By Dick Nichols
SYDNEY, April 6 - "The question now, to me, is not one of whether we're going to have a cohesive national green force, but when. And the sooner, the better." With these words Tasmanian green Independent MP Dr Bob Brown today told the Ecopolitics V conference of the need to move towards the establishment of a national green party.
"Nevertheless", Brown added immediately, "we have to take our time. Because one of the things we are basically not about is ... simply to get ourselves on seats in parliament [with] the white cars and the keys to the liquor cabinet."
Brown's announcement came at a conference session named "Whither Green Politics?". Chaired by ABC AM's presenter Peter Thompson, it also featured Australian Democrats leader Janet Powell and Dr Helen Caldicott. Caldicott, a former leader of the ALP faction Green Labor, received a high vote as an independent in the northern NSW seat of Richmond at the last federal poll.
Caldicott announced that she would be standing for the Democrats at the next federal election.
Brown said that the existence of the Democrats provided the green movement "with a very special opportunity". He said, "We have a green party which calls itself the Democrats", in which he had detected "a monumental change over the last two years".
The Tasmanian MP said he saw a national green formation emerging in the next year or two "in parallel with the Democrats", leading to the "merger of those two forces into a united green alternative for Australia".
How will the new party be formed? Brown acknowledged that "we do have problems as to how to assemble ourselves" and that "the big danger is that we will get caught in the structure trap".
"It is essential for the planet that we get on, organise, give the electorate the alternative, and run the risks that are inherent in that", Brown said.
"We must not, through fear that we won't get it right, that our representatives will make mistakes, put impediments in the way of having a structure which works."
Democrats' leader Janet Powell endorsed Brown's assessment of the political possibilities and said that her party's structure allowed "a pretty good balance" of accountability and freedom for elected representatives to follow their personal conscience.
Tony Harris (Sydney Greens) compared the emergence of the green movement with that of the ALP 100 years ago, both exhibiting many false starts and local differences. He saw within the "broad church" of green politics a place for all currents if the structure could be found that would "allow us to agree to disagree" on many issues.
For Harris, such a structure would have to enshrine autonomy for local organisations, and all elected positions would need to be subject to recall. He judged that "the conditions are there, if we have the will, to put together some such national structure".
The brief discussion period was marked by some concern about the process by which any national formation would emerge. Interviewed by the media after the event, Brown said that policy and structure for the new formation would be the subject of negotiation between existing green organisations with the aim of n "we can all live with".
Other issues that remained to be decided included the process for forming policy and the nature and date of any founding conference.
[Further reports on Ecopolitics V will appear in coming issues of Green Left Weekly.]