Junk Explained: Why Do Labor And The Greens Hate Each Other So Much?


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If you’ve paid any attention to this year’s federal election campaign (and fair enough if you haven’t, it’s an uninspiring mess) you have probably noticed that Labor and the Greens have been ramping up the aggression towards each other.

According to the latest polls, the two left-of-centre parties are on track to receive about 49 per cent of the vote, significantly more than the Liberal-National Coalition who are polling about 42 per cent (the remainder is spread among smaller parties and independents). Among voters aged 18-24, the Greens and Labor are polling a massive 63 per cent of the vote between them.

Despite working together in minority government between 2010 and 2013 to deliver key reforms like the carbon price and getting dental care into Medicare, Labor and the Greens have resumed hostilities. The Greens are after Labor’s seats across the inner city suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, and both parties are spending an enormous amount of money, time and effort attacking each other.

The Greens argue that Labor’s sold out its values on issues like asylum seeker policy, while Labor has been busy accusing the Greens of doing a preference deal with the Liberal Party (though without presenting any evidence, it has to be said).

It’s all a bit messy, and like most things is better explained using a pop culture reference from the early 2000s: Labor and the Greens are the Eamon and Frankee of Australian politics.

Back in 2003 Eamon dropped his debut single (does he have others? Who cares) ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’. The track, which quickly shot to the top of the ARIA charts, is basically just four minutes of Eamon whining about a girl who cheated on him, declaring that everything in the former relationship “Don’t mean shit”, and that no matter what happens he’ll never take her back.

Eamon is basically Labor.

Despite a productive alliance with the Greens back in 2010, Labor leader Bill Shorten has ruled out any kind of formal relationship with the party in the event of a hung parliament after this election. His exact words to Greens leader Richard Di Natale, who expressed enthusiasm for a rekindling of the Labor-Greens romance, were: “tell him he’s dreaming”. Which is basically the polite, politically correct version of saying: “Fuck you, you ho! I don’t want you back!” (Thanks Eamon.)

Following the success of Eamon’s song, Frankee (who, as it turns out, had no connection to Eamon whatsoever) recorded ‘F.U.R.B. (Fuck You Right Back)’, a song told from the perspective of Eamon’s ex-girlfriend.

Her track, which basically sums up the Greens’ current attitude to Labor, opens with:

“See I don’t know why you cryin’ like a bitch…
If you really didn’t care
You wouldn’t wanna share
Tellin’ everybody just how you feel”.

She goes on to blame all the problems in their relationship on Eamon, and specifically brings up the fact he was really bad in bed. Which is, as far as I’m concerned, a pretty clear analogy for the argument from the Greens that the reason the 2010-13 alliance with Labor didn’t work out is all due to internal division and the warring between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

The main takeaway from all this is that things aren’t great between the two parties, and they’re acting a bit like scorned lovers. But it doesn’t have to be like this! In New Zealand, the Greens and Labour have signed an historic agreement that will see the two parties campaign together in an attempt to oust the incumbent conservative government. They’ll retain their own distinct identities and policies, but will work collaboratively to produce something greater than the sum of their parties.

In this way, they’re kind of like Drake and Rihanna: great on their own, but the magic truly shines when they work together, complement each other’s differences and produce truly outstanding music/progressive policies.

New Zealand’s electoral system makes it a bit easier for the two parties to work together. They have a system of proportional representation, which means the number of seats each party receives in Parliament is roughly equivalent to their national vote. In Australia, whoever forms government depends on the individual results across 150 distinct electoral districts. This means the battle between Labor and the Greens, at this stage, is more brutal and intense. The best shot the Greens have of boosting their strength in Parliament at this election is by taking on, and deposing, Labor MPs.

That dynamic is a big part of the reason why the two parties have such an intense, fraught relationship. The battle between them at both state and federal elections is brutal. Labor doesn’t want to give up its inner city heartland and seats it’s held for a century, but the Greens are arguing that Labor no longer represents the values of progressive voters who tend to live in those seats.

Labor is desperate to distance itself from the Greens because it thinks that any potential alliance with smaller party will hurt it badly in the marginal, outer-suburban seats it needs to win off the Liberal Party in order to form majority government. That’s why the nature of Labor’s attacks this election campaign is so toxic.

But if there is another hung Parliament, and neither major party can form government in their own right, most people expect Labor to at least have some sort of discussion with the Greens about a power sharing agreement.

It’s too early to tell if our very own Eamon and Frankee will transform into a Drake and Rihanna, but my guess is most of the young, progressive voters who are backing Labor and the Greens would rather they ‘Work’ together in a way that’s ‘Too Good’ for the Liberal party, and ‘Take Care’ of the big policy questions like climate change, equal marriage and asylum seekers.

TLDR: politics should be more like this.

Osman Faruqi is a Sydney based writer and broadcaster. You can follow him on Twitter at@oz_f.