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Greens begin familiar dance, but there's bound to be tears when the music stops

Politics

Conventional wisdom suggests the Queensland Greens are in with a fighting chance of picking up two inner-city seats at the October state election, but 2020 is a year in which conventional wisdom hardly applies, writes Dennis Atkins

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The Queensland Greens are performing what’s been a ritual pre-election dance for the best part of the past decade. It’s the “look at us” performance, where the future is all sunlit uplands for the insurgent, protest party.

Attention will be on the prize fight in South Brisbane where Labor’s Jackie Trad – former deputy premier and treasurer who left Cabinet two months ago after cascading controversies – is in the battle of her political life.

It’s a battle where the conventional wisdom says Trad is counting down the days until she is defeated. Like most insider talk, this might be nothing more than just that – and Trad could have the last laugh.

She should not be counted out for very good reasons.

Meanwhile, the Greens are talking up their chances at the October 31 poll, listing the seats they think they can win and boasting about the fact they are doing those everyday campaigning chores such as doorknocking, phoning voters and sending out leaflets. It would be bigger news if they weren’t doing these Election 101 tasks.

According to the Greens, they can triple their current representation in state parliament from one to three. Sitting MP for the inner west Brisbane seat of Maiwar Michael Berkman dreams of having Kirsten Lovejoy and Amy MacMahon join him after the looming poll.

Lovejoy is a veteran candidate in central Brisbane where she’s again taking on Grace Grace, who holds McConnel and MacMahon is having another go at unseating Trad.

We saw the Greens perform this dance before the Brisbane City Council elections at the end of March where again they wanted to increase their representation, adding two or three extra councillors to join sitting Gabba Ward’s Jonathan Sri.

While the Greens came close in Brisbane Central, Paddington and Walter Taylor, Sri is still the party’s lone sitting councillor.

The battle for South Brisbane has additional spice because taking down Trad is such a prize – even if that’s not what it was four months ago, following her inglorious retreat to the backbench.

The LNP Opposition, keen to whittle away at Palaszczuk’s three-seat overall majority in whatever way possible, is going to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths in South Brisbane by planning to allocate preferences to the Greens’ MacMahon ahead of Trad.

In 2017, Trad held on with 53.6 percent of the two-candidate vote after LNP preferences pushed her over the line. Without the LNP votes the Greens would have won, which is the mathematical explanation for the tactical switch by the Opposition.

The LNP’s tactic, as clever as it might look in the backrooms, has a couple of flashing red lights attached to it.

The decision to give the Greens LNP preferences is not that popular in the party. Some Brisbane City Councillors, especially those who were threatened seriously by the Greens in March, don’t like it at all, are uneasy to say the least. They can’t see the sense in giving legitimacy to the Greens who are antithetical to what the LNP stands for.

Also, many rank-and-file supporters will find it hard to follow a how-to-vote card that all but guarantees the election of a Greens MP. After all, when the LNP is looking around for the nine seats needed to get a majority they will almost certainly need the votes of minor party or independent members – and that equation will not include the Greens.

The Labor Party is already sketching out a battle plan to use in central and northern Queensland electorates they will be defending or want to take from the LNP.

Central to this pitch will be an argument that you can’t vote for a party that will form an alliance with anyone – whether it’s the anti-mining, anti-development Greens or the “open the borders” Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.

“We want to at least shame the LNP for its decision and at best apply enough pressure to force a rethink in their ranks and party executive,” said a Labor strategist.

The preference unknown is made more of a mystery because this is going to be an election against the backdrop of the pandemic, where how-to-vote cards will not have the impact seen in normal circumstances.

As has been seen in the local government elections and by-elections held locally and nationally, many people won’t want to take how-to-vote cards and there will not be the usual number of volunteers to hand them out.

In this situation, the impact of party direction through official preference allocation is diluted. In by-elections held since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a slight net advantage to Labor.

In the state seat of Currumbin, Labor failed to win but picked up a 2 per cent swing while in the federal seat of Eden Monaro, Labor held on in circumstances that favoured the Liberals.

Locally in South Brisbane, Labor will be seeking to glue MacMahon to the divisive councillor Sri, who has been upsetting many residents with his weekly protests at Kangaroo Point calling for community detention of asylum seekers to end.

While many in the South Brisbane community have sympathy for the refugee protest cause, a significant number are upset by the disruption the rallies cause and the potential health risk in the current coronavirus pandemic.

The fact MacMahon organised a separate state campaign event at the scheduled time for an aborted rally this past weekend to close the Story Bridge is seen as a sign of divisions among Greens about what Sri is doing.

Another factor in Trad’s favour is her continuing support in the South Brisbane community, which locals say has increased because of her repeated referrals to the Crime and Corruption Commission which has so far cleared her of the allegations that have been tested.

At the 2017 election, Trad received 36 per cent of the primary vote. It’s estimated she will need to raise that level of base support to at least 38 per cent to look comfortable in her quest for re-election.

However, the rule book hardly applies and conventional wisdom doesn’t look like being that wise.

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