Submitted to GREEN, the national e-magazine of the Australian Greens, in the wake of last Saturday’s state elections in my role as convenor of The Greens NSW…
Three lower house seats for the Greens in NSW. A fourth hangs in the balance. Yes, it’s a headline result. Historic in many ways, not least in the 47% primary vote for Jenny Leong in the new seat of Newtown and the fact that we have taken at least one ‘safe’ regional seat from the Nationals. We also retained Balmain – our first lower house triumph in 2011 – increasing our margin over Labor in that seat from 205 votes to around 2000.
And yes, it’s a victory for Greens across the country as we in NSW benefited from the hundreds of volunteers from other states who did phone banking and donated to our financial appeals. Some Queenslanders also came south to help on polling day and our federal MPs made flying inspirational visits and came out door-knocking with us.
Clearly our confederation works.
Beyond the collective enthusiasm of members, our victories are a testament to the value of principled community campaigning.
The triumphs in the far north coast seats flowed from our grassroots work in opposing CSG drilling. The Labor Party jumped on the bandwagon during the election campaign with a promise to ban gas-fields in the north and, while it added to their vote, more people stuck with the Greens. We were rewarded for having taken this stand right from the start and for putting our bodies on the line at the famous Bentley blockade last year.
In both Balmain and Newtown the main issue was the $15 billion WestConnex – recall that a month before the election 3,000 people marched through Newtown in opposition. On this issue, it was only the Greens among the party contenders who opposed this tollway and who have helped organise and lead the campaign against this mid-20th century folly. Once again our grassroots work in helping mobilise what is majority public opinion paid dividends at the ballot box.
Of course this reputation for principled campaigning was not earned in 5 minutes. It’s the way we have operated since our inception 30 years ago. Jamie Parker embodies it – he was 12 years a local Councillor with many campaigns under his belt and he continued that work after elected as a state MP.
In turn, our electoral victories will help legitimise the ongoing extra-parliamentary campaigns against both CSG and WestConnex. Jenny Leong, our new Greens MP for Newtown, has already penned a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald declaring her willingness to be involved in civil disobedience against attempts to build WestConnex, citing the precedent of the actions against the East-West Link in Melbourne.
Such campaigns will clearly be needed. There is a worrying triumphalism in the ranks of the returned Coalition government and behind the nice guy image of the Premier Mike Baird is a determined neoliberal warrior for the 1%. The triumphalism – pumped up by the media – is on shaky ground as the combined Coalition parties vote was 45.7% compared to 44.4% for Labor and the Greens.
Despite fears that our 2015 Lower House vote might slip back from the 2011 level when we received some of the temporarily disillusioned Labor vote, it is a tick above that figure. As I write, the outcome of the state-wide Upper House ballot is still not known. The legendary John Kaye and Mehreen Faruqi have both been returned while the fate of our third candidate, Justin Field, is still in the balance. The final result will depend very much on how many Greens supporters voted below the line – usually an appreciable proportion of our voters.
It is true that our vote was patchy across NSW, slipping back in too many seats despite the wonderful efforts of local candidates, members and supporters. In a way those Greens will celebrate the Lower House triumphs vicariously. Our medium-term challenge will be to generalise the lessons learned in Balmain, Newtown, Ballina and Lismore. But those victories will strengthen our appeal in more difficult territories by making the idea of Greens MPs who are principled grassroots campaigners more commonplace and – how else can I put it? – mainstream. Meanwhile the celebrations continue.