Sydney’s local elections: lessons for Labor

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative columnist. See also Antony Green’s analysis of the Sydney local government election results results at


I was surprised by the local government elections. I always campaign for a candidate of my choice and spent the day at the polling station handing out. This time work and personal commitments made me a pre-poll person: all the routine without any of the excitement of finding my candidate�s poster and how to vote. But what a day!

What happened may indicate a shift that will re-shape Australian politics.

Two significant cities swung away from Labor: metropolitan Brisbane (to the Liberals) and the City of Sydney (to community progressive Clover Moore).

To say that inner city types have gone Green is not an exaggeration. However, the real pain is that Greens have made headway in places like Latham-heartland Campbelltown, where voters are saying to Labor they are no longer prepared to be preference fodder.

The Greens appear to be the voice of dissent and progressive opinion. They’re not likely to be the main player, but very likely to be what the Country Party was to the Menzies Liberals: a voice for other interests more opposed to the enemy than friendly to their partner.

This is where the Labor/Green dance comes to a halt.

Labor appears to desire Green help to get into federal government but no role for their junior partner in government. Is there going to be a Lib/Lab alliance such as there was for Blair and the Liberal Democrats? I doubt it. Australian Labor is too arrogant, too distrustful and too used to power to countenance any coalition effort.

If the Greens continue to punish Labor in its inner city heartland and pick up dissenters in the suburbs over the next electoral cycle, they will become the radical left party of protest, economic protection, social policy adventure and foreign policy independence. This is a result that Labor will hate. It will steal Labor�s mantle of �Aussie blokey support for the underdog.�

The end of the Cold War has made the old left/right spectrum redundant. We now have a multi-layer diversity of electoral choices. Some fashionable and others traditional. Hansonism and the virtual self-destruction of the Democrats has seen to that.

The new Liberals are the defenders of conservative (small c) suburban values that offer comfort to the battlers and the aspirationals.

The fresh Greens are the movement of dissent and social reform.

The old Labor �two for the price of one� deal (mostly dependable right wing social democrats seeking power and patronage tempered by some left-wing idealists) appears very tacky indeed. This product, once shown up for what it is, is not going to sell.

In Germany it took many barren years of the Greens being punished by their social democratic colleagues on the broad Left before the two left of centre parties respected each other. I don�t see this happening in Australia.

Labor�s amazing backflips on indigenous issues (we’ll say ‘sorry’ but get rid of ATSIC too) points to a troubled identity. Is Labor pitching for Howard�s battlers (no champions of ATSIC) or the Greens� preferences (trust us and we will say sorry when we win office)?

Grass-roots disappointment and opposition to �modern Labor� has seen two major cities and many Councillor positions swap allegiance.

If Labor is happy with not much more than one third of the primary vote in Mark Latham�s backyard on Saturday they must have very low expectations from both local government and their own voters.

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