Labor-Green Alliance and the Victorian State Election

The worst result could happen; Napthine re-elected. Grazing in alpine parks. Renewable energies and wind farms closed down. Ambulance drivers receiving the lowest pay in Australia. More manufacturing centres closed, thousands more unemployed. East-West link installed, and contracts held in secrecy in perpetuity. The righ to be referred to a doctor who will perform necessary reproductive procedures is removed. Compulsory religious instruction, but not by teachers and not as part of the curriculum.

Worse still, it happens as Labor and the Greens go to loggerheads in inner-city seats. Religious organisation retain the "right" to discriminate in public employment. This is a fundamental issue of resource allocation that all members of Labor and the Greens must be completely cognisant of; when Labor and the Greens compete, regardless of which of the two is victorious, it is actually the Tories who win.

The possibility of a Napthine-led victory on November 29 is a lot more real than most people realise. The opinion polls may point to a victory to the Labor Party under Daniel Andrews; Newspoll had Labor leading 55-45% on TPP in its August 2014 poll. But a revision of how the Labor Party was faring in the opinions polls in August 2010 is also necessary; Labor leading then 55-45% [1] too. Over the course of the campaign there will be an expected narrowing of the polls, and the LNP will continue its misuse of the public advertising to promote its promises as planned future activities of the government. Do not be surprised if, on November 30, Victorians wake up to the headache of another four years of Tory rule.

Resource Allocation and Opportunity Costs

But this can be prevented. By way of simple example, consider the state seat of Melbourne. In a recent email Adam Bandt made a call for funds and volunteers for the Green's campaign in Melbourne [2]. In the email it was noted "97 incredible volunteers are ready and raring to make calls". It's great that the Greens campaign has been able to harnass such energy in support of its candidate and the party's policies. One can imagine that the ALP is engaging in a similar campaign as well with a like number of individuals. So between them there is probably 200 individuals on the phones promoting the election of a centre-left or left candidate. Now given that the combined Labor-Green vote in the Melbourne district at the last fully contested election (2010) was 67.59% of the primary vote [3], none would be required if Labor and the Greens were not in contest with each other. In other words, the 200 or so 'phone volunteers could be used in seats that are marginal in terms of defeating the Tories.

Now obviously it is not just 'phone volunteers at issue here. As any experienced political campaigner knows, there is also the printing of leaflets, letter-boxing, door-knocking, local advertisements, core flutes, A-frames, bunting, how-to-vote cards, canvassers, party-appointed scrutineers and so forth. Given that marginal seats (on a sliding scale of course) receive several times as much campaign funding than safe seats, that is a massive expenditure of resources that could be re-allocated in a Labor or Green contest against the Tories, rather than a Labor and Green contest against each other. Even when Labor and the Greens are exchanging preferences, which is often the case, this still holds true; the resources are still expended and when they are spent in one seat's campaign, they can't be spent elsewhere. That's the lesson of opportunity costs.

So when Labor and the Greens compete, they effectively give free money to the Tories. This has very real effects; because Melbourne, Richmond, Brunswick, and Northcote, had to be treated as a Labor-Green contest, rather than a Labor-Green alliance against the Tories, then significantly less effective campaigns were run in seats like Bentleigh, Seymour, Carrum, Frankston, and Mordialloc. As a result, the Brumby government was defeated, and a new anti-worker, anti-environmental, and anti-secular government came to power, under Baillieu and Napthine. Keep this is mind; the entire debacle of the last four years could have been avoided if Labor and the Greens had been acting in at least a degree of cooperation rather than competition in 2010.

Party and Factional Loyalities

In a sense competition between the Labor and the Greens is perfectly understandable from a party loyalist point of view. They are different organisations with sometimes very different policies and arguably even have a very different social base for their core constiuency. From the Green's point of view they wish to extend their influence in the inner-city and perhaps even win a couple of seats, consolidating their existing hold on the Federal seat of Melbourne which they must do in order to survive. From the Labor point of view, the Greens are eating away at their former strongholds like fifth columnists and, if left unchecked, could extend further. Labor strategists know that winning a war on two fronts is next to impossible and that taking out the Greens is a lot easier than taking out the Tories. As a result, there is a distinct probability that in defeat the Labor Party will eventually turn on the Greens, and Greens will fight tooth and claw for their political survival.

