Labor gains critical mass in sweet victory
THREE critical moments occurred during the recent Melbourne by-election campaign that promise to have a lasting impact on Victorian politics.
When the campaign began, Labor’s internal polling showed that we were too far behind to win. Labor’s primary vote was 27 per cent and the Greens Party was on 41 per cent.
After examining the polling, I despaired about sharing the news with state ALP leader Daniel Andrews.
Yet his steely response reassured me that Labor would stand its ground with fierce determination.
That was demonstrated to great effect in a crucial moment in his head-to-head appearance against Greens state leader Greg Barber on the ABC show Insiders.
Three times Barber was asked what the Greens stood for.
After the third time, Barber gave a very unconvincing reference to “pragmatism”.
It was a critical moment, and Daniel intervened to explain Labor’s vision with clarity. He also emphatically stated that there would be no deals, no arrangements, no coalition with the Greens Party under an Andrews government.
“I won’t be signing anything,” he said, wiping the smirk right off Barber’s face.
The second moment of note was on Sky News, when Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young remarked that Labor had “no values”. For a party that introduced Medicare, HECS, superannuation — and currently national disability insurance — to be so accused understandably sparked genuine anger among all Labor supporters and members.
I’ve never seen our people more determined or galvanised, thanks to one stupid remark.
The significance of this moment was that it consolidated Labor’s campaign direction. Once, daring to hold the Greens to account for their ideologically “pure” policies and their willingness to vote against Labor and with the Liberals, was quite controversial within the party. Not now.
Some time ago, this now-agreed approach to hold the Greens to account was prosecuted by only a few of us, most notably Stephen Newnham. Not now.
INSTEAD, many who once defended the Greens Party in internal discussions now feel thoroughly betrayed.
And they should.
As evidence of this sentiment, in the past two months I received only one piece of correspondence with concerns about Labor identities calling on Labor to preference the Greens last. Only one.
A few short years ago such a suggestion would have provoked a firestorm of criticism from our membership in traditionally Left-leaning Victoria. Not now.
This change of heart has been confirmed by the final significant moment of the campaign and this was ALP anger at the Greens Party’s decision to vote with Tony Abbott on asylum seekers. It refused to support Prime Minister Julia Gillard and save lives. For many of us, it is utterly unforgivable.
Yet, the Greens know that this vote has done them damage. When ABC radio presenter Jon Faine characterises such a decision as the “Greens’ GST moment” — in reference to the Democrats’ implosion as a political party — clearly something is afoot.
So what of the Liberals? They made a big mistake by vacating the field. This campaign clarified Labor’s response to the Greens and proved we can beat them in the most adverse situations. It also allowed Daniel to build a national profile as a smart, tough, principled leader.
And the ALP? Just as in footy, there’s nothing sweeter than a come-from-behind win. The odds of a Labor win were considered so remote that the bookies even paid out on Greens bets in Melbourne the day before polling day!
However, during the election campaign — primarily because of ALP candidate Jennifer Kanis’s commitment and Daniel Andrews’ leadership — Labor’s vote kept rising throughout.
From this all Labor people should take solace and hope. No election is lost before it’s over. No victory ever came from quitting. If Labor could win this Melbourne by-election in these conditions, we can achieve anything. Many of this generation of Labor people, myself included, were inspired to join the cause by Paul Keating. And, in our small way, we captured something of his never-surrender 1993 fighting spirit.
We did it then. We did it on Saturday. We can do it again.
Noah Carroll is Victorian Labor Party state secretary