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The Greens and Democrats - the untold story

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 16 August 2007


If the Greens gain the balance of power in the Senate solely on their credentials as a pro-environment party, then expect the party to introduce higher taxes, reintroduce higher tariffs while squirming under the thumb of militant left-wing unions such as the CMFEU.

And I like the Greens.

I have worked as both an ALP and Democrat media officer but regarding the latter, I was more a technocrat. Although I was proud of the way Democrat leader Lyn Allison led the RU486 debate and the fact that she extracted $3 billion out of Howard to fund new mental health programs.

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I worry about the Greens because they are riding high on the global currency of two issues: nuclear power and global warming. Never before has the brand “Green” had such cache.

In short, that's all they've got but that will probably be enough to get them two more Senators at the next election. They're riding the tide of the zeitgeist and good luck to them. It appears, at least according to the May Morgan Senate poll, they will control the balance of power in the Senate.

I suggest though that the problem for many voting Australians - those who are not easily swayed by popularism - is that the Greens have not faced the level of scrutiny by the Canberra press gallery that the Democrats or any of the major parties have. Indeed, in the case of the Democrats they've been News Limited's punching bag and victim of media “group think” since 2001-02. 

There's no doubt that without Democrat Senators Andrew Murray and Natasha Stott Despoja, the Democrats will be fighting for their political lives. Plus the Democrats need to face some unsavory facts and that is that the Greens now effectively 'own' environmental issues.  Yet will the Greens simply slide on in and take their seats? The problem is - and you wouldn't know this from reading any of the senior political reporters copy in Canberra - the Greens don't have any social policy runs on the board.

They've relied heavily on Senator Kerry Nettle to turn the party around from a single interest collective of state-based parties, to one that proposes a consistent social justice policy minus the Trotskyist rhetoric. Whenever the Federal Greens defer a decision to their local branches, you know it's an internal “hot potato”.

Their unofficial think tank, The Australia Institute, has done an excellent job in providing them with a range of qualitative critiques - but neither Nettle or The Australia Institute has provided any costed solutions.

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One telling problem with the Greens is that none of the church groups and none of the major charities have endorsed the party. Whatever one may think of the Democrats and their ridiculous internal clashes six years ago, they still had the NGOs on side.

Let’s compare that with the track record of Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett who has carried on a tireless and successful campaign to highlight the plight of refugees in detention. He was also the first Queensland Senator to say that unless we control population growth in South East Queensland, there won't be enough water for domestic consumption. He said that six years ago and guess what? There's a water crisis. He has got a better than 50-50 chance of holding his seat.

Senator Lyn Allison's campaigns against the tobacco industry, childhood obesity and for the biofuels industry hardly rated a mention in 2005. Suddenly now everyone's talking about biofuels and legislating against junk food commercials in kids prime time TV - but does she get any credit? No.

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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