CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Greens - bad for Coalition, worse for Labor
, July 23, 2011
The arrival of a Greens-held balance of power in Australia’s Senate from July has prompted predictions of dangerous legislation being introduced, including some of the party’s more radical or whacky ideas.
That is not likely to be the case as both the major parties will gang up on the Greens should they attempt to push for some of their more hare-brained ideas. And certainly Senator Bob Brown, while he is around, will be anxious to maintain at least the appearance of the party’s reputation for reasonableness and responsibility.
There is an even greater danger of having a Greens-held balance of power, and this lies at the very heart of the Greens philosophy as a political party, or rather as a protest movement.
The Greens’ raison d’être is the never-ending protest — its insatiable appetite for radical political horizons which, once achieved, can be shifted to new ones.
This strategy is about taking incremental steps towards an environmental nirvana, then de-industrialising and de-populating the planet in order to recreate a new world and a different economic system.
Crucially, the ultimate objective is never spelled out because to do so would ring alarm bells about the totalitarian nature of the Greens’ agenda.
Instead, the Greens pursue an ongoing series of urgent agendas which have to be fixed, each of which expands in importance to fill the current political agenda.
The Greens members and supporters, many of whom are idealistic and impressionable young people, are used as pawns in this larger game.
The forests movement personifies this strategy, whereby a no-holds-barred protest is staged until the government or the timber companies make a concession, only to discover that a further demand for yet more forests to be locked away has been created. Little wonder that forest communities and timber workers are so distrustful of the Greens.
The recent breakthrough deal in Tasmania is a classic example of this. Brokered by former ACTU chief Bill Kelty, the agreement was billed as an end to three decades of fighting over logging and involved massive concessions from the timber industry. The Tasmanian Labor-led government (including the Greens parliamentary party) and the logging companies struck the deal; but just as the final agreement was being drawn up, Bob Brown and other Tasmanian Greens objected.
Senator Brown knows that the last thing the Tasmanian Greens want is peace on logging because the rationale for their membership to remain politically motivated and mobilised would largely disappear.
But the more worrying example is the proposed carbon tax. For Julia Gillard it was a breakthrough agreement which maps out a plan for the next few years.
For the Greens it is merely a base camp or, as Senator Christine Milne put it, “an outcome” which can be built upon. Putting aside the merits or problems of the proposed tax, once the tax is in place, the Greens will then push for petrol to be included, then farming, then to push up the price of carbon dioxide emissions, etc.
Labor thinks it has secured a deal with the Greens. In reality it has just begun years of haggling.
The Greens’ ascent to power is bad news for the Coalition, but worse for Labor.
For the Liberals and Nationals the power of the Greens remains a problem even if the Coalition is swept to power with a big majority at the next election.
The Greens/Labor alliance will still hold the balance of power in the Senate. And the Greens will not co-operate with the Coalition — even when offered power-sharing and ministerial responsibilities, as they were after the last ACT election.
For the Labor Party the problem is much more problematic because the Greens are stealing its active membership base while alienating traditional conservative Labor voters at the same time.
The Greens hold one House of Representatives seat (the seat of Melbourne— a federation seat which had been held by the ALP for a century), but can potentially expand their representation to other inner-city seats in Melbourne and Sydney. Vulnerable seats include Melbourne Ports (held by Michael Danby), Grayndler (Anthony Albanese) and Sydney (Tanya Plibersek).
However, if the Green juggernaut were to continue, ultimately Liberal inner-city seats would become vulnerable with electorates such as Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth or Joe Hockey’s seat ofNorth Sydneypotential Green gains.
Former state secretary of the Victorian ALP, Stephen Newnham, recently proposed that the major parties preference the Greens last.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before the Greens are given the One Nation treatment,” Newnham, now a political consultant, told The Australian newspaper recently.
The Victorian Liberal Party’s decision to preference the Greens last at the most recent state election prevented the Greens from winning inner-city Labor seats and indirectly helped the Coalition win government.
Bob Brown was not kidding when he said he believed the Greens would eventually replace the Labor Party as the party of the left in Australian politics.
Julia Gillard believes she has had a major victory by securing an historic deal with the Greens and the NSW independent rural MPs who will vote to support her on the carbon tax.
In reality, she has brought herself and the Labor Party closer than ever to Labor’s enemy and the party that wants to replace it.