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If a federal election results in a hung parliament, how should the Greens respond?

Blog
Lee Rhiannon 30 Nov 2017

While elections usually result in a hung Senate, with neither Labor nor the Coalition having a majority, this outcome occurs only occasionally in the House of Representatives where government is formed. 

The last time this happened was in 2010 when Labor under Julia Gillard formed government by relying on support from the sole Green MP Adam Bandt and lower house Independents. Prior to that there had not been a hung House of Representatives election result since the second World War.

Nevertheless, there always remains a prospect of it happening, and the Greens should be prepared for such a situation.

In the advent of a hung parliament the Australian Greens National Conference or Council should make the decision not just the Leader's office or the Greens' federal Party Room.

My instinctive response to the subject is that the Greens should never support the Coalition to form government. It would damage our party and supporter base irreparably. That said we need to be cautious about the impact of our party being perceived to be just an arm of the Labor Party.

We have little choice following an election deadlock but to support the Labor Party to form government. I am very wary about forming a formal alliance or coalition beyond that or accepting any Ministerial offices. We should judge and vote on each piece of legislation on its merits, put forward our own Bills, and not hesitate to criticise the government when it is deserved.

Why I have reached this conclusion is because of the loss of support for the Greens after being involved in alliance governments in other countries and at state and federal levels in Australia. Consistently Greens do not have a good election outcome immediately after being part of alliance governments, resulting in significant loss of momentum towards implementation of our policies.

Certainly that is the case when the Greens have supported conservative parties to form government. They were unwise decisions in the first place. It is also the case when we have been part of, or had a formal alliance with a Labor government in Australian jurisdictions. Labor's vote usually suffers too after being in an alliance government.

Perhaps these declines in our party's vote are because when Greens are involved as the junior partner in an alliance government, we also suffer the voter backlash for the mistakes of the government. We can be perceived by voters as being so close to Labor that our identity is reduced.  In some instances Greens MPs have even helped government deliver outcomes that a Greens party should not support. In doing so it helps create an image that we are little better than the major parties. 

Keeping our distance from Labor while giving them no more than support to form government in a hung parliament may not solve the problem, but it could help reduce it. It is essential that the Greens keep attracting voters from Labor and we must continue to point out Labor's mistakes and policy weaknesses to do that. Staying as independent of Labor as we can while meeting our basic obligation to our supporters not to let the Coalition rule and relentlessly driving our own policy agenda in parliament and the community is the way forward.

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