Greens were the other big losers in 2004
As parliament went into recess earlier this month, leadership speculation continues to swirl around the Labor leadership of Mark Latham. But perhaps it is time that we spare a thought for the recent election's other loser - Bob Brown.
The 2004 election was not a good election for Bob Brown and the Australian Greens.
It was bad for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Greens failed to capitalise on the implosion of their nearest competitor, the Democrats. In 2001, the combined Democrats/Greens vote was around 10 per cent in the House of Representatives. In 2004, it was 8 per cent. In spite of the Democrats vote crashing from 5.3 per cent to just 1.1 per cent, the Greens managed to increase their vote from 4.9 to 6.9 per cent, which is 250,000 short of the one million votes the Greens predicted.
In the process, they lost their only seat in the lower house and failed to seriously challenge Labor in any of the seats they targeted. In the Senate, the Greens look set to pick up just two senators for all their talk and are still short of party status.
The next three years will see the Greens pretty much irrelevant.
Even Family First looks set to have more influence on policy.
Secondly, this election saw the Greens exposed for what they are - a radical left-wing party with no real solutions to this country's problems. After the election, this led commentator Paul Kelly to observe that 'The Greens are the most extreme political movement seen in this country for many decades.'
During this election, parts of the media stopped their customary fawning coverage of the Greens and started to subjecting the Greens' policies to scrutiny. The Greens response was to claim that they were victims of a conspiracy. The truth is that they only had their policies and themselves to blame.
Thirdly, and perhaps even more damaging, has been the realisation by the Coalition that taking on the Greens and their policy excesses directly can be a productive electoral strategy.
The Coalition was not sucked in by the usual Green phoney overtures that takes place before every election and knew that the Greens preference would also flow en masse to Labor.
The Nationals in particular also realised that there is a lot of anger within regional and rural constituencies towards the Greens and their big city environmentalist mates on a raft of issues relating to environmental regulations, but particularly on hot-button issues like water and property rights.
While John Anderson's comments about the Greens were treated with a mixture of disdain and amusement by the metropolitan media, his sentiments struck a responsive chord in his rural constituency. In a similar vein, Howard's decision to refusal to make a bid in Bob Brown's forest policy auction resonated far beyond the forestry workers, in other constituencies who feared that one day they too might be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency for green preferences.
For state divisions of the Liberal Party which have struggled to deal with the Greens, the 2004 election now gives them a template for the future.
Finally, the election exposed the myth that the Greens are destined to be the kingmakers of Australian politics. Brown has assiduously cultivated this belief in an attempt to garner himself more influence and importance than to which he is otherwise entitled to. Former ALP pollster Rod Cameron went as far as to write that 'Bob Brown and the Greens have succeeded in the political con job in recent Australian politics' with there being 'no significant electoral move to the Greens.'
Latham's tight association with Brown was far more damaging than just providing Howard with great pictures of unionists warmly greeting him. It undercut the entire narrative. After all, here was the man from Green Valley selling out blue collar workers in exchange for the approval of Bob Brown and his inner city friends. Apart from reminding voters about Labor's tendency to be captured by noisy special interests, the issue of trust also re-surfaced.
For a politician that liked to brag about his tribal loyalties, on Labor's forest policy, Latham couldn't see the forest for the trees. Rod Cameron called it 'the difference between a narrow loss and the 2004 result.' The consequences of his forest policy may be terminal for Latham as long as he hangs onto it.
Despite their mediocre performance, the Greens are still in denial mode, best summed up by a press release they put out after the election entitled: 'Forest policy good for Labor.'
Don't be fooled, 2004 was not a good election for the Greens.