Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Greens, announced that he was resigning from the leadership of the party earlier this month. He will also resign from the Senate. Brown has been a senator for 16 years and leader of the party since it was formed in 1992.
Christine Milne has been elected as the new leader of the Greens and Adam Bandt has been elected deputy leader.
Since the party’s inception the mild mannered Brown has been the face of the Greens and its main national spokesperson. Under Brown’s leadership the Greens have grown to be the ‘third force’ in Australian politics winning 1.7 million votes in the last federal election.
Brown said that the reason for his resignation was that he was getting on, now 67 years old. This contradicted previous statements where he said that he would stand for another term. While the real reasons for his departure may not come out for some time to come we can say that Brown has chosen to leave the scene at what is really the height of the party’s game.
The Greens, like Labor, are looking at the current polls showing that a Liberal/National Coalition would be swept to power if an election was held tomorrow. While it is possible that the Greens could increase their numbers in the Senate, on the basis of the current polls, the Liberals/Nationals would win a majority of seats in both houses.
This would diminish the role of the Greens as they would no longer hold the balance of power in the upper house. At the same time Adam Bandt is going to be hard pressed to maintain his seat in the lower house – especially if the Liberals decide not to preference him.
In one of his final speeches Brown said that the Greens would one day be a party of government. It is extremely unlikely that the Greens will be in a position to govern in their own right any time soon. As we have said before, because of their lack of a class approach to politics, they will find it difficult to really break out of the inner city areas and to win a genuine base of support in working class suburbs.
The truth is that the rise of the Greens is more so linked to the crisis facing the major parties – especially the ALP. At the moment there is not much enthusiasm for either of the major parties. Their embrace of neo-liberal economic policies coupled with the ongoing capitalist crisis has led to a growing anti-party mood.
The Greens were able to take advantage of this by presenting themselves as something different. They managed to win votes by relating to social movements, especially those that developed in the early 2000s.
By opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by promoting a more human approach to asylum seekers and by supporting same-sex marriage rights they have managed to eat into a section of the ALP’s voter base – especially in inner city areas.
The fact that they have now gone into a coalition with the ALP at a federal level, as well as in some states and Councils, has meant that they are now somewhat implicated with ALP policies. The carbon tax in particular is extremely unpopular and will make it harder for them to further eat into the ALP’s suburban supporter base.
Their dilemma is that the closer they get to power the closer they resemble the major parties. Because they have no alternative to the economic ideas of neo-liberalism when they get into positions of influence they end up implementing pretty much the same policies as the ALP.
This is seen in the way that they have voted for budgets that include cuts that undermine people’s living standards. Even on issues like climate change they have retreated, supporting a carbon tax package that will see Australia’s carbon emissions reduced by just 2% by 2050!
While most ordinary people support action on climate change they see no reason why they should be forced to pay for it when it is big business that does the bulk of the polluting.
In regards to the Greens role on Yarra Council in inner city Melbourne we recently said that because “the Greens have no focus on extra-parliamentary (or outside the Council Chamber) activity, they are rarely able to implement their policies. Rather than mobilising people to affect change they instead prefer to play a type of negotiating role. What they don’t understand is that without a mobilised base of support ‘negotiators’ are impotent.
“The key to winning reforms is to have a dual approach. While it’s good to have representatives on the inside you also need a focus on building grass roots campaigns. The Socialist Party links this type of approach with a vision to fundamentally change society. This is how we are able to win things despite being the Opposition.”
In order to develop an approach along these lines the Greens would need to change their entire political and economic philosophy. This is extremely unlikely to happen. It would actually make more sense to just set up a new party. This is what we are calling on trade unions and community groups to do.
The departure of Brown will definitely be a blow to the party’s prestige but as long as the ALP continues to disappoint the Greens can maintain a certain momentum. To really address the problems ordinary people face however a party that really challenges the profit first system will be required.
By Anthony Main