One of the bewildering trends from voters at the moment is that despite Kevin Rudd being almost universally preferred as Prime Minister to Julia Gillard, he does not perform well among Greens voters. Although Bob Brown had been kicking around forever, the Greens really became a national force after 2001 when they carried the torch of asylum seeker rights after Kim Beazley passed on the offer. They gained further prominence for leading the opposition to the Iraq war when Labor, under Simon Crean, gave bipartisan support to the government.
Having long been advocates of action of climate change they road further up the political stakes on a wave of popular support for climate action from about 2005 onward. From 2007 they occupied a considerable bloc of parliamentarians and enjoyed a degree of mainstream attention with which they became a socialist alternative to those who found the Labor party to be a bit mainstream or conservative. Finally after Kevin Rudd baulked at the opportunity the Greens became the face of the marriage equality campaign.
So there you have the main issues with which the Greens have won popular support over the last decade: Asylum Seekers, War, Climate Change, Same Sex Marriage and Socialism.
With regard to same sex marriage, Gillard and Rudd are of one mind. They oppose it, they believe in the so called traditional concept of marriage and voted accordingly in the house of representatives. Likewise with regard to war they have always sung from the same page, they supported Howard’s decision to commit troops but once in government began making provisions for the incremental withdrawal of troops. Broadly speaking the Greens should be disdainful of both of these standpoints.
Socialism is trickier to pin down. In both of their early careers they described themselves as socialists. As Rudd became a senior member of the opposition Rudd adopted the term “economic conservative” whilst Gillard was less explicit she was generally regarded as a bit of a lefty. Once in government however Rudd switched the gear to Keynesian and started blaming unfettered capitalism and greed for all the world’s problems. Faced with the Global Financial Crisis, Rudd embarked on many high spending Keynesian investments. Gillard although less inclined to speak in ideological rhetoric like Rudd is, has broadly continued Rudd’s Keynesian style of government. Again it is hard to see why the Greens would prefer either leader to the other for economic reasons
Which leaves climate change and asylum seekers. The Greens and Rudd are unified with their opposition to offshore processing whilst Julia Gillard has adopted most of the measures of the previous Howard government. The very policy which the Greens stood resolutely by as they were decried for refusing to compromise was the same policy which Rudd stood by on the night he was removed as Prime Minister in 2010. If the Greens were fair dinkum about wanting to have onshore processing they wouldn’t be carrying on with this anti Rudd mantra in the way Christine Milne is.
Climate change is more complicated and probably the most illuminating policy in terms of explaining the paradoxical relationship with the Greens and Rudd. The Greens want strong action on climate change now, Rudd wants mild action on climate change now, building up to strong action on climate change after there is a global agreement. Gillard wants no action on climate change until there is a global agreement. Presumably this would mean the Greens favour Rudd’s position over Gillard’s but the difference is of course that Gillard is a lot more susceptible to Greens influence than Rudd. Obviously this is in part due to the hung parliament, if Gillard had won a majority in the house she would not have signed off on the Clean Energy bill (which in substance is an amusingly similar package to Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) but I think she’s still shown a softer hand with the Greens than Rudd did. If Rudd was faced with a hung parliament one imagines he would have ignored the Greens and presumed they would never vote with Abbott as indeed he did when the Greens had the potential to block legislation in the senate during his first term. In fact Rudd was very deliberate in his dealings with the Greens as Prime Minister, search on Google images for as long as you want, you won’t find a single image of Rudd and Bob Brown in the same photograph. Presumably the Greens did not care for this cold treatment.
Now this accounts for Rudd’s relationship with the Greens senators but what about voters? Voters, especially Greens voters are impatiently disinterested in the personal relationships of politicians, so why do Greens voters dislike Rudd? I think religion might play a part in it. Greens voters have easily the highest representation of atheists voters of any party and whilst Gillard’s an atheist just like them Rudd is a Christian loud and proud. From my anecdotal experience politically motivated atheists tend to presume Christians to be a bit naïve, a bit homophobic and a bit conservative. I reckon for all Rudd’s pretty rhetoric about technology, climate change, removing discriminatory legislation etc, Green voters quietly suspect beneath the veneer beats a conservative little heart. At least that’s how I imagine it works.