Australian Greens' on the rise

Peter Boyle peterb at dsp.org.au
Thu Dec 5 17:48:07 MST 2002


This is a draft for an article in the next Green Left
Weekly. I would welcome some critical comment.

Peter Boyle
peterb at dsp.org.au

***

In real political terms the most important development in
the November 30 Victorian state elections was the doubling
of the Greens vote -- to 9.2% in the lower house and 10.3%
in the upper house -- and their displacement of the Liberals
for the second biggest first preference vote in four
inner-Melbourne electorates.

The Greens did not get a single parliamentary seat out of
their 23-27% vote in the inner-Melbourne electorates (thanks
to the undemocratic non-proportional electoral system) but
their vote was much more significant than the landslide
re-election of the Bracks Labor government. "Jeff"* Bracks
Labor will continue to run the Victorian government with
pretty much the same pro-big business policies as the
Liberal opposition. However, the Greens' gains will raise
the hopes of a large number of people -- all around
Australia -- that the Labor-Liberal stranglehold on
parliamentary politics can be seriously challenged. This is
why it is more significant.

[*Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks earned this nick-name
among militant unionists. It refers to Jeff Kennett the
former Liberal premier and social vandal who passed
draconian anti-union laws, closed down public and rail
services. Bracks distinguished himself for doing nothing to
repair the damage.]

The Greens Senator Bob Brown said this result means the
Greens have replaced the Australian Democrats [which formed
in 1977 out of a split from the Liberals] as "third force"
in politics. The Democrats' pitch for the disappearing
"middle-ground" has met its inevitable fate. While the
Democrats still hold on to eight seats in the Senate their
vote was decimated in the Victorian poll. Even the new
Socialist Alliance, with its modest average 2% vote, won
more first preference votes per lower house seat contested
than the Democrats!

Currently the Greens have only two Senators at the federal
level, two parliamentarians in NSW, five in WA, four in
Tasmania. However if the Greens' 10% vote in Victoria is
matched, or improved on, in the March 2003 NSW elections
they should gain at least another upper house seat in this
state parliament. And in the next federal elections they
could take more Senate positions from the Democrats.
Meanwhile their swag of local council positions (27 in NSW
alone) should grow.

The Greens' electoral progress is a reward for the real role
they have played as the only real parliamentary opposition
in a period of great political polarisation. On the top
national issues of refugee rights, anti-terrorism laws and
the war drive, the Greens have spoken up against the
reactionary Liberal-Labor consensus. They have also been the
vocal parliamentary opposition to anti-union laws, attacks
on welfare, attacks on public education, law and order
hysteria and other economic rationalist measures. All this
in addition to defending the environment, still widely
perceived as their core concern.

Interestingly, while some of the more conservative
environmental lobby groups (such as the Wilderness Society,
Australian Conservation Foiundation and the Sydney Total
Environment Centre) are criticising the Greens for shifting
away from middle-class conservation focus, in actual
election campaigns the Greens strategists seem to council
pushing these issues to try and catch the broadest political
spectrum. Hence, in Victoria they undoubtedly took votes
from Liberal and Labor.

The Greens are getting the best of both world now because
while they may often pitch their electoral material at a
soft Green constituency their real parliamentary opposition
to the Liberal-Labor consensus on neo-liberalism, war, law
and order and "getting tough on terrorism" keeps their more
progressive image alive.

The Greens' progressive parliamentary stance has a bigger
resonance in the population than Greens and left election
campaigns have tapped up to now. After the S11 blockade of
the World Economic Forum in Melbourne 2000, we recognised
the rise of a mass left of Labor constituency. It was
anti-neoliberal, anti-corporate and pro-environment but it
was also a constituency that was frustrated from the
parliamentary political process.

However, the dramatic rise in the Greens vote in could spur
a lot of people, who had previously given up in trying to
buck the two-party domination of electoral politics, to look
to Green and other progressive candidates in future
elections. So we might be looking at not just a repeat of
the Greens Victorian result in NSW but a significant
increase on that.

The new rise of the Greens is most spectacular in the
inner-city electorates but their vote had doubled almost
right across all electorates. So while sitting Labor MPs in
Sydney's inner-city "Green triangle" (covering the seats of
Marrickville and Port Jackson) are certainly worried about
the Greens (and desperately making as many concessions on
local issues as they can - a couple of backdowns on school
closures and the privatisation of public land), we may see a
much wider expression of the left-of-Labor vote in the NSW
election.

According to Victorian Greens' inner Melbourne candidates --
and this is confirmed anecdotally by Socialist Alliance
polling booth campaigners -- the biggest single demographic
group that is swinging to the Greens is the 18-30 year-olds.
This age factor particularly noticeable in working class
electorates.

The dramatic rise in the Green is a victory for the
progressive side in politics. In addition quite a few of the
Greens candidates have a socialist or trade union
background. So should the socialist left continue to run its
own candidates in elections or should we throw all our
support behind the Greens? Many regular readers of Green
Left Weekly will be asking themselves this question.

The newly-formed and recently electorally registered
Socialist Alliance ran candidates in all the four
inner-Melbourne seats where the Greens did best and yet in
most of the five seats we still obtained higher than recent
average votes for explicitly identified socialist candidates
around the country. This shows that even with the rise of
the Greens vote, there is still the political space for
socialist candidates and we should use it.

The socialist left has a duty to maintain its active
presence in electoral politics to campaign for the most
important pre-requisite to defeat the conservative the need
to rebuild and democratise working class organisation from
the ground up. This should complement our its presence on
the picket lines and at the rallies to defend militant
unions.

Continuing an independent and united socialist electoral
presence is also important because the conservative
Liberal-Labor agenda cannot be defeated simply through
bumping good people into parliament. The Socialist Alliance
unites many of the progressive movements' street activists
and strengthening this layer is as important as the Greens
winning more seats in parliament.

A socialist electoral presence also expresses explicit
anti-capitalism and the fact that a better and more
sustainable world is only possible if the the capitalist
system is replaced.

The votes of socialist candidates will be eclipsed by that
of the Greens for some time but we need to be patient,
recognising this an  important stage in the working class'
break from conservative Laborism. Of course, in the meantime
socialist candidates should continue to direct our second
preferences to the Greens and campaign together, where
possible, against the conservative Liberal-Labor consensus.


Peter Boyle
peterb at dsp.org.au

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