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Labor and the Greens play Deal or No Deal in Victoria

Note: This article was originally published by Crikey on 10 November 2014

Labor and the Greens are so hellbent on destroying each other that neither is keeping an eye on who the real enemy is, writes Daniel Scoullar.

Greens Deputy Leader and Melbourne MP Adam Bandt set the Victorian Twitterverse aflutter on Friday by tweeting the following:

BREAKING: Labor leaves door open to preferencing Libs & religious right after rejecting Greens offer of pref swap to help kick Napthine out.

The predictable Twitter pandemonium ensued, with a sizeable majority of the online commentariat finding the ALP guilty as accused.

Now, leave aside the fact that turning down a proposed deal is not the same as actually preferencing the Right. We won’t know how Labor’s preferences will flow until much closer to election day.

Also leave aside the fact the Greens seem to be playing a similar game by not ruling out support for a Coalition government in the event of a hung Parliament. This is despite Premier Denis Napthine’s conservative policy agenda and decision to preference to Labor in key ALP-Greens marginal seats.

What are we left with? Two progressive parties spending too much time and money fighting each other instead of fighting for a change in government.

It is true that the Greens have been the victims of ALP preference deals before (does anyone remember Steve Fielding?). The Greens may see the leveraging of public opinion as their last resort, given that Labor appears resistant to a principled swap of preferences across all seats.

For the ALP’s part, a few of its most progressive MPs and candidates are at risk from Greens challengers. For some in that party, it seems defeating the Greens in the inner city and reducing their influence in the upper house is as important a goal as winning government.

It is clear that in both parties there are people pushing for internecine warfare over a shared commitment to replacing Denis the Menace with Dan the Man.

In the end, the Greens cannot actually preference the Liberals in marginal lower house seats. Their members would (and should) eat them alive. The same goes for open tickets. If the Greens play a meaningful part in electing a Coalition government they will lose more than a decade’s worth of disaffected Labor voters and their moral legitimacy.

However, the ALP has shown it is more than happy to play hard and ruthless when it comes to preferences and could well do so again at this election. If Labor receives Greens support and does not return the favour then it will be a clear case of petty party ideology over principles and policy. If this happens, Labor would fully deserve the savage condemnation to follow.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews stated that he had personally “directed the state secretary to reject [the preference swap proposal] in full; there will be no coalitions, no deals”. He stated this was his “commitment”.

Perversely, if the ALP follows through with this rhetoric and chooses right-wing MPs over progressive ones, it would be the best thing that could happen to the Greens in Victoria. If this happens, the Greens will have decisively won the battle for Melbourne’s progressive heart.

Let the Greens and ALP fight each other on policy. Let them fight for seats in both houses. But let’s hope the true believers in both parties win out over the hard heads, so that when progressive Victorians vote later this month they can support their party of choice and be sure that they will also get the most progressive parliament possible.