When Labor politicians are particularly sick of the Greens, they like to sledge them about voting with the Coalition against Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme.

I won’t get into the history wars about the carbon pollution reduction scheme, but let’s start by noting you can tell the Albanese government is furious about the delayed $10bn Housing Australia future fund because it’s compared the Greens’ stance on the bill to the CPRS many, many times.

Parliament boiled over several times this week with 90-second statements from Labor MPs as an entree to the main course of Dorothy Dixers in question time to its ministers, both attacking the Greens over housing.

Things got personal on Thursday, when Anthony Albanese extensively quoted from Greens housing spokesperson Max Chandler-Mather’s essay for Jacobin to argue that the Greens want an issue to campaign on – not a solution for housing. Chandler-Mather claimed to have been misrepresented by selective quotation.

The deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, accused the prime minister of bullying a first-term MP (she withdrew), leading to Tanya Plibersek making a counter complaint against Ley for interjections in question time. All within minutes of the speaker urging MPs to aim for a more respectful standard of debate.

At the start of the week most had assumed $2bn extra direct spending on social and affordable housing and a push from housing groups would be enough to win Greens support for the Haff.

Instead, the Greens party room thumbed its nose at the government, voting with the Coalition on Monday to delay the bill until October to continue the fight to freeze or cap rising rents, and again on Thursday setting up an inquiry into the rental crisis.

Albanese has branded the Greens and the Coalition the “new Noalition”, while others in Labor opted for an “unholy alliance” or “the axis of evil”.

The Coalition’s decision to oppose the Haff bill may be opportunistic but if it’s designed to force Labor into conflict with the Greens, you’d have to say: it’s worked.

I wrote in May when the bill was delayed for the first time that the housing issue is so tricky because both Labor and the Greens believe their bases want them to continue fighting their respective corners.

To be more specific: what we are now seeing is a class conflict, with the Greens positioning themselves as the party of renters, encouraging them to see their interests as intractably opposed to those of the landlords who are hiking their rents. It’s a zero sum view: when rents go up, landlords win and renters lose.

If the Greens’ preferred solution of a two-year rent freeze followed by caps on increases thereafter scares off private landlords, they think the answer is government stepping in to fill the void by building houses, not letting landlords get away with unlimited increases.

For more than a century the main divide in Australian politics has been between Labor, the party of workers, and the non-Labor parties, representing capital including landowners, business interests and the self-employed.

Labor is a social democratic party with support across the political spectrum, from those who back the party’s socialist objective in the left faction to classical liberals on the right.

The Greens are seeking electoral support from the left, courting people receiving government payments by urging higher welfare, environmentalists by trying to end fossil fuels, and young people by calling for free university education and freezing or waiving student debts.

But the Greens’ biggest push recently has been to awaken class consciousness among renters. Their base might be a mix of young people and post-material boomers but renters are their new targets, and it’s a growth market because one in three Australians rents.

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Even if Labor remains electorally successful due to the collapse of the Liberals in the cities, it cannot hope to shame the Greens into settling the housing war because months of attention on the rental crisis is exactly what they want.

Nor can they hope to win by personally targeting Chandler-Mather. Whatever you think of him, it is the material conditions of renters that are powering the Greens’ dissent, not one MP with the persistence of the Duracell bunny.

None of this is to say stalling the Haff is fair, or that delaying 30,000 social and affordable homes is a good call.

But if the government was able to find $2bn of direct spending for its social and affordable housing accelerator, maybe it’s time to ditch the future fund model entirely.

Labor can position itself as the party that builds houses not campaigns and then refuse to engage with the more extreme demand – a rent freeze – which it regards as fanciful and harmful to supply. If supply is the solution, bring rents down by using levers at the state level to increase density and build, baby, build.

There will be Labor-Greens stoushes on other issues. Just this week another front opened, when the Greens and Coalition combined to oppose the nature repair market bill, which environmentalists fear creates a financial product in nature repair that will excuse destruction elsewhere.

The Greens supported sending a Coalition private member’s bill on the Calvary hospital takeover to an inquiry, and even voiced concerns about Labor’s 60-day medicine dispensing.

Yes, there will be disagreements; yes, there will be opportunism and unlikely alliances in parliament.

But with three times as many renters as Greens voters in Australia the rental class conflict is all upside for them, and all downside for Labor. Labor must solve the supply problem quickly – renters have nothing to lose but their bonds.


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