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Issue #1470      1 September 2010


Greens in the cross hairs

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is still to test whether she can retain government at the first sitting of parliament following the remarkable federal election of August 21. The country has witnessed the courting of the independents and the lone Green elected to the House of Representatives at the poll. “Wish lists” have been presented. High-sounding phrases about the “national interest” have been bandied around but from all the backroom dealing one thing is clear – the proponents of political business as usual are gunning for the Greens.

The result of the federal election is a major vote of no confidence in the two-party system, a swipe at the two parties of big capital themselves and their unwillingness to implement the political changes endorsed at the election of 2007. The Australian people voted for an end to anti-union legislation, for action on climate change, a more humane approach to asylum seekers and a general break with the extreme conservatism of the Howard years. They didn’t get it and they weren’t being offered anything like it by the Coalition under Abbott. The Greens did offer a refreshing alternative and Australians voted for them in record numbers. There is no question they will hold the balance of power in the Senate.

The arrival of the Greens is a challenge to the cosy old two-party arrangement. In that system of alternating Coalition and Labor governments, the ALP long ago ceased to be the party of reform of the type seen in the early years of the Whitlam government. The neo-liberal agenda has been adopted by the Coalition and Labor. The difference in their programs of privatisation and deregulation is sometimes simply a question of the pace of change. The Liberals are usually more “up front” about their distaste for public enterprise. Australia is probably the last developed country to dispense with this “revolving door” style of government. Its use-by date is up.

Not everybody is happy with this situation. The two-party system has served big business well for over a century. It has guaranteed “stability” – code for a political and economic environment conducive to maximum profit making by the transnationals. Independent MP Rob Oakeshott – one of the “three amigos” at the centre of intense lobbying at the moment – has suggested a “unity cabinet” with ministers from outside the government. Bob Brown weighed in saying that would be a splendid idea and put forward the names of two very experienced Greens – Christine Milne and Rachel Siewert. That is not what Mr Oakeshott would have had in mind. He would not be alone in preferring a “united front” against the growing influence of the Greens. That front would be seen as an interim measure until the old mechanisms could be restored.

The Greens are bound to come under more intense attack in order to drive back their advance. A piece in The Australian last week carried the very old “news” that newly elected Senator Lee Rhiannon is the daughter of the late Bill and Freda Brown – two founding members of the Socialist Party of Australia (now the Communist Party of Australia). She also was a member for a short time. The article noted a disagreement (a “spat”) between Rhiannon and Mark Aarons who has recently written another instalment in his rather drawn out recanting of his former political beliefs. The piece, by Katherine Jiminez and Christian Kerr, is silent on Ms Rhiannon’s years of service in the NSW Upper House but makes much of a recent gaff when her state parliamentary office was used as a point of contact for her federal campaign.

Greens MP for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, has also been targeted over his former political affiliations. The Australian reprinted comments presumably made by Bandt in 1995 when he called the Greens a “bourgeois” party. He went on to describe the ALP as almost as right wing as the Democratic Party in the US and say that “the parliamentary road to socialism doesn’t exist.” Greens leader Bob Brown stood by his member, saying the thinking in his party has “a good balance of origins.”

It is true the Greens are not a party of working class ideology, though the influence can be seen in its more progressive attitude to industrial relations, taxation of big business, etc. Occasionally the influence of bourgeois ideology can be seen as in the case of their support for the sale of the first tranche of shares in Telstra (in return for an environment fund) – the formerly publicly owned telecommunications provider. Regardless, if the opportunity can be grasped, the Greens have opened up the possibility for other progressive political forces to enter the breach made in the old two-party system. They must be defended from the attacks being directed at them and which are bound to increase.

Next article – Pakistan: “This is a global disaster”

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