ADELAIDE — The Australian Greens have announced that they will be running in South Australia for the first time in the upcoming federal elections. Green Left Weekly's EMMA WEBB spoke to STEPHEN SPENCE, state convenor of the Australian Greens (SA). Spence, currently the branch secretary of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, recently resigned from the Australian Labor Party. There have been three attempts to set up the Australian Greens in SA. However, nothing came of it until the second half of this year when green and social justice activists have held a number of meetings with Bob Brown in an attempt to establish an SA branch. So far an interim constitution has been adopted, Spence is the convenor, Jo D'Silva, the secretary and Matt Fischer the treasurer. "People were happy to go along with the idea and adopted an interim constitution that is fairly similar to that of the Tasmanian Greens. We endorsed the three office bearers and adopted federal electorates as electoral branches. We also formed a State Council which is made up of up to two delegates from each electoral branch. Each electoral branch has a convenor. The electoral branches so far are Adelaide, Barker, Boothby, Hindmarsh, Mayo, Port Adelaide and Sturt", Spence said. The Australian Greens (SA) have submitted their interim constitution and will be seeking affiliation at the national council of the Greens in December. Spence explained that the decision to apply to affiliate was made on "both ideological and organisational grounds". As well as maximising resources, an important part of the decision was the connection with Bob Brown, who Spence believes "in the minds of many is the Australian Greens". Its recent formation has prevented the Australian Greens (SA) from having input into national policies for the federal election. However, they have looked at the draft policy and Spence says "there is general agreement it is terrific". He believes that the ALP is not delivering to unions and the policies of the Australian Greens are just what the union movement needs.
"Their industrial relations policy and their work and employment policy are both very strong. The Australian Greens are identifying clearly that it is transnational corporations and economic rationalism that are the two biggest threats to both the environment and social justice. "The policies of the Greens are oriented to supporting the community and community organisations and increasing democratic rights. The Australian Greens support the repeal of Sections 45D and E of the Trade Practices Act, they support the right to strike and effective consultation with unions, and prefer conciliation and arbitration. They support worker empowerment, the establishment of a workers rights' charter, and state that profitability should be secondary in the workplace. They support industrial democracy, the maintenance of the award system and an increase in workers' health and safety." Spence believes that the union movement needs to break its ties with the ALP and move towards an independent position with no ties to any political party. He indicated that individual unionists need to participate in the political process and for this reason a number of unionists have been involved in forming the Australian Greens (SA). The Australian Greens (SA) will be running a Senate ticket and are discussing options for lower house candidates. "Lower house tickets will be decided by the electoral branches and we will be considering those seats strategically depending on what other candidates are running in the seat. "We are at a very early stage of discussing preferences and lower house seats and will be talking to other progressive candidates in the future. We want to maximise the democratic options open to people provided that preference swaps keep the vote in the progressive camp. We want to maximise the Australian Greens vote as well as maximising the progressive vote in general." Spence explained that while SA is the "Democrat's heartland" their Senate ticket will be campaigning to win. "We will be in competition with them for the sixth seat. We are not going in there with the idea of losing. There is a radical alternative needed in SA and the Greens give that." The Greens have had discussions with Democrat leader Mike Elliot. Spence said it was unfortunate that Elliot's view is that all Greens should join the Democrats. "Our view is that that's not going to happen. A whole number of progressives won't join the Democrats because they are seen as a middle class small 'l' liberal party.
"We've undertaken to talk more with the Democrats. Nationally the Australian Greens are very strong on a merger, or at least an exchange of preferences, but so far the Democrats have not shown themselves willing to commit on either." Approaches were also made to the Green Party of South Australia (who have not affiliated to the Australian Greens). "When Bob Brown came over to Adelaide the first time the big discussion was how this would sit with the Green Party of SA. We sent a delegation to talk to them. At the time we were open to working through the Greens SA, however still with an agenda of wanting to be part of the national Greens. They didn't want to be part of the Australian Greens. However if another group wanted to set up and link themselves to the Greens nationally they would have no objection if there was communication between the two groups." Spence believes that while the New Zealand Alliance provides encouragement for coalition politics on the left, whether there is a similar development in Australia or a more formal merging process under the Green banner remains to be seen. "Either we have to be successful in recruiting progressive individuals to the Australian Greens or we have to look at an alliance/coalition with other parties, movements and group. It's an evolving process. In social movements we already do that. In political work we need to keep all progressive forces talking together arriving at a mutually beneficial outcome. "Both the alliance option and the Green option need to be discussed and debated. I'm a supporter of the Australian Greens as a broad-based radical political party that works cooperatively with other progressive forces." Spence believes that the Australian Greens is as much a party of the left as a party of greens. "An important debate that needs to be developed is that the Green party and the green movement are separate. Many people think the Greens are the political arm of the environmental movement. However the green movement is about the environment. The Greens have four principles — environmental sustainability, social justice, peace and democracy. These principles stand equally together. Environmental sustainability is one of those four and these principles recognise that the environment will not be saved without social justice and vice versa." Spence sees the Greens as being primarily about "elections, activism and representation". He says that the function of Green elected representatives should be to utilise the resources of the state to assist community campaigns and for green activists to participate in community campaigns. "Where there is a strike and a picket the Greens should be there. Anywhere the community is progressively advancing their rights the Greens should be there — supporting, facilitating, assisting — but never dominating." Spence believes the Australian Greens should be built as a broad coalition. "I think the task is to build this party across the traditions of the left. Already it is a coalition of liberal democrats, eco-socialists, anarchists and plain environmentalists. Anti-economic rationalism is our common thread."