The Greens could have more power in the Australian parliament than ever before, after the federal election on August 21. Achieving the balance of power in the Senate is within reach for the Greens, meaning that the government would have to negotiate an agreement with either the opposition party or the Greens to pass legislation.
The Greens currently share balance of power with Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon.
“We have shown a responsibility that the Coalition has shunned”, said Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens.
“We put through the stimulus package that saved the country from double digit unemployment and recession when the opposition said ‘no’. We’ve been able to negotiate better outcomes time and again, and will do so in the next parliament.”
Support for the Greens has risen from 5% in the 2001 election, to 12.8% in the most recent quarterly Newspoll results.
“There has been a move to the right in politics by both Labor and the Conservatives and the Greens have become the progressive party in Australia”, said Brown.
“I’m very happy to have such a stable and accomplished third party in the Australian parliament.”
Despite the surge in support for the Greens’ centre-left brand of politics, Brown has been left out of much of the election campaign coverage, including the televised leaders debate.
“There was no way they were going to have a Green on there, raising issues like the war in Afghanistan, the plight of Indigenous Australians, or even getting rid of discrimination in our marriage laws”, Brown said.
Indigenous Australians have rated little mention from the two major parties during the campaign, but Brown has spoken out against the government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response, or the NT intervention as it has come to be known.
“At the outset, the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, to send in the army and to treat First Australians as second-rate citizens by suspending their rights to equal access to an income under our national laws, was not on”, he said.
“But both the big parties supported that. We’ve tried to amend that in the parliament, but unsuccessfully.
“There is no doubt that we have to put a lot more resources into Indigenous Australia, working with Indigenous Australia and under the direction of — instead of dictating from — Canberra.”
On the issue of asylum seekers, Brown said that Australian’s are compassionate, but that leadership was the key to an ethical debate.
Speaking about mandatory detention, Brown said: “It’s indefensible, in a compassionate, warm-hearted country like Australia that people are being held as if they are criminals, divorced from the populous and judged guilty until proven innocent. It’s the reverse of natural justice as we know it.”
Climate change policy is another divisive campaign issue. The two major parties have outlined their climate change policies, but Brown was disappointed in Labor’s decision to form a citizen’s assembly and said that Labor and the Coalition have prioritised big business over the environment.
“The world is in grave crisis. Scientists are telling us that we are going to lose the Great Barrier Reef by mid-century and potentially 90% of the productivity of our farmlands in the Murray-Darling basin by the end of the century if we don’t tackle climate change”, he said.
“We don’t need to consult the telephone book to get on with a carbon price. The majority of Australian’s in the polls want [ALP Prime Minister Julia Gillard] to negotiate with the Greens for action on climate change.
“Both big parties are captive to the coal industry and have either put off action, or in [Coalition leader] Tony Abbott’s case, says he just won’t have a carbon price.
“The Australian public wants action on climate change and they know that involves not burning and exporting more fossil fuels.”
He explained that renewables such as wind and solar power were “great options” for Australia.
Abbott’s Coalition has committed to a 5% reduction in emissions by 2020; while Gillard said her government would act “when the Australian economy is ready and when the Australian people are ready”.
Brown said that the Greens “are the antidote to the consumerist and the ultimately self-destructive way the world is working at the moment and I’m very optimistic about that”.
Brown also pledged his support for the work of activists within local communities.
He said: “I love them, I think they are like the suffragettes, 100 years on, they are warning us that we have big decisions to make to make society fair, this time it’s not to assure women of a vote, but to assure our children of security and it’s nothing less than that.”
[Kate Ausburn is a journalist for the Australian Times (London).]