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Greens - the most public secret for forty years

By Scott Ludlam - posted Friday, 2 September 2011

Since 1 July 1 1990, the Greens have been represented continuously in the Australian Senate, a 21 year history of dynamic policy development and advocacy.

Much of the commentary on the 2010 election and its aftermath seems to have been predicated on the notion that the result was an anomaly, with respect to the hung parliament and the strong result for the Greens. Some commentators have proposed that the party emerged from nowhere to leap into the spotlight with a murky agenda. In fact, the Australian Greens – almost 40 years old at the time of the 2010 election – had more openly declared and readily available policies than the Labor Party and Coalition combined.

Senator Bob Brown was featured on the front page of Business Review Weekly in 1996 calling for a price on carbon and obviously it featured prominently in 2010 election material. The Australian Greens have made no secret of this, nor of any other policy, including support for same-sex marriage, for the abolition of mandatory detention of asylum seekers and for a permanently publicly-owned National Broadband Network.


Some, perhaps panicked by the growth of the Greens vote, have sought comfort in dismissing the showing as a flash in the pan, a fluke that will evaporate. One year on, national polling consistently refutes this theory, but far more importantly, the claim flies in the face of history and sound analysis.

In Western Australia, the Greens WA held the balance of power in the State upper house for a dozen years (1997-2001, 2001-2005 and 2005-2009), working through legislation in a considered and productive way and achieving significant positive outcomes for the people of my home state. WA Greens Senators Christabel Chamarette (1992-1996) and Dee Margetts (1993-1999) held the balance of power in the Senate from 1993-1996 and were a strong voice for Aboriginal rights and took principled stands against ill-considered privatisation of public assets and services.

At a national level while sharing balance of power, we have secured important improvements to a number of laws and projects, maintained the National Rental Affordability Scheme when it faced cuts, secured greater accountability for NBN Co by making it subject to Freedom of Information laws and won a 10 billion renewable energy fund that supports energy efficiency and starts planning for a 100% renewable energy future.

One pundit warned some months ago that the Greens would go the way of the Australian Democrats. This is lazy thinking. Even putting aside the strategic policy blunders and the internal conflict and high-profile defections that eventually tore the Democrats apart, the Australian Greens are a fundamentally different party. The Australian Democrats operated as a centrist liberal party and began without a connection to community-based political activity or organisation, set up by a former Liberal government minister – Don Chipp. Their principal project, one of advocating greater integrity and accountability, was one with great appeal – but on its own did not prove to be the kind of strong policy compass the party needed to negotiate out of the storms that it encountered through the late 1990s and early part of this century.

The Australian Greens embody the best elements of the liberal tradition the Democrats advocated, but also the best elements of the social democratic tradition once championed by the Australian Labor Party. Personal freedom and social responsibility are two powerful and consistent points of reference. Our understanding of those ideas comes from the foundation pillars of the Greens – social justice, grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom and non-violence.

Centrist parties face a perpetual dilemma – endeavouring to appeal to a broad spectrum of often contradictory belief systems while balancing ethical with pragmatic considerations. This can create contradictions that more often than not hamper the effectiveness and appeal of the party. The Australian Greens have consistently and openly positioned itself as a party with progressive, socially liberal, social democratic policies. We are not here only to react to the major parties, to play spoiler or simply expose their errors – but to offer a dynamic and viable policy alternative over a range issues – in health with our Denticare policy for national public dental care reform and our successful advocacy of greater funding for mental health, in energy policy with our ambitious renewable energy targets, in transport with a plan for interstate high speed rail and for light rail systems in our cities and regional centres, and in communications with shield laws protecting independent and volunteer as well as professional journalists.


On August 23rd, Newspoll reported that less than one third of respondents approved of the current Prime Minister, and slightly more than one third approved of the current Opposition Leader. The figures indicate a profound dissatisfaction with the two party system. Whatever grievances the respondents have with the Labor government, 64% of them remained disapproving of the leader of the alternative government. This is in no small part due to the Opposition Leader's 'Dr No' approach to virtually anything: the schools infrastructure project, the National Broadband Network, the journalist shield laws, giving the Territories the independence they deserve, genuine reform on climate change, protecting the right of farmers to say no to coal seam gas on their land and even the flood levy.

The Australian Greens reject the adversarial, dead-end negativism of the two-party equation and will continue to offer a positive and practical alternative, based on a long tradition of consistent principles. This is a recipe for a lasting and productive role in our nation's affairs.

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About the Author

Senator Scott Ludlam is the public transport spokesperson for the Australian Greens. In December 2008 he initiated the first national inquiry into public transport, which reported in August 2009 and can be found here.

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