Why The Greens Winning In Queensland’s Labor Heartland Is A Big Deal

They went backwards in the statewide primary vote, but what happened in the inner city is way more important.

queensland election

On Saturday, one of what once was the safest Labor state seats in Queensland fell to the Greens. Jackie Trad lost the long-time Labor stronghold of South Brisbane to Amy MacMahon of the Greens.

In her victory speech, returned Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk didn’t even acknowledge her former deputy’s loss (or contribution) and now-deputy premier Steven Miles credited the LNP preferencing the Greens over Labor in the seat for the Greens win.

But what is totally absent from their recriminations is any suggestion that the Greens actually reflect the views of South Brisbane and Maiwar better than they do — or that Ms Trad was already on the path to losing the seat after the last election when she came within a hair’s breadth of getting turfed out.

The gains made by the Greens at this election show that Labor cannot easily walk the tightrope of trying to appeal to middle Australia and win over the left-leaning inner city at the same time.

New member for South Brisbane, Amy MacMahon, told Junkee the Greens believed the win was due to not just the opening chasm of views between her electorate and the Labor party, but also the strong ground-campaigns and community building done by the party in the area.

“We’re really excited. I think this is the culmination of many months and many years of hard work we’ve been putting in on the ground here,” she said.

An army of volunteers worked to door-knock on the ground, armed with the knowledge that Queenslanders are more dissatisfied with our current political parties and system than anywhere else in the country. A Scanlon Foundation survey last year found 48 percent of Queenslanders thought Australia’s political system needed major change or to be remade entirely.

In one-on-one conversations, campaigners pressed on this sore point to drive home Greens values of refusing corporate donations and re-democratising the political process.

Labor’s ties to Adani were particularly on the nose for voters in South Brisbane — even Ms Trad admitted herself they strongly opposed the mining giant’s activities. Let’s also not forget Ms Trad’s (federal) party formulated the offshore detention scheme, which the South Brisbane community has been fiercely fighting against since 120 refugees were transferred into their electorate because of Medevac legislation. This would further tarnish the Labor brand in their eyes.

On top of this ideological gulf between the voters and Labor’s policies, the Greens had also spent years building a framework for participatory democracy in the area.

Brisbane City Councillor Jonathan Sri is well known for his grassroots approach to deciding how to act on council issues, such as holding forums with locals to get their take on planning decisions.

Harmless seeming initiatives like council-funded community gardens also double as community building which re-engages voters in a political system they feel disenfranchised from.

“They’re frustrated with not being listened to and a political system that puts the interest of corporations ahead of theirs,” Ms MacMahon said. “They want the corporations to pay their fair share to fund essential services.”

Meanwhile, Labor lurches further to the right. Labor may have misread the political dissatisfaction of the electorate as an indication that voters want more interstate jingoism and policing (to the tune of $624 million over five years) rather than see it for what it is: people with real concerns who fear for their futures.

Ms MacMahon said they had some success in turning former One Nation voters to their side in South Brisbane, who shared the same frustrations and were often just trying to disrupt the political process.

“Most people aren’t aligned with the racism. They’re actually quite easy to swing to the Greens. We’re offering a genuine platform that speaks to their experiences,” she said. “Having a genuine alternative that understands what people are going through, we will continue to make gains in areas where people are voting One Nation.”

One Nation’s vote collapsed throughout Queensland, though this may have a lot to do with the party losing $500,000 in a failed resort redevelopment scheme in North Queensland.

Whether or not this had an impact, the party saw a 6.7 percent swing against it; down to just 7 percent of the primary vote in the state.

Meanwhile the Greens saw their vote go backwards statewide by 1 percent. But they argue they’re in a much stronger position than they were after the last election, with two seats in parliament and two more in striking distance at the next election. The two seats, Cooper and McConnel, are two of the most central in the state, and Greens candidates there received about 30 percent of the vote in each, with the largest gap between them and Labor at just 7 percent. Most of their preferences there flowed to Labor too, indicating an overlap in the voter base.

Ms MacMahon said they would now focus on building communities in those seats capable of wresting control from Labor, like they had in South Brisbane.

“They both came really close,” she said. “We of course wanted to welcome a few more colleagues into parliament but we will continue to campaign harder into those communities and build those connections.”

Ms MacMahon felt the party would be able to replicate the same success in regional One Nation strongholds, buoyed by their success in converting former Pauline voters in Brisbane because of their dissatisfaction with the two major parties.

Now the question remains: what will Labor do now they’ve been given a bloody nose from their left flank?

Labor has long been agonising over the need to lock down middle Australia’s votes. But in trying to shore up support in mining communities and suburban electorates, they let the inner city slip from their grasp.

Labor cannot do both. If they are to keep control of parliament, they will need to accept that they cannot try to woo inner-city voters more worried about climate change than mining and vice-versa in the regions.

They will need to learn to live with the Greens at the least, or work with them at the most.

It worked for Jacinda Arden in New Zealand who involved the Greens as coalition partners in her ministry, and did so again after the most recent election despite winning an outright majority. Labor and the Greens also play nice in the ACT, where the Liberals have been nearly been relegated to irrelevance.

Surely it should be within Labor’s interests to drop the antagonism and try to crush their traditional foes with a party whose interests are apparently more aligned. Unless of course they find more in common with the LNP than the Greens.

The Greens in Queensland are willing. “We’d be excited to be working with the Labor party,” Ms MacMahon said. At the next election it could be up to Labor to put aside their differences and work with the Greens, or move left again and risk giving up their gains in the regions and suburbs.

Jim Malo is a journalist with an interest in politics and social justice. He tweets at @thejimmalo.