Greens want to destroy the centre, not occupy it

In politics everything is exaggerated, observed my friend and ministerial colleague, Lindsay Tanner.

He was right. Especially during election campaigns the major parties highlight their differences in the hope of presenting undecided voters with a stark choice. Yet the Coalition and the Labor Party are centrist parties.

If they stray too far to the left or the right, the sensible centre pulls them back towards the middle. Think asylum seeker policy for Labor and WorkChoices for the Liberals. Not so the Greens. The Greens don't want to occupy the centre – they want to destroy it.

That's what makes the Liberal-Greens preference deal so perplexing. Under the deal, the Liberal Party will direct its preferences to the Greens in several inner-city Melbourne seats in exchange for the Greens issuing split tickets in outer-urban Liberal-held seats.

With inner-Sydney's seat of Grayndler also in play, the deal is shaping up as a vote winner for both the Liberals and the Greens.

In Grayndler, held by Labor's Anthony Albanese, the Greens candidate, a former member of the International Socialist Organisation, publicly expressed his preference for Tony Abbott over Bill Shorten as prime minister so that the Australian Greens could better mobilise their supporters to "disrupt things in the street".

His colleagues, Melbourne MP Adam Bandt and NSW senator Lee Rhiannon, were in attendance and applauded the speech.

Public polling indicates that the Greens are set to gain more than 10 per cent of the national Senate vote, equalling the Democrats' vote in their heyday.

After the election the Greens will certainly hold the balance of power in the Senate – their reward for supporting the Coalition's voting changes that will wipe out most of the right-wing independents.

In the House of Representatives, where government is formed, the Greens could win as many as five seats, based on Liberal Party preferences. With the major parties running neck and neck, the Greens could easily hold the balance of power there too. At every opportunity the government is warning of the possibility of a hung Parliament while at the same time trying to create one.

Labor has rejected outright any alliance with the Greens. In order to avoid frightening their supporters, the Greens are claiming Labor will relent. It won't.

The Greens and the Coalition are not total strangers to working together. The Coalition-Greens Senate voting changes will assure the Greens a long, bright future in the upper house.

The Coalition and the Greens combined to block the original carbon pollution reduction scheme that would have given business the predictability and efficiency of an emissions trading scheme.

And the Coalition and the Greens voted down the Labor government's Malaysian arrangement that, notwithstanding Labor's mishandling of the asylum seeker issue, would have been superior to the subsequent recourse to Manus Island and Cambodia.

Under the Liberal-Greens deal it is no surprise that the Greens have spent the past week attacking Labor's position of abiding by the independent umpire's decision on penalty rates but not the Coalition's policy.

The Greens' policy is to enshrine penalty rates in legislation. And on Tuesday, Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, launched a withering attack on the Australia-US alliance.

To the credit of both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, they have concentrated their criticism of each other largely to policy differences. Neither is a confrontationist personality. Both are middle grounders more at home with consensus than with rancour and division.

During the election campaign the Tannerism will hold true – everything will be exaggerated. But after the election is done and dusted, Australia will need stable government if it is to continue its record-breaking period of recession-free economic growth.

We will be seeking to do so in a global environment of feeble growth for the foreseeable future. Difficult economic reforms and budget repair will be required. Let's hope Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger is right when he claims the Greens "are not the nutters they used to be".

The evidence from the Greens candidate for Grayndler and his enthusiastic band of supporters suggests they haven't changed at all.