If anyone votes for the Labor group above the line in all states except Queensland on September 7, his or her preferences will go in the first instance to the Greens. If anyone votes Labor under the line, to record a formal vote in NSW he or she will have to number 110 boxes – possibly with the help of a magnifier. Not many electors will do this. In short, a vote for Labor in the Senate (outside Queensland), is a vote for the Greens to maintain the balance of power in the upper house. Australia's two-party political system is likely to prevail for at least as long as this voting system continues. The Coalition looks secure as the Liberal party and the Nationals do not face any immediate challenges from right-of-centre parties. This is not the case with the left-of-centre parties. The Greens want to replace Labor. And Labor has decided to help the Greens cement their position in the Senate – from where Greens leader senator Christine Milne and her colleagues attempt to undermine Labor by attacking the mainstream social democratic party from the left.
Labor's decision to preference the Greens in the Senate (except for Queensland) and in most House of Representative seats is likely to prove counterproductive. First, it is not in Labor's interests to increase the number of Greens senators. Second, the deal makes it easier for Tony Abbott to declare a vote for Labor is a vote for the Greens and remind electors of the minority government of recent memory.
The Greens have a substantial following among the professional classes, including journalists. Yet a sense of perspective is required. According to the most recent ACNielsen poll, the Greens have the support of 10 per cent of the electorate. Which means 90 per cent of Australian voters support other parties or independents.
It was reported on Monday Jane Garrett, the ALP national vice-president, has declared the Labor/Greens preference is being ''very damaging'' to the ALP in particular and Australia in general. Garrett is a state MP for Brunswick in inner-city Melbourne where the Greens are strong. She understands the long-term threat to the ALP from Australia's only leftist party.
It would have made sense for Labor to attempt to obtain preference deals in the Senate and House of Representatives with such parties as Family First, Katter's Australian Party (outside Queensland) and the Democratic Labor Party. The evidence suggests Greens voters overwhelmingly will preference Labor ahead of the Coalition. Consequently there is no reason for Labor to deal with the Greens.
Tony Abbott's declaration last week that the Coalition would preference Labor ahead of the Greens in the House of Representatives and the Senate should have facilitated a similar decision by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. This is another of Abbott's conversions. In 2010 he supported putting Greens ahead of Labor – a tactic which was supported in the past by such leading Liberals as John Howard and Peter Costello.
In the November 2010 Victorian election, the (then) Liberal Party leader Ted Baillieu – with the support of his (then) state director Tony Nutt – decided to preference Labor ahead of the Greens. This decision is credited with assisting the Coalition's narrow win.
Abbott has endorsed the Baillieu initiative. This will assist sitting Labor MPs Anthony Albanese (Grayndler) and Tanya Plibersek (Sydney) in NSW and make it possible for Labor's Cath Bowtell to defeat Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt in Melbourne. Abbott's decision will make it harder for the Greens to win Senate seats.
There will be some political conservatives who may wonder what Abbott is on about in assisting the likes of Albanese, Plibersek and Bowtell. The answer is that it makes much more sense than the Liberal Party leader effectively supporting such Greens as Senator Lee Rhiannon – who refuses to confirm or deny that she graduated from the Lenin School in Moscow in 1977 – or such one-time followers of Leon Trotsky as Bandt and Hall Greenland, the Greens' Grayndler candidate.
Garrett's warning to Labor stems from first-hand knowledge. In 2010, she held Brunswick for Labor on Liberal Party preferences with the Greens' Cyndi Dawes finishing second.
Last year, Labor's Sam Dastyari compared the Greens to Pauline Hanson's One Nation.
Now, as a Rudd confidant and soon to be senator, Dastyari supports the Labor/Greens preference deal.
But some Labor MPs are consistent. ALP parliamentary secretary Michael Danby has remained true to his earlier expressed stance and will preference the Liberal Party candidate ahead of the Greens in Melbourne Ports.
Rudd seems to be engaging in Julia Gillard's folly of believing Labor should deal with the Greens. It is a strategy that is unnecessary, unwise and counterproductive.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.