On June 25 2008, Nick Minchin gave a valedictory speech to the Senate to mark the departure of the Australian Democrats from the federal Parliament after a presence of over 30 years.
To help further boost the mood of the Democrats there that night, Senator Minchin kindly outlined that “one of the things (he) managed to achieve in Australian politics was keeping Janine Haines out of the House of Representatives”, due to his then role of managing the Liberal campaign in Kingston in the federal election of 1990.
I was genuinely very fearful of Janine capturing a seat in the House of Representatives which, from my perspective and the perspective of my party, would have been a dreadful thing to have occurred. I remember having a real fight with Andrew Peacock, our then leader, in which I tried to convince him that we should direct preferences to the Labor Party to keep Janine out. He insisted that we could not do that and that we always put Labor last, therefore we had to direct preferences to Janine. The problem with that was we were running third in the ballot 10 days out and our preferences were going to elect her to the seat. In my role as the state director, I then ran the most negative campaign that has ever been run against the Democrats anywhere.
Needless to say, this campaign was successful. Also needless to say was that it relied on fundamentally misrepresenting the Democrats’ policies at the time.
I was reminded of Senator Minchin’s statements when the ALP unleashed some advertising grossly misrepresenting the Greens’ policy positions on a couple of inflammatory issues. The Greens were readier to respond than the Democrats had been in 1990, but it none the less reinforced the reality that the bigger the Greens vote gets, and the closer the Greens get to winning Lower House seats at state or federal elections, the more they can expect to meet major resistance.
Not all of this will be as dishonest as Labor’s attacks in Tasmania last week or the Liberal’s in Kingston in 1990. Every political party has vulnerabilities that are open to criticism, and it is part of the task of their competition to highlight those vulnerabilities. How well the Greens deal with that reality over the next few years will play a big role in determining whether they can sustainably achieve what every third party in Australian politics dreams of – regular representation in the Lower Houses of our state and federal Parliaments (leaving aside Tasmania, which as is regularly noted, is quite different from the rest of Australia).