Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Greg Combet appear to believe Labor will win the election. Who knows? They may be right. There have been a number of elections, in Australia and elsewhere, where firm favourites lost what were wrongly considered unlosable contests.

Irrespective of who wins, the Liberal Party and the Nationals may be able to determine the success or failure of some minor parties and independents, especially in the Senate.

In the lower house in 2010, Liberal preferences made it possible for the Greens” Adam Bandt and independent Andrew Wilkie to prevail in Melbourne and the Hobart seat of Denison. Also, Coalition preferences helped Lee Rhiannon win an upper house seat in NSW.

The Coalition was correct to preference Wilkie over the Greens candidate and there was a plausible case for placing him above Labor on its how-to-vote card. But there was no justification for supporting such Greens” leftists as Bandt and Rhiannon over the left-of-centre social democrats, who make up the bulk of the contemporary ALP.

Bandt has always been a hard-line leftist. As a student at Murdoch University in 1995, he wrote an article ostentatiously titled “”Towards an anti-capitalist, anti-social democratic, internationalist movement””. In this declaration, Bandt identified with the thought of Bolshevik Leon Trotsky and declared that “”the parliamentary road to socialism is non-existent””.

However, at the time Bandt believed that small “”c”” communists should use non-mainstream political parties where it suited them. He dismissed the Democrats as “”wishy-washy”” but saw uses in his fellow comrades supporting the Greens, even though they were “”in many ways bourgeois””.

It”s possible Bandt has either revised his assessment of the Greens or acknowledged his advancement into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. Bandt consistently opposes the opposition”s policies. His position is honest and consistent in that, before the 2010 election, Bandt said he would support Labor over the opposition. That”s why Gillard need not have signed up to the now abandoned Labor/Greens agreement.

In August 2010 the Liberals knew Bandt would never support the Coalition. But it preferenced him over the Labor candidate Cath Bowtell in Melbourne. This was a bad decision from the Coalition”s perspective. It is not in the interests of Australia”s leading right-of-centre party to support leftists (like Bandt) ahead of social democrats (like Bowtell). It confuses Coalition-voting conservatives.

It”s much the same with Rhiannon. In 2010 the Coalition preferenced the Greens over Labor in the upper house election for NSW. Rhiannon does not like to discuss her past. As Mark Aarons has documented in his book The Family File, Rhiannon was a child of the Communist Party of Australia functionaries Bill and Freda Brown, who were the leading Australian supporters among their generation of Joseph Stalin.

In the late 1960s, the Communist Party of Australia split over its attitude to the Soviet Union. The group led by Laurie Aarons turned its back on Moscow, but not the group led by Bill Brown. The Browns established the Socialist Party of Australia – which became the pro-Moscow faction of the continuing communist movement.

Rhiannon joined that party in the early 1970s and travelled widely in communist Eastern Europe until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. She worked on the party”s pro-Moscow journal, Survey. Rhiannon refuses to discuss whether she attended a course at the Lenin School in Moscow in 1977, which trained communist functionaries.

Bandt and Rhiannon were young in 1995 and 1977 respectively. But there has been substantial media interest in the activities of Abbott when, at age 19, he allegedly threw a punch on either side of a left-wing female student”s head. This was widely covered in the media in September after David Marr”s Quarterly Essay, “”Political Animal””. There has been scant recognition of the fact Marr has subsequently corrected, without explanation, his account of this incident. The details are on my Media Watch Dog blog.

The Greens have performed poorly in elections in Victoria (2010) and NSW (2011). In the Victorian by-election in the south-east Melbourne seat of Lyndhurst, the Greens candidate finished behind Labor, Family First, the DLP and independent and only narrowly ahead of the Sex Party. The Liberals did not contest the election.

If the polls are correct, the Greens will probably need Coalition preferences in the coming election. Since the Greens will never support the Coalition, it makes no sense at all for it to preference the Greens before Labor.

Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.