There has been a bit of hoo hah in the media lately about the possibility of the ALP or the Libs going into coalition with the Greens to form government in the event of a hung Federal parliament.
It got me to thinking – what a lot of hot air and hyperbole!
Firstly the possibility of a Liberals coalition with the Greens. Not gunna happen. They are already in a marriage with another party – the Nationals – so it doesn’t make sense. To have a three way coalition is a bit like an Antipodean Italian or Weimar parliament. Australia is not ready for a three-way coalition.
The huff and puff of the PM saying that he would never go with the Greens is so predictable that surely, only the Greens would be mad enough to countenance such a possibility.
Can you imagine the Cabinet Room, with Turnbull on one side, Joyce on another and Di Natale on a third? A recipe for atrophy if ever there was one. I reckon the Nationals and the Greens are about as far apart ideologically as anyone could get.
It’s also a bit interesting to hear the PM saying that they’d never go into coalition given that they have been in a coalition since the Menzies days. The Liberal prime ministers have always, in current memory, governed in a minority government made a majority one by a formal coalition with the smaller National party. So saying that they would never compromise themselves is a bit rich.
In fact, the Libs have a fair record of governing with a dependence on a smaller party to outnumber the more popular major party, the ALP. Coalitions in the states are a fairly regular occurrence for them. Check out NT and Qld, NSW and Vic for examples.
The ALP has had a mixed experience in state and territory politics but has never been in a formal or informal agreement with the Greens federally. So the words of the ALP leadership ring true this time.
It should also be remembered that there is a difference between a Coalition and an Accord or an Agreement. Generally a coalition is an ongoing relationship of mutual support and shared spoils. An Accord and/or Agreement is a set of terms agreed by both parties to deliver certain policy outcomes (as described in the accord/agreement) in exchange for certainty in the continuation of governance. Both are in place only for the term of a particular parliament.
The difference between an accord and an agreement is that an accord is a time limited partnership in governance, with shared ministerial appointments and a set of political outcomes. An agreement is merely an agreed set of political outcomes in exchange for budget passage and guaranteed opposition to motions of no confidence.
For those junkies who remember such things, the Tasmanian experience of an Accord between the ALP and the Greens in 1989 was a disaster and resulted in loss of government. The Greens’ demands during those fractious years were so over the top that treading political water was the order of the day. Never again she said! But it did happen in 2010, with much the same result and for much the same reasons.
In the ACT, there was the ALP/Greens Agreement of 2008 in which a set of political outcomes for both sides was agreed and implemented for the most part. It did not require a ministerial position for one of the four Greens MLAs, although one became the Speaker whilst retaining “shadow” portfolio responsibilities and thus Private Members’ Business opportunities. Most strange!
The current agreement between the ALP and the Greens is more of an accord that an agreement, in that ministerial positions were negotiable, but still the partnership is limited to the term of the Assembly. It will happen again and if an agreement is not reached, either the Libs or Labor will need to govern as a minority government with all the trepidation that brings.
In both the 2008-2012 and 2012-2016 terms, governance has been possible through compromise and negotiation – but the sky didn’t fall in. It is possible also, because both the ALP and Greens occupy space on the left of politics and this meant that compromise was possible.
Also, remember that Kate Carnell governed firstly with the tacit (and some would say overt) support of half the crossbench, Osborne and Rugendyke, but when she lost Trevor Kaine to the crossbench and into the anti-government arms, she entered into an agreement with Michael Moore, who gave her his list of demands and held her and Gary Humphries to ransom for the remainder of the Libs’ time in office. This weird arrangement resulted in tears at the next election also.
Any chance of coalition with the Greens and anyone in federal politics is fairies at the bottom of the garden stuff, but then again, that is where Greens HQ is! I would suggest that Di Natale is the only leader in the federal arena who is delusional enough to canvass such a proposition, or maybe he suffers from relevance deprivation syndrome.