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A Lesson For The Majors

Right now I am on an eight-hour road trip to the Thai-Burma border, which gives me time to reflect on the amazing parliamentary year that is finally drawing to a close.

It has been a big year for the Greens - our support has been on the rise, punctuated by a record performance for a third party in both Houses at the federal election in August. More importantly, on a federal level, we are starting to achieve real outcomes, both in terms of expanding the range of political debate and in working to secure improvements to legislation that affects people's lives.

By leading the debate on reform of Australia's outdated marriage laws, by outlining legislation to provide real protection for Australian consumers from the excesses of the banking sector, by negotiating safeguards to prevent the automatic privatisation of the national broadband network and by securing a climate change committee to drive real action on the most vital question facing Australia this century, the Greens are trying to take a long-term view on policy.

We have remained positive in this political year where the old parties have chosen to define themselves by what they are against rather than what they are for, leaving the Australian public hard-pressed to decide between the two. The Coalition has been particularly guilty in this regard, with its relentlessly negative approach.

At the weekend, the last major political set-piece of this extraordinary year has come and gone with the Victorian election. It has seen voters likely to usher in a change of government after 11 years of Labor.

In the state election it was Labor rather than the Coalition that chose an overwhelmingly negative campaign focus, and the party has paid for that approach with one of the biggest swings against a sitting Victorian government in 50 years.

There is always a need to review and reflect on campaigns once they are completed and acknowledge areas where things could be improved. Just as Labor would be no doubt re-assessing its choice to go negative, the Greens must question the decision to opt into the perennial auction over preferences by doing a deal with Labor.

The Greens are an independent political force, and we are neither a faction of nor a preference machine for Labor or any other party.The Greens should not have directed preferences to the Labor Party. We should have gone open ticket, allowing Victorian voters to make up their own minds. We should also move to make open tickets the default position for all elections, including federal polls.

Despite a decisive swing to the conservative side of politics, the Greens still managed to increase their vote in both Houses, even if it is unlikely to result in extra seats. If preferences had flowed similarly to 2006, the Greens would have won the Lower House seats of Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick.

Only the foolhardy would try and predict what 2011 has in store, but if Labor and the Coalition refuse to learn the lessons of this past year, then the voting public may well continue to opt for a change from politics as usual - and that means more opportunities for the Greens.

This blog post was originally published on the National Times website. Click here to view the article.


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