Talk over whether to preference one party or the other cannot mask the need for an army of volunteers to hand out the how-to-vote cards, knock on doors or fold campaign letters – jobs that so often go to the young.LABOR hopes to prove a modern twist on an old political saying – not to be a Green at 20 is proof of a want of heart; to be one at 40 is proof of want of head.
This battle for youthful activism is one of many subtexts behind this latest outbreak of animosity between the ALP and the Greens, a frustration over ”cannibalising the progressive vote” as members at the Labor branch meetings grow ever greyer, ever smaller.
All this muscling up in recent days over whether to preference one party or the other cannot mask the need for an army of volunteers to hand out the how-to-vote cards, stand at polling booths, knock on doors or fold campaign letters – jobs that so often go to the young.
A 2010 book by former NSW state Labor minister Rodney Cavalier catalogued more than 100 branches closed over a decade, while opinion polls show growing regard for the Greens among under 40s and Labor elders lament losing a generation of activists to the Greens.
”There is no doubt the Greens do well with youth,” says Michael de Bruyn, president of the Victorian branch of Young Labor.
”But I don’t think they capture the politically active, but more people who are politically apathetic.”
A protest, in other words, rather than a policy platform.
Mr de Bruyn, 26, is of good Labor stock.
His father, Joe, is a powerful trade union boss, who wasn’t always happy to see his son active in politics rather than focused on his university studies.
But Michael de Bruyn joined Labor at 18 and sees the Greens as a fad people will outgrow, similar to the rise of populist activists groups, such as GetUp!, whom he thinks cheapen ”political engagement to the click of a mouse”.
”Flashy stunts, knowing they will never have to govern 20 million people or appeal beyond a narrow base,” he said.
Yet unsurprisingly, Greens disagree, and polls show the experience of two years in minority government has been kind to the junior party, whereas for Labor, it has been scarifying.
”It is not only the Labor vote spilling to the Greens, it’s Labor members spilling to the Greens,” says Johnathan Davis, a 20-year-old real estate agent and soon-to-be Greens candidate in upcoming ACT elections.
Dispelling myths is one of the challenges Mr Davis sets for his party, but he is dismissive of Labor attempts to brand the Greens as extremist, saying the old workers’ movement should focus on its own identity.
Josh Wyndham-Kidd, 21, believes the galvanising moment for the modern Greens in Australia came during the Tampa episode, when Bob Brown, then a lonely senator, slammed the collaboration of both parties to curb the rights of asylum seekers. This same old debate around refugees is driving the present angst.
”Me and my friends have never needed to vote Labor,” he says, ”the Greens have always been there to represent our interests.”
Political engagement is changing, but the Greens cannot claim a monopoly. Labor is adapting, networking, reaching new members. And this is taking place in spite of a general malaise about political leadership.
”What we’ve seen is that in the last two years, we’ve picked up a lot,” says Michael Buckland, NSW Young Labor president.
This year the youth wing has recruited 500 people to the Labor Party since the first week of university classes, he says, and will take 80 volunteers to the state conference to help smooth the running.
The trick to reaching out to a younger membership is to break away from the stale old branch structures, with regular dull meetings running late in the evening.
”I don’t think people have the time to do that,” Mr Buckland says.
”It’s not fun. It’s not as simple as that, and it’s not the way they do their politics.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.