More than six years ago, the Greens began a political experiment in south Brisbane: they sought to build a never-ending door-knocking campaign in the city’s most progressive inner suburbs.
The party’s stunning election result on Saturday – likely winning three lower house seats in Brisbane – is no sudden political shock to the Greens themselves. It was built on the back of an unusual grassroots “social work” strategy, where volunteers in green shirts spent as much time working on community support efforts as they did working to change voters’ minds.
“This wasn’t just a campaign that was fought over the last six weeks,” Max Chandler-Mather, the likely new MP for Griffith, said on Sunday.
“We’ve embedded in the community now for well over six years … If there’s one message out of this election is that people feel completely disconnected from the major parties.”
Chandler-Mather says the Greens knocked on 90,000 doors campaigning to win Griffith, a heartland Labor seat that sent Kevin Rudd to Canberra and was held by the shadow environment minister, Terri Butler.
Party volunteers handed out care packages to vulnerable residents during the pandemic and the recent flooding; they built community gardens, ran forums, and sent out newsletters as if the Greens were the incumbents, aided by a growing political foothold in local and state politics.
Greens’ influence in Queensland has grown steadily since Jonathan Sri won the Gabba ward seat on the Brisbane city council in 2016. The party now has two state MPs and a statewide vote that has grown at every state or federal election.
Chandler-Mather ran the biggest campaign in Greens’ history in Griffith. Huge resources also went into campaigns for Stephen Bates in Brisbane and Elizabeth Watson-Brown in Ryan, which were long identified as targets.
Voters in Brisbane woke up at the center of Australian progressive politics in the capital of its most conservative state.
Three years ago, after the Morrison government was returned on the back of swings in Queensland, some voters campaigned to excise the state from the Commonwealth. Labor’s election postmortem found that a perceived association with the Greens contributed to the poor results in the regions. Now the state is being referred to as “Greenland”.
Senate candidate Penny Allman-Payne, elected on a record statewide vote, said on Sunday the party was making inroads in regional areas, including places reliant on fossil fuels.
“I’m not surprised – everywhere we’ve gone, people have told us we can’t find a house for rent, we can’t afford a home to rent, we can’t afford to buy,” she said.
“I live in a coal and gas community. The people of central Queensland want a just transition to renewable energy economies. We are the only party with a credible plan to do that.
“[Voters] told me, ‘We know we need to transition; we just want to know what the plan is’.”
Federal electorates like Griffith were previously considered out of reach for the Greens because they included large suburban areas where voters were more likely to favor the major parties.
Greens figures in Queensland found that part of their success in Brisbane has been a demographic shift of relatively young, engaged, and educated voters from inner-city areas to the inner and middle suburbs, driven mostly by a lack of affordable housing.
The party’s foothold began in the progressive enclave of West End but continues to spread outwards, even into more socially conservative outer suburban areas. The Greens polled more than 17% in the suburban Brisbane seats of Lilley and Bonner and more than 15% in McPherson’s southern Gold Coast seat.
“More people turned to the Greens than ever before. There will be more Greens MPs in parliament than ever before,” the Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said on Sunday.
“It was a Greenslade. This was the best result for the Greens in our history. There will be a record return from Queensland. This result is a mandate for action on climate and inequality. Our vote increased because we said politics needs to be done differently.”