The History and Rise of the Australian Greens

7 Nov

Australian Election 2007 – Focus on Minority Parties: The History and Rise of the Greens

The first two Green parties to be formed in the world came from Australia and New Zealand within a period of two months though the Australian, United Tasmania Group (UTG) is generally considered the first. Formed in 1972, UTG fielded candidates in the state-wide elections to campaign for the Lake Pedder issue. Lake Pedder is a beautiful lake which was to be drowned if the government went ahead with a Middle Gordon power development project. Though they did not manage to stop the flooding due to the construction of the new dams, they fielded 12 candidates in four out of the five Tasmanian seven member electorates and won a overall 3.9% vote.

In 1984, Petra Kelly, a Green Parliamentarian in West Germany, visited Australia and urged the various Green stated based parties to develop a national identity. It would take another 6 years, on 30 August 1992 before that vision is achieved. The Sydney Greens, formed in 1983; The Queensland Green in 1985; and Tasmanian Greens arosing out of the ashes of UTG would form a national greens party on that fateful day.

Today, the Greens is led by Senator Bob Brown, one of the original member of Tasmanian Greens, who has held that position since 1996. Understanding that they are unable to fight head-on with the Liberals or Labour, it has cleverly positioned itself as the “third political force in Australia”.

It has recently announced that it would run every seat in the Lower House nation-wide showing its commitment and vision to grow into a more influential party. On the other hand, they demonstrate practicality by cutting deals with both the Australian Democrats and Labour. With the former, they have promised to exchange preferences in the Senate in order to break the Coalition’s control of the upper house, bring about balance of power and ensuring that the Senate becomes a house of review. With the Labour, it has proposed a deal whereby the Greens’ preferences in the lower house will be directed to Labor in return for the states and territories Labor preferences going to the Greens in the Senate. The only exception is in Tasmania as the Coalition and Labor backed the controversial Tamar Valley pulp mill which they are against.

Today, The Australian Greens occupy 4 senate seats at the Federal level; 100 Greens at the local government councillors level, and 15 state MPs. At the senate level, it is lead by Senator Bob Brown in Tasmania; Senator Christine Milne in Tasmania; Senator Kerry Nettle in New South Wales; and Senator Rachel Siewart in Western Australia.

Its leader, Bob Brown has drummed up a record of historical environmental activism and at times, appears to be a man not afraid of flouting the rules when necessary. Born in 1944, he graduated in medicine from Sydney University in 1968 and went on to become the Director of the Wilderness Society. He spent 19 days in prison, together with some 1500 people being arrested and 600 jailed; for being part of a protest which organised the blockade of the dam-works on Tasmania’s wild Franklin River in 1982/3. In 1995, he was once again jailed twice for a peaceful demonstration against roading and logging in Tasmania’s Tarkine Wilderness.

As a senator, he has introduced bills related to topics such as constitutional reform, forest protection, blocking radioactive waste dumping, banning mandatory sentencing of Aboriginal children and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He has also written books such as Lake Pedder, Wild Rivers, Tarkine Trails, The Greens, The Valley of the Giants, Tasmania’s Recherche Bay and Memo for a Saner World.

According to his biography, he has accumulated various awards over the years, including The ‘Australian of the Year’ by the Australian newspaper in 1983; the USA Goldman Environmental Prize in 1990; and the 1996’s BBC Wildlife magazine ‘World’s Most Inspiring Politician’ title. In 2007, he was voted in Samesame.com, an Australian gay website, as one of the 25 most influential gay Australians. As a openly gay politician, Samesame.com, in their website, said, he is also heavily involved in the gay reform laws in Tasmania since the 80s, and is still a critic of the establishment chiding the government’s role in Iraq, treatment of refugees and slow reaction to global warming.

While the Australian Greens might be fighting for more seats in the Senate, and hence, to bring about a balance of power; it has invited criticisms from its political opponents on other issues. Family First senator Steve Fielding has criticised the party’s harm minimisation approach towards drugs as too soft while the party has argued that their views are supported by medical opinions.

A look at the policy section of the Australian Greens reveals that the party has grown from a environmental issue based movement into a political force not to be reckoned with. Their policy papers cover a wide range of local issues from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, to Childcare and Constitutional Reform.

On international relations, the party even has a policy paper on the Israel and Palestine conflict, which amongst other goals, call for “the termination of the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the establishment of a secure and viable state of Palestine alongside Israel, based on 4 June 1967 boundaries with both states sharing Jerusalem as their capital.”

On its introductory web page for the Federal elections, the Greens have promised to reduce greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2020 (80% by 2050); abolish WorkChoices; bring Australian troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan; build up public health services; and keep Australia nuclear-free. Without the corporate money of the Liberals or the union backing of the Labour, the Greens will depend on the Internet and its web version 2.0 features such as youtube and myspace; word of mouth and grassroots activism efforts to spread their message and hopefully gain enough votes to wrestle enough control to bring about a balance of power to the senate.

The Internet has been widely claimed as the new battleground for the upcoming Australian elections. According to a Reuters report, as many as a million young Australians will be voting for the first time in this election, many of them, heavily influenced by the web as a source of information for their choices. According to the same article, a newspoll in the Australian newspaper revealed that labour leader, Kevin Rudd won 775,000 over Howard among those aged 18-34 and holding a 373,000-strong lead among those aged 35-49. Rudd has 5000 friends on facebook and 20,000 on myspace.

While political analysts have predicted that Labour is likely to win the next election and become the government after a 10 year period of Howard’s quasi-authoritarian ways, it remains to be seem how smaller parties such as The Greens, will be able to gain leeway in this upcoming election. The Internet, with its low cost’ and attractive new technology that caters mainly to the young, offers that viable medium, where they may gain enough votes to affect an effective voice in the Senate.
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References

1. Global Greens History, ‘ From Earth’s last islands’; The development of the first two Green parties, New Zealand and Tasmania, Christine Dann, Green Party of Aeteorea/New Zealand; Chapter five, from her Ph.D. thesis, ”From Earth’s last islands. The global origins of Green politics” (Lincoln University, NZ, 1999)

2. History of the Australian Greens

3. Greens, Dems do a deal, The Age, Larissa Dubecki, November 1, 2007

4. Greens launch their election campaign, The Australian, Simon Mossman, October 28, 2007

5. 25 Most Influential Gays and Lesbians Australians – Bob Brown , Samesame.com

6. Greens Policy

7. Australian Greens Resolution on Israel/Palestine

8. Internet the battleground for Australia’s election, Reuters, 1 Nov 2007

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