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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 17 February 2018
POLITICAL OPINION 24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten. PHOTO: AAP/MICK TSIKAS Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. PHOTO: AAP/MICK TSIKAS Big parties are natural allies against fringe THEO THEOPHANOUS I live in Northcote. I have seen the state seat go to the Greens and now the federal seat of Batman looks set to go the same way. The prime minister has confirmed that the Liberal Party will probably not run a candidate to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Labor's David Feeney. But I believe that is a deliberate, cynical, strategy to help the Greens. Liberal figures have tried to justify the move by labelling Ged Kearney and Alex Bhathal, the Labor and Greens candidates respectively, as leftwing ideologues with little appeal to Liberal voters in the previously safe Labor seat. That justification does not hold. An elected Labor member would be bound by the full suite of Labor policies and those policies are far closer to the Liberal philosophy than the Greens'. Labor now needs to consider a new strategy in inner Melbourne. Simply trying to out-green the Greens will not cut it. That only validates the Greens’ platform and is unlikely to attract Green voters. It is a combination of Labor votes and Liberal preferences that provides a winning majority in these seats. My advice to Kearney is to focus on support for policies of the centre, including support for ethnic communities, local jobs, local traders, small businesses, new developments, a fair go for cars and not just bikes, and measured support for renewable energy set against the need for affordable prices and energy security. Those are Labor policies that have some appeal to Liberal voters. The Labor Party and the Liberal Party, more than ever, need each other for their survival, yet their actions have the continuing effect of undermining each other. Without an understanding, tacit or otherwise, between the major parties, each will see its power diminish as they bleed votes to the minor parties. When Don Chipp established The Australian Democrats in 1977 it was a party placed squarely in the middle, attracting votes from Labor and Liberals with the goal of "keeping the bastards honest" . Fast forward 40 years and Australian politics has a party on the left of Labor – the Australian Greens – and Pauline Hanson's One Nation and the Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives on the right of the Liberals. What the Liberals are doing in Batman invites retaliation and is self-defeating. The Liberals should look to John Howard's example when the rejected parties like One Nation and put Labor ahead of them. He succeeded politi- cally and morally and created a stable Liberal government. If both major parties put the Australian Greens and One Nation further down the ballot paper from each other, it would change the political landscape for the better. There may be short-term pain in some seats but ultimately, it would erode the power of the other parties. With Liberal preferences, Labor could concentrate on exposing the Greens and focus on its traditional strengths and a more centre-left political agenda. The Liberal Party could similarly stop pandering to the extremes on their right and present a centre-right agenda. Of course, that kind of action by the mainstream parties would be countered by spoiler actions by the other parties; the Greens could punish Labor by preferencing to Liberals in key marginal seats. Similarly, One Nation could preference Labor in strategic seats to punish the Liberals. The main parties need to understand any short-term gain is not worth the longterm erosion of their bases. A defining characteristic of minor parties of the extreme left and right is that they are largely single-issue parties. The Australian Greens are focused on the environment and Hanson is focused on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam agenda. Pandering to those parties also skews politics in the direction of those single issues. So the Liberal Party can't treat asylum seekers humanely while the shadow of Hanson is ever present, ready to swoop on any show of weakness. And the Labor Party has to keep upping the ante against development and for renewable energy at the potential cost of energy security. If the major parties don't make these tough decisions, Australia will head down the path of countries like Germany and Austria which are plagued on one side by racist, if not fascist, parties, and on the other, by communist and green parties. What President Emmanuel Macron proved in France was that people ultimately long for the sensible centre. I, for one, am very clear that I would far prefer a Liberal government to a Greens government were that ever to become a possibility. And I think most Liberals would prefer a Labor government to a government led by Hanson or anyone from the extreme right. *Theo Theophanous is a commentator and former Labor State Minister. In 1995 he was a candidate for ALP preselection for the seat of Batman in the 1996 Federal election. The story originally appeared in the Herald Sun.
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24 February 2018