Adam Bandt Wants To Form Government With Labor, Just Not This Labor

"Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison are in a competition as to who loves coal the most."

Adam Bandt

New Greens leader Adam Bandt says he one day wants to form a coalition government with Labor, but will not ease up on his attacks on the opposition while the party “keeps hugging coal”.

Bandt, 47, was elected leader of the Greens in an uncontested ballot earlier this week after former leader Richard Di Natale’s shock decision to quit parliament. He won the inner-city seat of Melbourne at the 2010 election, and remains the sole Greens MP in the House of Representatives.

Speaking with Junkee shortly after his elevation to the leadership, the new Greens leader outlined his vision for a party that has struggled to grow beyond the electoral high-water mark that came at the 2010 federal election. In that election, the Greens scored 11.7 percent of the primary vote. In 2019, the party managed just 10.4 percent nationally.

“If you look back not that long ago, we had only one member of parliament, now we’ve got 10. The votes of the other parties have gone backwards, while at the last election, our vote went up. What I want to do is increase the number of Greens in parliament and get to the point where we have a shared power [with Labor]”, he says.

It may appear that the Greens have hit an electoral ceiling, but Bandt remains confident he can grow the party’s base. Following a summer of deadly bushfires, he’s hoping that a renewed focus on climate change will energise a generation of young Australians into political activism — and the Greens will benefit in the process.

Adam Bandt Wants A “Green New Deal” For Australia

At the centre of Adam Bandt’s pitch is an Australian version of the Green New Deal — a phrase recently popularised by democratic socialist US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and originated by former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose suite of social and economic “New Deal” reforms lifted 1930s America out of the Great Depression.

Bandt’s vision of a Green New Deal tracks with AOC’s, which calls for a complete re-structure of the US economy, with renewable energy and climate action as a central focus. He’s also focusing on hip-pocket issues such as government-funded dental and mental health care, free education, and rent control reforms for a generation of young Australians who have been locked out of the housing market.

And of course, there’s climate change.

Former leader Richard Di Natale was criticised by some in his party for straying from the Greens’ environmental roots in pursuit of more power within Parliament. He was accused of working too closely with the Coalition, helping the government to pass legislation in deals that “got things done”, but which alienated some Greens voters.

By striking deals and showing pragmatism, he hoped to illustrate that a party of protest could become a party of government. But the numbers seem to bear the criticism out. When he took over the leadership, Di Natale pledged to double the party’s primary vote by 2020, but it has gone slightly backwards.

Bandt wants to return to the party’s roots, focusing first and foremost on the Coalition’s failure to adequately address climate change.

Before he’d even officially won the leadership, News Corp outlets were calling the new leader a “far-left joke”, but Bandt, who acted as the Greens’ sharpest attack dog before taking the leadership, isn’t phased.

If I had Rupert Murdoch’s endorsement, I’d be doing something wrong,” he says. 

“At the moment, we’ve got a criminal government that is burning young people’s future. They refuse to take the climate and inequality crisis seriously. This government will only act if we force them to, and the only way we’ll force them to act is by building a people power movement.”

“Part of the reason I’m excited about being leader now is that people are feeling the effects of climate very physically. Here in parliament, the rooms smell like smoke. When I dropped my kids off at daycare just a few weeks ago, the air was so dangerous that the warning on my phone showed someone in a gas mask,” he says. “We have a climate and environment emergency, an inequality crisis and a jobs crisis and the government’s only answer is ‘well, get used to it, because it is the new normal’. Well, I refuse to adapt to kids wearing gas masks.”

Immediately upon winning the leadership ballot on Tuesday, Bandt spoke to the media, then addressed a climate change rally on the lawns of Parliament House. As is the fashion with new leaders these days, Bandt has pledged to tour the country, listening to the concerns of voters and selling his Green New Deal.

But it’s not yet clear what the Green New Deal actually is beyond a set of principles and big picture ideas.

One element missing from Bandt’s first pitch was any mention so far of a jobs guarantee or a universal basic income — two policies that are gaining traction within the political left, who see a generation of young Australians who are unemployed or in insecure work, and a future where many working class jobs will be automated.

When pressed on the issue by Junkee, Bandt says both policies are under “active consideration”, but refuses to commit to either. It’s all part of Bandt’s listening tour, which he says will inform the party’s policies going forward.

“One in three young Australians either doesn’t have a job or enough work, and the only alternative is income support that leaves you in poverty,” he says. “We have to look at a universal basic income. We’re going to be talking about that as part of our Green New Deal.”

Another issue mentioned by Bandt is rent control, but when pressed, a spokesperson could only tell us that Bandt is “inspired by” Berlin’s policy, and more will be decided following consultation.

A Labor-Greens Coalition Government?

A set of policy proposals is lovely, but meaningless if you can’t implement them. The Greens have only one seat in the lower house, and remain relatively sidelined in the Senate while the Coalition can work with the a motley crew of right-leaning crossbenchers to get legislation through.

Like his predecessor, Bandt sees the Greens’ future tied closely to Labor’s. He believes that coalition governments comprising Labor and the Greens are only a matter of time.

“During the shared power parliament [of 2010 to 2013], we worked closely together to put a carbon price in, and it’s the only thing that worked,” he claims. 

But that doesn’t stop him from attacking Labor when he gets a chance — particularly when it comes to the opposition’s divisions on the future of coal as a crucial element of Australia’s energy and export mix. He accuses Labor leader Anthony Alabenese of “hugging coal” on a recent tour of Queensland, saying Albo’s remarks were “insulting” to bushfire victims.

“I just wish that Labor would stop agreeing with the Liberals on things like coal, and giving tax cuts to millionaires. I do believe there’s a difference between Labor and the Liberals,” he says. “In the past, when we [The Greens and Labor] have worked together, we’ve been able to bring down carbon pollution.”  

It’s a difficult balance to strike for any Greens leader. On the one hand, Labor offers a potential future at the big table, where real decisions are made. On the other, Labor and the Greens are often fighting each other for votes in crucial seats, particularly in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne. On this last point, Bandt is adamant: No party ‘owns’ anyone’s vote, and every party should have to fight for it. He says he’s not afraid to take votes off the Labor party, even if the possible consequence of that is more Coalition government.

“Parties don’t own votes, people do,” he says. “We’ll fight to grow wherever we can. I think things like the climate and inequality crisis cut across traditional party lines. “

But Bandt’s number one enemy, naturally, is Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who he derisively calls “Scotty From Marketing” — a nickname coined by satirical newspaper The Betoota Advocate when the PM went MIA during the bushfire crisis.

Scott Morrison, Scotty from Marketing

“Scotty From Marketing has conned people into believing he’s taking action into the climate crisis. People will increasingly see him as a fraud. People will soon see him as someone who is making the climate crisis worse,” he says.

It’s clear the Bandt’s ultimate goal is to nudge Labor to the left, and into a position where the two parties can work together to form government.

“I just wish that Labor would stop agreeing with the Liberals on things like coal and giving tax cuts to millionaires. I do believe there’s a difference between Labor and the Liberals. In the past, when we [The Greens and Labor] have worked together, we’ve been able to bring down carbon pollution.

“Spruiking coal isn’t the way to go. If that’s the case, and they have a bit of a change of heart, then we could get somewhere.”

Rob Stott is the Managing Editor of Junkee Media. He tweets @Rob_St0tt.