The Greens once again have to grapple with why they exist

As Greens leader Adam Bandt ramps up his campaign against coal and gas mines, he still has some minefields to get through.

After senator Lidia Thorpe’s resignation from the party over its support for the Indigenous Voice to parliament, the Greens once again have to grapple with the fundamental question of its purpose.

Greens leader Adam Bandt is trying to broaden the party’s appeal.

Eddie Jim

How much should they compromise?

If they vote down too much government legislation, they risk being slapped with the “protest party” tag and their dreams for further growth will be quashed. If they go too far, some of their traditional supporters may park their vote with more radical minor parties.

They didn’t have to grapple with this often under the Coalition government as they were largely dealt out of relevance on the floor of the Senate. But a Labor government forces them to confront such questions.

Being a party of protest or deal-making is not a binary choice; it’s a spectrum that the party must constantly navigate.

Take three pieces of legislation that the government wants to pass in the coming weeks: the safeguard mechanism, $10 billion housing fund and $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.

Judging by what Bandt says, the party is prepared to vote these bills down if Labor doesn’t come to the table.

It’s a change of tone from last year, when the party showed it was able to work with Labor to pass a number of its election commitments including the 43 per cent emissions target and electric vehicle legislation.

So what has changed between now and then?

According to Bandt, it’s the government’s fault for introducing three bills that make the climate crisis and housing affordability worse. He insists he is not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The Greens have never fully shaken off Labor’s criticism over the fact it voted down the Rudd government’s emissions trading scheme in 2009.

But party strategists believe that the sentiment has shifted over the past 14 years, and the prospect of new coal and gas projects is toxic among younger Australians. Therefore, they think they are on a winner in calling for Labor to legislate a ban on new coal and gas projects in return for backing the safeguard mechanism.

While Bandt faces some minefields on climate, his positioning on other issues presents a dilemma for the government.

The Greens’ stances on climate and social issues have long peeled away progressive voters from Labor and the Coalition.

But since taking over the leadership in 2020, Bandt has made a point of campaigning on cost-of-living and economic inequality as well. Look at how much he criticises the stage three tax cuts and talks about getting dental into Medicare, boosting rental assistance and raising the JobSeeker rate.

These are the kinds of positions that allowed the party to broaden its appeal and win three seats in Brisbane at last year’s election. It strikes right at Labor’s heartland.

Bandt is doubling down on this strategy in a bid to pick up at least two seats from Labor in 2025.

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