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Issue #1508      6 July 2011

The ideas behind the third major party

July 1 was an historic day in federal parliament, with four new Greens Senators taking their seats following the 2010 federal elections. For the first time every state has at least one Greens Senator. They now have nine Senators and hold the balance of power in the Upper House. In the House of Representatives their member Adam Bandt shares the balance of power with the three Independents. The Greens are now the third major political force in Australia with a solid base of activists at the grass roots level.

(Photo: Donna McLaren)

The Australian Greens have come together on a wide range of social, economic and environmental issues, against war and uranium mining, against privatisation, against anti-union laws and in support of Indigenous rights. Their campaigns, electoral successes and parliamentary work have opened up the way to breaking the two-party system.

“Around Australia, there are 24 ... Greens in state and territory parliaments including two ministers and a speaker, and more than 100 Greens in local government, including several mayors and deputies. We have more than 10,000 party members, 35,000 Australian Greens fans on Facebook, thousands who follow us on Twitter, and tens of thousands ‘signed up’ to receive our news and give us feedback. Last year, more than 1.6 million Australians voted Green,” Greens leader Bob Brown told the National Press Club on June 29.

In his address to the National Press Club Bob Brown made a number of salient points about the relationship between humans and the planet: “Nowadays, seven billion humans are using up Earth’s renewable organic resources at an unprecedented rate. Inequality abounds: the richest 10 percent of us owns 85 percent of the world’s assets while, last year, world food stores ran down and the number of our fellow Tellurians [inhabitants of the earth – Ed] who are hungry rose from 800 million to above one billion.”

He quoted Tasmanian environmentalist and photographer, Olegas Truchanas who was speaking at the time of the destruction of Lake Pedder National Park [1970s - Ed]: “If we revise our attitudes towards the land under our feet, if we can accept the role of steward and depart from the role of conqueror, if we can accept the view that man and nature are inseparable parts of the unified whole; then [Australia] can be a shining beacon in a dull, uniform and largely artificial world.” (he replaced the word “Tasmania” with “Australia” when quoting Truchanas.)

Mr Brown pointed to the failure of the major parties’ policies to reflect the wishes of the majority of Australians: “How is it that 80 percent of Australians want laws for euthanasia (the individual’s right to accept death with dignity) and for equal marriage, yet the Labor Party and Coalition are blocking both? Why is it left to the third political party to advocate Australia’s legal and moral responsibility to quickly process asylum seekers coming to these wealthy shores?”

He countered the portrayal of the Greens by the major parties and the corporate media as an extreme party or ineffectual and single issue party. “... we have runs on the board. Last year we made an agreement for government with Prime Minister Gillard. Since we signed that agreement – and I commend Julia Gillard and her colleagues for following it up – Green dividends have been achieved:

“There is good progress towards a 2013 referendum to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution;

“Last week Minister Simon Crean announced that Justice Spigelman will lead an expert panel for a second referendum to recognise local government in the Constitution ;

“The government has committed to substantial dental health reforms in next year’s budget and (the Greens) Rachel Siewert’s National Dental Advisory Council is being set up to advise on dental care;

“The promised high speed rail study will be released next month; ...

“There is a national inquiry into electoral funding ...”

Bob Brown also highlighted other changes and policies that the Greens are facilitating including changes to parliamentary procedures; the national broadband network; boost in spending on mental health; Gillard’s agreement to guarantee $100 million for the solar flagship program; and reforms to fringe benefit taxes on corporate cars. “In the past 12 months, the Greens have also been an ideas bank in parliament.”

The Greens have a number of bills that if passed would give both the ACT and the Northern Territory the right to make their own laws without being overruled by a federal minister; ban the regressive $2 fee at ATMs; prohibit the export of live animals for slaughter; provide marriage equality; introduce a national container deposit scheme; and protect children from junk food advertising.

The Greens are presently negotiating with the government and independents details of a carbon price and emissions trading scheme. They have come out strongly calling for the original proposal for a mining super profits tax. The Greens commissioned research into the mining sector which revealed 83 percent foreign ownership. Hundreds of billions of dollars in profits are flowing offshore, the environment is suffering and Australians are receiving little benefit from the resources which rightly belong to them.

The media are playing up differences in ideology and outlook amongst the 10 Greens MPs, speculating (in reality hoping for) splits. The Greens is not a working class party with a single ideological thrust but many of its policies are supportive of working class interests as well as the environment. Bob Brown answered those who would seek to divide their parliamentary team: “Now I know a few media folk are not so much interested in vision as they are in division. For them, I am going to be a disappointment. We Greens do have healthy disagreements ... But, united by the Greens Charter, we are united and on the move to give Australians a big Green dividend from Canberra.”

Real change

The Greens and independents have brought change to the parliamentary process. They have given millions of Australians a voice. While they do not have absolute power, the Labor government has been forced to sit at the negotiating table on a wide range of issues. It cannot ram its policies through Parliament as before. The complexion of Parliament has been changed, although the mass media still pretend that it’s business as usual for the two-party system.

The Greens come under constant attack from the Right, as though they have all the power in government. Ironically, those who scream the loudest about a “Green government” have played a hand in delivering them the position they have at the negotiating table.

Tony Abbott, whose policies differ little from those of the Gillard Labor government, opposes everything Labor does as a matter of principle. “No matter what positive ideas are put forward for Australia, Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce are out there saying ‘No!’, and the polls are saying ‘yes’ to ‘no’,” Mr Brown told the National Press Club.

Abbott’s aim is to block legislation and bring down the government. It is his best chance of becoming PM, as he may well not be leader of the Coalition at the next elections which are due in 2013. The backroom knives are being kept sharp in Liberal Party corridors.

The two-party system, which has dominated Australia’s political life for more than 100 years, has demonstrated that it cannot serve the interests of working people in this country. Experience over a long period of time has shown that whichever of the two major parties is in government makes little difference as both give priority to the interests and demands of the big corporations – banks, insurance companies, mining, industrial and others.

The Greens’ campaigns are contributing to the development of a people’s movement and helping to break the two-party system. Their policies better reflect the wishes and demands of the millions of Australians who threw out the Howard government seeking real change. The main thrust of their policies is left and progressive. They have much common ground with communists, trade unionists, peace activists and other political and community activists, including of course environmentalists, although their aims are not as far-reaching as those of a communist party.

Many more left and progressive parliamentarians are needed at all levels of government from left and progressive political parties, including the Greens, and from trade unions, environmental, peace, educational, Indigenous and community organisations.

This would build on the successes of the Greens, have wider appeal than the Greens alone and form the basis of a new type of government that represents the interests of and are answerable to the people. It is important that representatives of the working class form the core of this new type of democratic peoples’ government.

Bob Brown ended his speech saying: “How organically sweet this Greening age of politics is!” It is more than “Greening”, it is democratising and opening the way to break the two-party system.  

Next article – Rethinking banking services liberalisation

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