A preference for bloody-mindedness
There are many parties in the Australian political system. There are only two parties of government - the ALP and the Liberal-Nationals coalition - hereafter referred to as POGs.
A POG loses office when it loses sufficient seats to the other POG. The losing POG tries all sorts of tactics to win voters back, but occasionally they only succeed in winning one or two seats here or there while remaining in opposition.
The old saying goes that oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them - but when an opposition loses the government can't claim all the credit. Not only is the loser POG abandoned by the middle ground, they are undercut by their own people. A winning POG has to appeal to the centre without losing the fringe, and this is the stuff of the best political leadership. Not every party has it, and those that do don't have it all the time.
In 1988, Nick Greiner led the Coalition to power. Labor not only lost the marginals to the Coalition - and even relatively safe seats like Cessnock - they lost heartland seats like Balmain, Newcastle, Wollongong and Swansea to independents. In private, Liberal wide-boys would claim credit for preference deals that added that extra bit of spice to the 1988 victory - the same victory they frittered away over two elections - but in truth these were symptoms of ALP failure. If ever there was an example where an opposition that won the election, Greiner is it.
Today the tables have turned. Dubbo, Port Macquarie, all those independent seats in State Parliament are seats that would normally be held by the Coalition. Safe seats that aren't demoralise oppositions and take their focus away from the government. The NSW Coalition missed the Orkopoulos scandal, and the latest Tripodi outrage, because they were busy playing silly-buggers with independents and Christian fundamentalists.
In South Australia a similar phenomenon is in place - Mike Rann is duchessing disaffected Liberals in seats he can't win to keep the opposition pinned to the floor, a more effective strategy than massaging hard-to-please voters in the marginals. Federally, the three independent MPs all hold conservative regional seats one would expect the Coalition to hold; they are polyps in the Coalition's body-politic whose growth is another sign of Nationals impotence.
In Victoria, there will eventually be a Liberal government. Not only will Labor lose the marginals out around Narre Warren or Glen Waverley, but they'll lose those inner-Melbourne seats where the fractious left take their politics seriously. Kirner shored up those seats as her popularity decreased to ensure they didn't go independent. The loss of Bob Hawke's federal seat in that area in 1992 was one of the few wake-up calls they actually heeded, and accounts for Labor's resilience after they were belted by Kennett later that year. Kennett ignored those Labor heartland seats - it was a mistake, he had ample opportunity for mischief, but they stayed united and eventually pushed back.
The Victorian Liberals should preference the Greens in inner-city seats they can't win. Labor can afford to lose a few marginals, but it fears the loss of inner-city seats and the Liberals were wrong to indulge their opponents. Labor would struggle to define itself and would lose the composure that makes it so reassuringly dull, which would have Federal implications in Labor's best state.
The Liberals would have some explaining to do to their donors in preferencing Greens over Labor. The explanation is this: bloody-mindedness. The property industry provides numerous examples where companies stop rival developments by funding a fake environmentalist front: the principle of Liberals working to secure the election of a Green is no different. For Greens, this raises the question of Faustian bargains, but that's their problem. The POG least able to escape a pincer movement isn't nimble enough for government anyway.
Another problem is that a badly-managed pincer strategy makes a POG look like it doesn't know what it's about. Labor funds going toward an arch-conservative, Liberals funding the Greens, this is intellectually incoherent and double-dealing. Yeah? So? Been in politics long, have ya?
Preference deals like this, some say, might give leg-ups to minor parties whose obscurity is well deserved. This would be fine if current arrangements worked better than they do in freezing out fringe players like the Greens and Fielding First. When it comes to preference deals, minor parties and independents are so many stick sthat one POG uses to beat the other.
Such deals are arranged by the sort of person who is utterly repellent to voters, but who can make it to positions of power within POGs. These people occupy the upper houses of our parliaments, and are prone to chummy deals with their fellow professionals that can work against the interests of the parties which gave them their position: all care, no responsibility.
With you consider the piss-poor governments in this country, it simply is not fair to give them the credit due to political genius. The credit belongs to Oppositions with a knack for failing to win the marginals while also disaffecting the heartland. Oppositions in this country have worked hard to cop it from all sides, and they deserve more credit for that than they've received.