With a Labor victory at the upcoming federal elections highly likely, the Greens face a real dilemma. They are adopting a “play it safe” strategy, which, in a polarised election, is likely to contribute to electoral failure.
Up for re-election are Senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle. With his high profile, Bob should be re-elected. However without such a profile Kerry risks defeat. No other Green senators are likely. Labor should win in the Lower House but, even with three or four extra senators, would not control the Senate.
AC Neilsen polls say the Green vote rose from 7 per cent at the 2004 election to a high of 12 per cent last November. However with the re-badging of Labor under Rudd, the national Green vote has declined in four successive polls, back to 7 per cent.
Several factors are working against the Greens. First, the perception of a real Labor alternative polarises public debate and marginalises the Greens.
Second, after a decade of conservative rule, half a generation of young people have illusions about Labor. They have no memory of the betrayals, mandatory detention and privatisations of the Hawke-Keating years. Third, by “playing it safe” the Greens are disappearing under a Labor mantle.
This “left realism” seeks to reposition the party, sharing and modifying some of Labor's themes and borrowing some of its mainstream credibility. However the price of such a strategy is to surrender the party's ability to be bold and provocative, capture the public's imagination and create new politics.
The failure to create new politics is critical, as we are left with a series of expensive policy disasters, from imperial wars for “democracy”, privatised social security and health, and corporate welfare through ludicrous “market solutions” for everything from “carbon trading” to commercial “water rights”. Where has our education failed us?
Labor has finally presented as a plausible alternative government, skillfully building on dissatisfaction with the Howard regime, making up with the Business Council of Australia and receiving the blessing of Rupert Murdoch.
But the Greens have no role here. Their main credible growth path has always been to build their appeal, beyond traditional environmental issues, by opposing global war, supporting shared institutions, helping strengthen civil rights and reverse the relentless corporate welfare. In short, reject the deathly two-party consensus now led by Labor.
The rise of Labor's image tends to obscure the policy convergence. Labor has accepted the major privatisations, the corporate welfare and much of the Howard regime's dismantling of workers' rights. It is following the US Democrats' attempt to escape the disastrous war in Iraq, but has added its support to the equally disastrous and criminal war in Afghanistan.
Labor saw these steps as necessary to win the support of the Australian oligarchy: the investment groups, the mining companies and the corporate media - not least Rupert Murdoch. Such a strategy has been central for Labor, at least since the 1970s.
The Greens rose because they were seen to present an independent voice. At one stage, through interventions in non-traditional Green areas such as refugees and social justice, Senator Bob Brown became the effective opposition. This raised the Greens' profile enormously, in the “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” world of Australian two-party politics.
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