The shift to the right of the Labor Party has increasingly created a sense that there is little difference between the two major parties - both are willing to implement the neoliberal policies pushed by corporate interests and differ only on the details.
On many issues, the shift to the right does not reflect public opinion. This is the context for the growth of support in recent years for the Australian Greens.
The Greens, with nine senators, now hold the balance of power in the Senate as well as one lower house seat.
Support for the Greens goes well beyond environmental concerns. On issues such as education and health spending, privatisation, war, workers' rights and equal marriage rights, the Greens hold positions clearly to the left of Labor.
In a July 17th Sydney Morning Herald article, Andrew West pointed out: "On most issues, [the Greens] values correlate with the views of a large minority of the public - well above their 15% vote - and on many issues they are in tune philosophically with a large majority."
West singled out the Greens rejection of neo-liberalism as a key issue. He concluded: "The Greens may be the most left-wing party in parliament but that is only because the other parties - but not the public - have veered so sharply to the right."
For those who are sick of the two-party duopoly, which pushes corporate interests, the growth of the Greens is a sign of hope. But to advance their progressive policies, the Greens face big challenges and decisions over their direction.
It is on the urgent need for serious action to tackle climate change that the Greens have faced one of their first big post-federal election tests.
The results are not that positive. In the carbon price deal negotiated with the Gillard government, the Greens have settled for something that falls well short of not just what the science tells us is needed, but the Greens own platform.
Despite the hype, the deal offers little in the way of serious action to tackle climate change. It is geared to become an emission-trading scheme of the sort the Greens rejected last year.
It may be argued the deal was the best that could be achieved given the relationship of forces. But the problem for the Greens is the political support they are giving the deal - providing "green" cover to a very brown, corporate-polluter friendly package, describedby Friends of the Earth as "the greatest corporate windfall of our time."
There is a lesson to be drawn out from the best part of the deal - about $5 billion directed towards renewable energy, well short of what is needed and balanced by the billions in compensation to the big polluters.
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