Refugee crisis a chance for Greens to build

Greens leader Christine Milne was a clear voice of opposition to Kevin Rudd’s appalling new refugee plan. Her angry press conference soon after Rudd’s announcement struck a chord and fed into the strong showing at snap rallies across the country.

There will be further protests over the coming weeks, and The Greens should go all out to promote and champion them. Refugees are an issue that saw The Greens consolidate a support base to the left of Labor in the 2001 Tampa election and after. The party has held firm against offshore processing despite strong pressure from the media and the political establishment to buckle.

But this pressure has resulted in some in The Greens thinking the issue is not a good one for the party to highlight. Until now the issue has been far from central to The Greens’ election campaign.

Christine Milne did not mention the issue in her introduction to the party’s election manifesto “Standing up for what matters” and it did not feature in the official launch.

Minority government

So far The Greens have continued to try to sell their “achievements” working in minority government with dumped Labor leader Julia Gillard. They see this experience of wringing tiny concessions through parliamentary deals as a model for the future.

Deputy Leader Adam Bandt claims Gillard “progress(ed) some significant reforms but was never really given a fair go by her own side”.

Yet this was the Prime Minister who had just cut university funding by $2.3 billion and confirmed the cuts to single parents payments. The Green’s Agreement with Labor did nothing to prevent their lurch to the right, paving the road for a likely Abbott victory.

And chasing the votes on the basis of being “responsible” junior partners in government has not been a success even in their own electoralist terms. The Greens have in fact suffered in the polls.

Carbon tax

Greens Leader Christine Milne says the carbon tax is the “reform I am most proud of”.

Following Rudd’s plan to shelve the tax one year early, The Greens have positioned themselves as it’s sole remaining defenders, threatening to block his changes in the Senate after the election.

But there is no enthusiasm for the carbon tax. This was always a policy compromised by what was acceptable to Labor and big business.

Even at $24 the carbon price was not going to drive a shift to renewables. Former Climate Change Minister Greg Combet admitted the aim was “bringing on baseload gas-fired electricity”. Gas power is claimed to be a “cleaner” fuel, but when the emissions in mining are included can produce 70 per cent of the emissions of coal. Building new gas plants meant the carbon tax was going to see Australia increase emissions out to 2020 by 7.5 per cent—with a “reduction” only achieved by buying offsets.

Worse it has been impossible to defend because the cost of any “price on carbon” can easily be passed onto by ordinary consumers, giving Abbott a massive free kick.

Real action on climate requires forcing the government build the renewable energy plants that we urgently need – and to tax the actual profits of corporations destroying the planet to fund this.


The Greens also need to seize every opportunity to appeal to working class Labor voters. This is the largest social base for a left-wing vote that The Greens can hope to win over.

There are serious debates in sections of the union movement about whether to continue supporting Labor candidates. In both the 2007 and 2010 elections a number of left-wing unions made substantial donations to The Greens, including the ETU in Victoria, the CFMEU construction union and the AMWU.

Last month the NTEU National Council voted to recommend a vote for Greens candidates in the Senate, as well potentially some lower house seats, for the first time.

Opening up the possibility for unions to affiliate to the Greens would be an even more decisive step in creating a real base for the Greens in the working class. Starting a debate about union affiliation should be a key priority for the large numbers of union activists who support the Greens.

Greens members, particularly its student membership, have played an important role in the recent mobilisations against Rudd’s PNG “solution”.

Rather than pitching themselves as responsible players inside parliament, a consistent orientation towards mobilising Greens members in social movements fighting at the grassroots could have a big impact shifting Australian politics to the left.

By James Supple


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