NSW Labor’s broadside against the Greens has left PM Julia Gillard marooned. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
NSW Labor’s massive broadside against the Greens has left Julia Gillard looking like a general who wasn’t told the war had started.
The move by the party machine to preference the Greens last is about the long-term future of Labor, beyond the current commander.
It left the prime minister marooned, left to make deflective noises about how it was a matter for the party’s organisational wing.
The only thing keeping her company are the policies she has given life to in order to appease the Greens, most notably the deeply unpopular carbon tax.
Photos of the PM sitting with former Greens leader Bob Brown, both wearing sprigs of wattle as a happy Wayne Swan and a collection of Greens MPs watched on, can only haunt Gillard all the more now as the party machine try to chart their own course.
Labor MPs were furious with the Greens for failing to back an effective offshore asylum policy during the last parliamentary sitting week before the long winter break.
Their blinkered commitment to onshore processing with just vague policy hopes of stopping boats through an ill-defined regional co-operation scheme was called “loopy” by Swan this week.
But party operatives aren’t just looking to touch up the Greens over that, they are declaring the friendship over – Labor style.
Sections of the party in NSW want the links to the Greens to end in a bloodbath for the minority party.
It would signal a shift away from inner city boutique issues and back to Labor’s heartland of workers and battlers.
Their gamble is the Greens would be so desperate for the minority government – in which they have the balance of power in the senate and share it in the house of representatives – to continue for as long as possible they won’t pull out of a deal to prop up the Gillard government.
Labor machine men believe the Greens could be left with as few as two senators if the ALP preferences them last.
“We have to stop treating them like they are part of the family, we need to treat them like a cold calculating political party, which is what they are,” one said yesterday.
NSW Labor Secretary Sam Dastyari will move a motion at this weekend’s Labor conference to stop the “automatic preferential treatment in any future preference negotiations”.
The Coalition has decried the move as like stage-managed world championship wrestling.
But while chest-thumping about dumping the Greens from the Labor family is a political tactic, the startling element is that it does not appear Gillard was in on the plan.
Dastyari has the support of union chief Paul Howes, who helped Gillard rise to PM, because he says the Greens are “cannibalising the progressive vote”.
Labor’s chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon has also questioned Labor’s links with the Greens.
Dastyari’s move would also settle an old score for the NSW wing of Labor.
At the 2011 state election the Greens effectively preferenced Labor in the same spot as One Nation in the legislative council, meaning their preferences exhausted before delivering any benefit to Labor, leaving it almost wiped out as a major party.
The party interpreted the move as a “cold, calculated political decision to inflict maximum damage to NSW Labor at its worst point” – a gesture the party would now happily return.
NSW has also had more experience of some of the zanier Greens policies, where Greens MPs have often looked not just like “watermelons” – green on the outside but red on the inside – but simply red all the way through.
One example cited by one Labor source was NSW Greens senator and former communist Lee Rhiannon’s contribution to the second airport debate for Sydney.
The senator sent out a press release in April headed “Sydney Airport solution”.
Except it wasn’t much of a solution. Her plan was to close down Kingsford Smith and move it outside the Sydney basin and connect to it via high speed rail.
There were no costings, not even a location for this airport the Greens want.
It was the lofty idealism of the Greens’ asylum policy which led Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews to declare yesterday the Greens are on a “different planet”.
“Their (the Greens’) main game is holding themselves hostage if you like … an evangelical idealism that achieves nothing,” he said.
But the difficulty for Gillard is that while the party dumps the Greens, she is welded to them thanks to the carbon tax and her minority government deal.
And while she may have launched a few broadsides at them herself, to outside observers the Prime Minister has looked like a very good friend to the Greens.