After achieving 20% of the popular vote and 5 seats in a 25 seat Assembly, and deciding to prop up a minority Labor administration, the Greens now have a seat in the Tasmanian Cabinet – an Australian first.
This follows an agreement by the Greens Party in the ACT to support a minority Labor Government contained in a document perilously close to looking like an old fashioned coalition agreement.
The Greens there were able to strike their agreement after winning over 15% of the vote and 4 seats in a 17 seat legislature.
Whilst these are outcomes obtained in parliaments elected via proportional representation they could portend the future of legislatures constituted by single seat constituencies.
As demographer Bernard Salt has noted there is a social and economic division between those who live in the inner city and those who live on the city's edge:
…... I am suggesting that there is almost a regionalisation of wealth, income and culture based on urban geography.
Battlers, migrants and assorted low-income earners who formerly lived in the inner city are now being flung out, as if by some centrifugal force, to the city's edge.
What is left in the inner city is an odd coalescence of tribes - namely students, singles, couples, dinks, gays, expats, corporates, divorcees and, most important of all, the professional and entrepreneurial classes.
And to this lot I might add the entertainment, information and media glitterati. As a general principle, none of this class would ever think of living more than 10km from the city centre.
The ALP voting coalition has hitherto consisted of self identifying members of the labour movement, people with English as a second language, income transfer recipients, public sector workers, the arts sector and high income professionals who are both secularist and internationalist in orientation.
However, the Greens message - guided by the so-called ‘four pillars’ (ecological sustainability, social equality and economic justice, grassroots democracy and peace and disarmament and nonviolence,) is apparently more amenable to a ‘progressive’ middle class constituency than one put out by a regimented party with 50% union control designed to represent the ‘labour movement’ and achieving social justice primarily through the improvement of working conditions and changes to the wages and salaries system.
So, why could the Greens be the new Country Party? As the bulk of the Country/National Party votes tend to be geographically clustered, so similarly much of the Green vote is clustered in the inner city.
They are on the cusp of winning seats at state level such as Marrickville and Balmain in NSW; Melbourne, Richmond and Northcote in Victoria; and at federal level, (as Lindsay Tanner is only too well aware) seats such as Melbourne.
Recent opinion polls indicate that at state level (in particular) the ALP primary vote is dropping.
For example, the most recent polling in Victoria suggests that for the first time in a long time the Liberal/National primary vote (38%) is higher than the ALP primary vote (37%).
A hung parliament here is not unthinkable.
The Greens vote is at 14%.
Given the decline of long term state Labor governments and an increasing perception of the Greens as a legitimate party of government many ‘progressive’ voters may consider that a primary vote for the Greens is not wasted and vote for them in such numbers they can break through and win seats.
Now, it must be said it is difficult to believe that Greens rank and file members would endorse an arrangement with the Liberals.
Drawing on the ACT/Tasmanian precedents, a party prepared to prop up a larger party, capable of winning specific concessions for the interests they represent.
Just like the old Country Party.
One final observation.
As the current British elections are demonstrating, the old two party system is breaking down with voters on the ‘progressive’ left prepared to leave Labour for the Liberal Democrats.
Who knows? If the Greens can internally make the jump from party of protest to party of government, perhaps the Greens can assume a similar role in Australian politics.
We live in interesting times.