This Saturday the state of Victoria goes to the polls. The Victorian Greens party were originally expected to mount a serious challenge to Labor in the inner-city seats of Melbourne, Richmond, Brunswick and Northcote. But that was, of course, before the Liberal party’s decision to preference the Greens party last in all 88 of the state’s lower house seats.

Now, the consensus among political analysts is that Ted Ballieu’s unexpected move has dashed the Greens’ hopes of following Adam Bandt’s success at the 2010 federal election. According to ABC’s election analyst Antony Green:

‘The Liberal decision to preference against the Greens in all electorates is an in-principle decision which will deliver Labor the four inner-city seats where they are under challenge from the Greens. Even if the Liberals don’t campaign strongly, there will be very little flow of preferences to the Greens and certainly not enough to defeat Labor in those inner-city seats.’

Regardless of whether or not the Victorian Greens get new members elected to parliament in 2010, the party will eventually have to address the question of leadership. The Age quote Greg Barber acknowledging an agreement among fellow Green parliamentarians to share the leadership. Will the Victorian Greens elect a party leader in the next term of office or will they continue with the joint leadership farce?

In an editorial from earlier this year, ‘It’s time the Greens became real politicians,’ state political correspondent Melissa Fyfe pointed to the party’s problematic leadership structure. As a case in point, Fyfe attributes the Greens’ slow response (missed opportunity) to the closure of popular live music icon The Tote as symptomatic of an inadequate decision-making structure. Fyfe recounts:

‘It took a week for Barber and his fellow Greens Sue Pennicuik and Colleen Hartland to draw up a live music policy (Barber said it was “complicated”). It is hard to say whether this was a lack of engagement or bogged-down decision-making. But it is typical: the Greens were not just missing at The Tote rally, they have gone missing in the Victorian political landscape.’

‘Apart from the environment, it is unclear what they stand for. They have done good work scrutinising bills, particularly on gambling. Their advocacy on public transport is also worth a mention. But, in an election year, this record alone is not good enough. Now they need to become real politicians.’

These are some tough words about the state Greens.

The leaderless model of the Victorian Greens has another problem for party members and supporters: It helps the politicians avoid accountability. Without a key decision maker there is no one for the party to blame for poor decisions. When decisions turn out to be bad ones, who then do the Greens hold accountable? The current situation is a recipe for buck passing.

It’s important to note that the Greens are not averse to leadership. After all, Senator Bob Brown and Nick McKim in Tasmania are strong leaders that have presided over the party’s rising electoral fortunes. I’m no Greens party insider and don’t know about the internal politics surrounding the co-leadership. The current situation might represent a tacit admission that none of the Greens parliamentarians has the ability and charisma to advance the party (hence limiting potential damage by sharing the leadership), or perhaps an internal decision-making structure incapable of choosing a leader.

Whatever result the weekend’s election holds for the Greens, they will have to take a second look at the party’s leadership issue.

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