Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Greens crisis spreads through mainstream parties

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In mid-July, Senator Scott Ludlam resigned from parliament, citing the discovery that he was a dual-citizen of New Zealand, and therefore ineligible for federal office. In doing this, he set off a political crisis that now affects all the major parties.

This strange episode highlights the weakness of the entire political establishment. All parties that support capitalism – which is all of the parties in parliament – face crisis in the period we are entering.

Ludlam’s departure sparked off the resignation of a second Greens senator, Larissa Waters, and created a scandal for other MPs who have sat in parliament while holding dual citizenship.

Resources minister Matt Canavan resigned from cabinet after revealing that he holds dual Italian citizenship – although he is keeping his seat while his case goes before the High Court. Nick Xenophon, a number of Labor MPs, and One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts have also come under scrutiny. It has prompted an audit by the Liberal Party into all sitting members who may be dual citizens.

The Coalition’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce of the National Party, has placed a decision on his eligibility to sit in the lower house before the High Court. Joyce was found to have held dual New Zealand citizenship. The Coalition only has a one-seat majority in the lower house, so the High Court effectively holds the fate of the government in its hands.

Most people are not concerned with whether or not politicians hold dual citizenship. A Sky News/ReachTEL poll in July found that only 44.2% thought that it mattered, with 46.2% of people disagreeing that dual citizens should be blocked from Parliament (the rest were undecided). Dual citizenship isn’t even an issue for state parliaments. The ban on dual citizens in federal parliament is an undemocratic rule to begin with.

In the past, Ludlam has ignored the issue. A Change.org petition raised his citizenship in 2014. This was a fringe right-wing petition, which amassed 10 signatures, but it’s hard to believe it wouldn’t have come to his attention. The same question was raised about Tony Abbott’s citizenship in 2015. Why has the issue suddenly gained momentum?

The Greens have faced an internal crisis since last year’s federal election. The divide between left and right in the Greens has existed for a long time, but it came into the open when the poor election result was used by the leadership to attack the NSW branch of the party. This led to the creation of ‘Left Renewal’, which defends the NSW branch leadership.

The conservative Green party leadership – which previously included Ludlam and Waters – have been waging a fight against the left-wing of the Greens since then. They have attacked both rank-and-file activists and established Greens politicians, such as NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Two weeks before Ludlam’s resignation, Rhiannon was temporarily suspended from the Greens party room, due to her refusal to support the neoliberal Gonski education reforms. She has since been banned from participating in discussions about any parliamentary vote where the Greens are likely to hold a balance of power.

It may be that the resignations are an attempt to ‘clean house’ and defuse any potential future scandal before the next political crisis or election occurs. If that’s the case, they haven’t controlled the timing very well – reports suggest it could be well into October before there are confirmed replacements for Ludlam and Waters, leaving them two votes down for the first four weeks that the Senate is in session.

Ultimately, the Greens are in crisis because while they attempt to appeal to voters as a left-wing alternative, they have supported right-wing polices at every level from local to federal politics, and so they are often seen as out-of-touch with ordinary people.

All parties that support capitalism face a similar conflict as people’s living standards worsen. The dwindling public support for these parties, and the growing backlash against establishment politics, show that a vacuum exists in Australian politics. Right now the right-wing ‘micro-parties’ are attempting to fill it, but they also provide no alternative.

If a handful of unions were to decisively break from the Labor Party and form a new party, it would be possible to unite the various social movements to create a force for ordinary people. If such a party was launched with a bold, socialist programme, it would be possible to use this establishment crisis to win gains for working people. Nobody in parliament represents us – we need a party of our own!

By David Elliott

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