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Issue #1556      18 July 2012

Push to go back to the two-party system

It was full on last week, no insults spared, as leading Labor figures got stuck into the Australian Greens. While PM Julia Gillard was focused on Opposition leader Tony Abbott, some of her federal and state colleagues had the Greens in their sights. The Murdoch and other mass media helped spread the venom, doing their best to discredit the Greens as a political force. It was hard to believe that it was the same Labor Party that depends on the Greens to remain in office and to pass legislation.

The likes of NSW ALP secretary Sam Dastyari would rather give an Abbott government effective control of both Houses through the support of the extreme Right than risk the Greens strengthening their position in Parliament and weakening the two-party system.

Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt warned the “theatrics” could backfire on Labor. “These Labor numbers men are destabilising this minority parliament, undermining their leader and moving Tony Abbott one step closer to The Lodge.”

The extreme Right forces behind the attack on the Greens are not concerned what harm it might do to Labor before the next elections, as long as it puts a halt to growing numbers who are supporting the Greens.

Chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon told the NSW Labor conference: “If you have a look at their manifesto, you will see economic vandalism, you will see populism you will see extremism, and of course you will see inconsistency.” He also accused them of having either “populist and unachievable” or “achievable and economically destructive” policies.

He said the Greens would “only ever be a fringe party”, contradicting his own warnings about the growing primary vote of the Greens. Labor’s fear is that the Greens are no longer a “fringe” party, but present a serious challenge to Labor which has been decimated in two states and whose primary vote is down to 30 percent federally.

If not nipped in the bud now, the Greens pose a serious threat to the two major parties and the two-party system that has worked so well for big business whose interests both parties represent.

A number of members of the Left of Labor have rightly argued that policy reform, not attacking the Greens, will bring voters back. Senator Doug Cameron added a more sober not: “I say that we should not attack any party that takes progressive positions. The positions the Greens take on the IMF and the WTO, my union AMWU [Australian Manufacturing Workers Union] wrote those policies and they plagiarised them.”

Australian Workers’ Union secretary Paul Howes hurled insults at the Left and Senator John Faulkner responded: “The fact that we chose to spend a week talking about our preferences might help explain why more and more Australians are deciding that Labor is not their preference.

The Australian quotes Howes as saying “The Greens juggernaut is now threatening to cause serious long-term damage to the cause of the labour movement and progressive politics in Australia.”

It is not the Greens who pose the threat to the labour movement or progressive politics. It is Labor in the grip of the Right, which has failed to honour its commitments regarding asylum seekers, industrial relations legislation, the rights of Indigenous Australians or take decisive action on climate change.

It made no sense in terms of Labor’s immediate electoral prospects.

Sam Dastyari made comparisons with Pauline Hanson. “The Greens are to the Left what Pauline Hanson and One Nation are to the Right, and they share ridiculous albeit different, economic agendas. With Bob Brown’s departure, I can’t see how the Greens have any chance of keeping extremism in check.”

Then in an interview on Macquarie Radio, Dastyari went further describing the Greens as “bordering on loony in half a dozen different areas.”

Dastyari was instrumental in getting a resolution through the NSW state Labor conference last weekend abandoning the automatic allocation of preferences to the Greens, instead giving the power brokers the option to put Family First or other reactionary forces before the Greens.

It was Labor’s allocation of preferences to Family First in 2004 that saw Steve Fielding elected to the Senate instead of a Greens candidate. Fielding backed the Howard government, including providing the critical support for WorkChoices. If Labor preferences had gone to the Greens in Victoria, WorkChoices would never have been passed.

As well as the present agreement with the Greens that enables Labor to govern federally, the ALP owes eight of its Lower House (including four in NSW) seats to Greens preferences. The Greens have a real chance of winning in the Victorian state by-election for the seat of Melbourne on July 21. Labor has put Family First ahead of the Greens in allocating preferences.

When PM Gillard addressed the NSW Labor conference, she did nothing to counter the attack on the Greens. In fact she stood by comments made last year in her Whitlam Oration that the Greens would “never embrace Labor’s delight at sharing the values of everyday Australians.”

Right-wing power broker Howes, backed Dastyari in his attack on the Greens. He described them as one of the greatest threats to employment security in the country.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, the little darling of the mining industry, told The Age that his position was well known – “I’ve got no truck with the Greens.”

Foreign Minister Bob Carr, told the media that the Greens “can’t be trusted on questions of economic management or national security.”

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, attempting to distance Labor from the Greens, said the two parties “have different values and different policies”.

Victorian by-election

Daniel Andrews, Labor leader of the Victorian state Opposition, using a column in The Age newspaper (09-07-2012) attempted to turn the electorate against the Greens. “… the Greens cannot be an alternative to Labor, because the Greens do not seek to be a party of government. They do not want to govern,” he said.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the aim of the Greens to govern and the growing support for the Greens and disillusionment with the major parties that is behind Labor’s attack on the Greens.

Greens leader Christine Milne said it appeared that Labor figures such as Dastyari and Howes had turned against Gillard. “It’s not just an idle threat, but in terms of Dastyari and Howes, it’s part of the destabilisation against Gillard,” she said. She indicated that the Greens intended to stand by their agreement

The Greens pose the most serious challenge to the two-party system with their progressive policies on a range of issues. As Labor has continued to shift to the Right it has lost members and considerable support in the community.  

Next article – Editorial – “God is not mocked”

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