Despite a result that was far from what they wanted, the newly formed Green Shirts movement was satisfied with their first outing into the political arena.
Some 15 people joined instigator, Mackay regional councillor and beef and cane farmer, Martin Bella, in campaigning against the ALP and The Greens in the Longman electorate during Saturday’s by-election.
A last minute attempt by ALP lawyers to close down the group’s lobbying efforts was one of the measures of its success, according to Mr Bella.
As experienced by AgForce on the day, he was contacted during the morning by ALP lawyers to say that their promotional material didn’t comply with Australian Electoral Commission guidelines, in that it didn’t have Mr Bella’s street address nor the name of the printer and city where the pamphlets were printed.
The group reprinted the forms within an hour but Mr Bella called the injunction threat game playing.
“We didn’t have vast numbers but we’re new and different – they didn’t know how else to counter us,” he said. “We weren’t saying, vote for this, just don’t vote for these groups.”
The more activist approach to rural issues, inspired by the Palaszczuk government’s amended vegetation management laws and the rejection of a green-shirted Mr Bella from a reception hosted by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, is one Mr Bella passionately believes is needed in today’s environment.
“People say, be apolitical – well politics got us into this mess,” he said. “Not being political is like turning up at a gun fight with a feather duster.”
He was also a believer in countering emotional rhetoric with their own emotive arguments, keeping the sciencific facts in the back pocket until engagement had taken place.
That meant finding issues that urban voters could relate to, such as the amount of dog faeces generated in a city each year, or how much fertiliser people put on their suburban lawns.
“People asked what we did for the environment so we talked about the native animals on our land,” Mr Bella said.
A number of those they engaged with were surprised they were not from The Greens but that then started a conversation of its own.
“We were received well by the minor parties,” Mr Bella added. “Most agree with our message, that vegetation management law changes are making it too tough for farmers.”
He suggested that it could be the catalyst for a union of the split conservative vote, noting that their green shirts were the colour used to identify the Country Party in days gone by.
“We’re just taking the colour back from The Greens to where it belongs,” he said.
‘Green shirt effect negligible’: university analyst
The prospect of a reunified conservative front was not one Griffith University political analyst, Paul Williams, believed was realistic, nor did he believe the Green Shirt movement would have much of an effect on urban voting intentions.
“There have been many attempts to revive the Country Party that have failed,” he said.
“I don’t think this will gain traction except with deeply rural supporters.
“Given that the LNP is fiercely opposed to the vegetation management laws, and with Deb Frecklington the old Country Party is in charge now anyway, I’m not sure this movement offers anything new.”
The combined Liberal and Labor vote across the electorates of Longman, Braddon and Mayo was 62.5pc on Saturday, down from 78.3pc in the 2013 federal election results in those seats.
An erosion in Liberal Party support was more pronounced, with Longman and Braddon seeing a 16 to 17pc drop in Liberal Party support since 2013.
Dr Williams said the Green Shirts also wouldn’t be saying anything Katter’s Australian Party wasn’t, but with more effect, considering KAP’s economic protectionist stance.
“It’s an interesting development but in terms of peeling votes off the ALP, progressive conservatives are looking for smaller taxes – I don’t think repealing vegetation management laws would help there.”
Dr Williams did expect the National Party to re-emerge as a separate entity, saying on current polling, the LNP would be unlikely to win the next state election.
“I think they’ll face one more loss and have to reconsider their joint position, and then a separate National Party will take up the One Nation vote.
While he believed the Green Shirts’ weekend action would have had virtually no effect on the voting outcome, Martin Bella said it was a good start for a group that had only been going for four weeks, attracting university graduates and urban dwellers as volunteers on the weekend.
“If you leave it, people cope and that’s the trouble – people have been coping for years.
“With a little more time and a little more targeting, I think what we’re doing might work.”