The Third Leader Curse?

With Bob Brown’s retirement as leader of the Greens, a lot of pundits are tipping the Green vote to begin a decline. They argue that the Greens were almost wholly centered around Brown without whom they will lack media cut through and a sturdy structure. This postulating is largely based upon the Democrats experience which is summarized as: The Democrats were founded by Don Chipp. Under Chipp’s leadership the party grew steadilly for a decade or so. After Chipp’s resignation the party began to lose its way, it succumbed to infighting and self imploded. Except it didn’t. Not exactly.

This revised history of the Democrats airbrushes out the Democrats continued rise under Janine Haines. Haines was a long time ally and supporter of Chipp and his de facto deputy leader. With Chipp’s influence being what it was, his endorsement provided her with plenty of security in the job as leader and being a savvy political operator she continued to increase the Democrats standing. And by no small margin either, in 1987 under Chipp the Democrat vote appeared to plateau with an increase of a about half a percent, but after Haines took over it surged by nearly five percent in the year 1990.

The Democrats problems began after Haines made an audacious attempt to win a lower house seat and lost. The Democrats were suddenly without a leader and no succession plan in place. It suffered a large swing against in the 1993 election, a small swing back in 1996 then  consecutive negative swings for the next decade. In no small part the period of decline from 1993 thereafter was influenced by leadership instability and public infighting. I think whilst Bob Brown’s appointed successor and long time colleague, Christine Milne remains in place the Greens are unlikely to have these problems. It is after Milne retires that the Greens have cause for concern.

Will Milne be able to appoint a successor like Brown did? How big will the parliamentary party room be when she does? Whatever happens it will require enormous skill of management by the Greens leadership after Milne departs, but until then I reckon they’ll be ok.


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