was in 2010, when the Greens shared the balance of power in the lower house, and held it in the Senate. They were on board then with Labor’s reformist agenda and smoothed the passage of its bills.
As a result, the minority government was our most productive government in recent years.
Playing to party strengths
Are these results a shock? Not really. The party has played to its strengths by targeting specific seats at least since 2010, when they had the biggest swings to their party across the country. That was when 85% of us wanted climate action, before the climate wars set us back a decade.
Every election since has been about growing the Green vote across the country whilst expanding their inner-city strongholds, with very specific targeting of seats like Melbourne (Adam Bandt’s safe seat), Kooyong, Goldstein, Sydney, MacKellar, Warringah, Brisbane, Curtin and Grayndler.
In March 2021, the Greens released their election strategy in a largely neglected but extremely clear press release. They identified nine priority lower house seats, three additional Senate seats, and the balance of power in both houses as party goals. Notably, their campaigning efforts only overlapped the teal independents in the seat of Kooyong.
It looks like they’ll win the three Queensland seats of Ryan, Griffith and Brisbane from, respectively, the Liberals, Liberal National Party and Labor. Adam Bandt is now confident the Greens are “on the march” in the sunshine state. That’s quite a turnaround from 2019, where Queensland proved critical to Morrison’s miracle victory.
From the ground up
Crucially, Green politics is built from the ground up, beginning with participation at local council level and in state parliaments.
In 2020, the party won two state seats, following their gain of a seat on Brisbane City Council, and have continued to build on that momentum into this election with sophisticated grass roots campaigning.
This is a long term effort. In the seat of Ryan, for example, which takes in much of Brisbane’s leafy west and hinterland, the Greens have been slowly building up strength since reaching just under 19% in 2010. On Saturday, Elizabeth Watson-Brown wrested Ryan from the LNP with a primary vote of 31.1% and a two-party-preferred vote of 53.2%.
Traditionally, the Greens have posed more of a threat to Labor. While they have done most damage to the Liberals this election, Labor knows that it is not immune to this rising third force. Adam Bandt’s seat was solidly Labor for over one hundred years.
A Green mandate
Gaining the balance of power in either or both houses would give the Greens greater leverage to introduce parts of their agenda. The election result was clearly a mandate for strengthened climate action, and they will seek that immediately.
What could this look like? Think of the key achievements of the Gillard minority Labor government, which included Green initiatives such as clean energy legislation, carbon pricing and the establishment of the Climate Change Authority, Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
In 2022, Greens preferences to Labor across the country proved vital in unseating Liberal MPs. Despite Labor’s traditional discomfort with Green incursions into “their” seats, this trend is here to stay. Labor will have to deal with it. The Greens back much of the teal independents’ agenda of climate action and political integrity, making them collectively a powerful crossbench for change.
In his post election speech, Bandt made clear what he wants: a principled, stable Labor government, with an end to coal and gas, a just transition for displaced workers, and investment in climate resilience.
By neglecting environmental issues and failing to adequately tackle Australia’s growing inequality, both major parties have created the political space which Green politics fills.
Over the last decade, as climate-linked crises have intensified, public concern has soared. The economic cost of this neglect is already in the billions and climbing.
The Greens and teal independents will likely seek to end fossil fuel subsidies and to ban fossil industry donations to political parties. Had the political parties kept a distance from corrosive fossil fuel influence in the first place, they would not find Greens and teals replacing them.
Kate Crowley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.