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Could the Greens Push Labor to End Offshore Detention?

If Labor wants to win the election they might have to form a coalition with the Greens—but the minor party says no deal unless the ALP changes its hardline policy on refugees.

Richard Di Natale, Jim Casey, Labor's Anthony Albanese, and Adam Bandt. Image by Ben Thomson.

If Labor wins the coming federal election, it's adamant it will continue offshore processing and towing back boats, which is exactly the same policy as the Coalition. For anyone concerned with human rights, it's frustrating to see both Labor and the Libs remaining determined to "defeat the people-smugglers."


The Greens offer an alternative—opposing boat turn backs and offshore processing, but they have no hope of winning. So does that mean we should all resign ourselves to the fact that no matter who wins the 2016 election, Australia will continue to violate the Convention Against Torture?

Maybe not. If the election pans out the way polling suggests we could be headed for a hung parliament. Last time this happened, in 2010, Labor formed government by winning over a handful of independents and signing a deal with the Greens.

The Greens, who've always tried to fight above their weight class, have sucked up a stunning amount of oxygen this campaign—particularly around the influence they might have in the next Parliament. Melbourne Greens MP Adam Bandt recently stoked controversy by calling for a Labor-Green coalition.

But party leader Richard Di Natale and immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young says any deal will come with a vital caveat—Labor would have to change its stance on asylum seeker policy.

For minor parties, oxygen is almost everything. The Greens are surely hoping all this media coverage will translate into upping their presence in the House of Representatives, from the one seat they now hold. More seats would give the Greens more leverage in negotiations to form a coalition with Labor. But what are their chances?

At least one major newspaper seems to rate them highly, with the normally Liberal-leaning Daily Telegraph spooked into endorsing Labor heavyweight Anthony Albanese over his Greens rival Jim Casey in the inner Sydney seat of Grayndler.


Under the headline "Save our Albo" the paper warned readers the Labor MP faces "the political fight of his life" against a "radical" who wants to "overthrow capitalism." Treasurer Scott Morrison was even dragged into the fray, backing "Albo over the Greens any day of the week."

Pollsters will tell you that if the Greens want to win more seats three things need to happen: Firstly, Labor's primary vote needs to drop—the Greens aren't going to be winning over Coalition voters. Their best chance is in inner-city and suburban seats that have traditionally gone to Labor. Next, the Greens need to get Liberal preferences and, finally, they need to get more votes than the Coalition.

Last election the Greens did none of those things in Grayndler. Albo's primary vote was in the high 40s, the Libs outpolled the Greens, and the LNP also didn't preference them.

But this election things are different. It looks increasingly likely that the Liberals will give the Greens their preferences in strategic seats, just to cause havoc in the Labor party. Grayndler in particular is within the Greens' grasp after a favourable redrawing of electoral boundaries.

When VICE asked Jim Casey about his chances against Albanese, he said the seat will inevitably go Green, "the only question is when." While Casey admits they are slim this election, the fact that News Corp is paying attention proves the threat is credible. "I feel quite sorry for Anthony he has got some of the biggest villains in Australian giving him the nod," Casey said, about his opponent having the backing of Scott Morrison and the Daily Telegraph.


A memorial for Reza Berati who was killed while in detention on Manus Island. All photos by Flickr user Anthony Georgeff.

Labor's adoption of the Liberal government's asylum seeker policy puts more pressure on MPs like Albanese, who risk losing disillusioned Labor voters to the Greens. During a debate on the ABC, Albanese was asked by one such voter why he should vote for a party "that supported the cruel, essentially indefinite and UN-condemned policies of offshore detention?"

For voters who believe asylum seekers are a key issue, the solutions offered by Albanese and Casey are starkly different. The Labor frontbencher backs his leader Bill Shorten, who will keep the government's policies of boat turn backs and offshore processing in order to defeat the people-smugglers and stop the drownings. Casey calls this argument the "big lie behind Australia's refugee policy."

"The drownings are still happening outside our territorial waters, or they are happening in our territorial waters, and the government just doesn't tell us", he says. "The sooner we behave in a way that befits a compassionate and intelligence country, the better."

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