20 June 2016
by Amanda Vanstone

Richard Di Natale: A (green) wolf in sheep's clothing

Federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale with ACT senate candidate Christine Hobbs.

Richard Di Natale is a better brand of Green than we've seen before. Potentially more dangerous than any previous leader because he doesn't come over as particularly obsessed or as a nutter. He's a good committee chair and mercifully untheatrical. But he wants to hide what he really is.

You may have had the experience of dealing with someone who wants to be or thinks they are something they're not. It's always difficult. These people either don't want, or just find it hard, to see themselves as others see them.

For Di Natale it's almost the reverse. He is a politician but doesn't want to be thought of as a normal politician. He leads a political party that he wants to grow but rails against the bigger parties. It seems he's opposed to deals being done, about both policy and party preferences ... unless they are ones he likes. There's no way out of it ... he is a normal politician because that's what being in parliament makes you.

You can see that in the selection of seats on which the Greens focus. They don't put their best candidates out in marginal seats that either of the major parties have a good chance of winning. That would mean they had to slog it out with Liberal and Labor to win the hearts and minds of voters. They focus on seats of either major party where the sitting member normally gets above 50 per cent or a sufficiently high vote just under that to ensure victory ... but the other major party isn't really in the hunt.

The Greens and Xenophon candidates aim to bring the member's vote under 50 per cent and or low enough for lots of preferences to be needed for victory. And to come second. Their hope is that the major party that doesn't hold the seat will come third and give all their preferences to the Greens just for the pleasure of taking a seat from the other major party.

The former leader of the Australian Democrats, Janine Haines, resigned from the Senate to contest what was then the truly marginal seat of Kingston in 1990. Around the time that rumours of her plan were circling through the media I had dinner in Canberra with a friend who had become a journalist. We were discussing how unwise this move was because both major parties had their heart set on winning Kingston. It was obvious that she would be better to stand for an almost safe seat where the Democrats had at least a decent base and win enough votes to bring the member under 50 per cent, and to come second. Mayo, Alex Downer's seat was the obvious choice. Labor would have jumped at the chance to "run dead" and give Haines their preferences. The prize would have been a high profile and effective Liberal scalp.

My friend put the proposition that we should duck back to Parliament House and doctor up an anonymous note to Haines, made up theatrically from letters cut out from newspapers, to clue her in to the obvious. The suggestion was we would be blood siblings for life knowing we had played a real part in what would have been political history.

As intriguing as the suggestion was there was no way I could do such a thing.The team that put you there is the team you play for. Always. Blood sibling is one thing, traitor, quite another. Some years later the Democrats got smarter and John Schuman stood against Downer and nearly won. This is the tactic that both the Greens and Xenophon are using.

It's quite laughable for either to complain about preferences being used to keep them out when they want to use preferences to keep others out. They want to use preferences to get in. They are pretending to not be what they are: politicians.

Di Natale's bigger problem, however, is his dismissive and disdainful attitude toward those of us who vote Labor or Liberal. The bulk of the Australian voters. He refers to the major parties as the Coles and Woolies of politics. Di Natale and his team have no respect for the choice which most of us make.

Voting for minor parties and independents means you have no idea what you might end up with. The now scuttled Greens plan to preference Fred Nile ahead of an indigenous Liberal lawyer is testament to that. Despite protestations of not being like the major parties, when the moment comes these guys simply have to vote one way or the other.

I am delighted that Malcolm Turnbull has made the principled decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens. We don't have a better Parliament when we have the sort of schemozzle we had in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd/Green years. We don't have a better Parliament when a mixed bag of people with no publicly known, coherent set of values trade away policies of the elected government with those who were chosen not to govern.

When those who were rejected as the government use the Senate as a means of giving the big nasty finger to the people who were chosen to govern it is in effect giving the big nasty finger to the majority of Australian voters. Of course winning government doesn't mean being dictators for three years. The Senate has an important and valuable role. That role is however not to be the alternative government that stops the one you chose doing its job.