It is an interesting fact of political geography that in higher social densitites with public infrastructure people tend to be more left-wing. This is as true in Melbourne as it is in any developed country on earth, if one cares to do the research. In the environment of Melbourne (and Sydney, et. al) it has particular interest because it means the inner-city Labor members and candidates are often from the more radical groupings in the party. So the conflict between Labor and the Greens in these areas is typically even more between the left wing of the Labor Party and the left-wing Greens. Whilst fraticide is a common sport in the left (both as a democratic metaphor and the very literal visceral level in dictatorships), it doesn't mean that it's particularly good policy. It's not just the Tories who win when Labor and the Greens compete against each other; it's also the socially conservative elements within the Labor Party. As a result, the Labor Party becomes even more conservative, the left of the Labor Party becomes even more desparate to retain their shrinking pool of MPs, and the Greens become more aggressive to take over those seats. Yet among all this, governments, both Labor and Tory (let's face it, the Greens are not going to win government in the forseeable future), are increasingly dominated by the conservative politics.

There is the difference between party (or factional) loyalties and actually implementing real progressive policy. From this there should be some evidence from history; progressive politics succeeds in Australia when the left within the Labor Party and the left outside of the Labor Party are working towards common objectives. Obviously there can be differences and separate organisations but even on a realpolitik level, it should be obvious that the current competitive situation is strengthening the power of social conservatives and their cavalier neoliberal economics. Even if, on a policy level, differences are retained, surely on a practical level agreements can be reached that can minimise the damage caused and the resources wasted in competitive environments. This is exactly what Labor and the Greens failed to do in 2010 [4], and with the inevitable results.

Towards A United Coalition of Interests

The LNP coalition are smart enough to understand resource allocation and opportunity costs; they go out of their way to avoid three-cornered contests, because they know how wasteful it is. As separate organisations they understand that only when a sitting member retires that it is opportune for the two sides to engage in a contest, and even then it is viciousness of such contests that they do their best to avoid them. Even though the Labor Party and the Greens are not in a coalition, for pratical purposes they can act as if they were. That would be the best way, in electoral terms, to maximise effective resources against the LNP and prevent another four years of Tory rule.

This would mean the Greens not running candidates in those seats which are marginal Labor-Green; Melbourne, Richmond, and Brunswick, or at least running "flat" campaigns. It would mean concentrating resources instead in areas where the Greens can raise a challenge against Tory-held seats and where it actually doesn't matter if Labor or the Greens win, as long as a challenge is put up against the government. The safe-Liberal inner city seats (Kew, Hawthorn, Malvern) would be ideal areas, for example. But if such an agreement were to be reached, there would have to be some quid pro quo. Labor would have to return the favour to the Greens for the Federal seat of Melbourne.

Such a practical arrangement would benefit both Labor and the Greens, would free up a massive amount of resources for both parties in competing against the Tories (getting rid of the Napthine and the Abbott regimes), and would empower and consolidate progressive forces both within the Labor Party and outside. These facts however screamingly obvious to any seasoned political campaigner, are, unfortunately unlikely. Indeed, it is almost certain that the strategic operatives in both the Labor and the Greens have not yet even approached each other with such a consideration in mind. As the election day approaches, questions must surely be raised: "Who is this competition between the Labor Party and the Greens benefiting?" "Are we prepared to let this competition lead to four years of Napthine government?" "Or perhaps even an Abbott victory in the future?" "And before we destroy each other, is there a better way?"


[1] and
[2] Adam Bandt, correspondence, September 1st, 2014

Commenting on this Page will be automatically closed on November 29, 2014.


There was a lengthy debate about this article on Facebook. The following useful comments can be summarised as follows:

1) Bro Sheffield-Brotherton pointed out that the Greens are running a strong campaign in Prahran.

This is useful, as when the Labor and the Greens campaign against a LNP held seat, no matter who wins, the conservatives lose. This differs from Labor/Green contests where the only victor is the LNP.

2) Polly Morgan made the excellent comment that a Labor-Green ceasefire in the inner city seats would result in problems for the Greens in the Northern Metropolitan Legislative Council.

This is very true and could only be resolved by a much stronger preference allocation between Labor and the Greens in the Legislative Council, such as a joint or a ticket that splits allocations between the two parties.

3) Mark Tregonning suggested that much of this could be avoided if Australia moved to multi-member proportional representation.

Great for the future tense.

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