Kerry Nettle: 'A crucial turning point'

KERRY NETTLE has been a NSW Greens senator since 2001. She spoke to Green Left Weekly's PIP HINMAN about what the Greens had achieved, and why it was critical that they hold the balance of power in the new Senate.

"In a short time, the Greens have gone from a minor party to the third force in Australian politics, with a good opportunity to hold the balance of power in the Senate after this election. The Greens provide leadership for social change movements, and are a voice for positive and progressive change in parliament", Nettle said.

Nettle described this election as a "crucial turning point for Australia". "There is a good chance of removing [PM] John Howard and the Coalition, which will create space for progressive forces — unions and the environment movement — to move forward again. But the Senate is crucial: only more Greens in parliament can remove the Coalition dictatorship of the Senate."

Nettle cited opposition spokesperson on industrial relations Julia Gillard as saying it would be impossible for Labor to get enough Senate seats to be a majority in its own right. "So, overturning Howard's workplace laws and legislating for action on climate change will rely on the Greens having the balance of power", Nettle said.

The Greens pledge to use the balance of power "responsibly and positively". For example, they will push for real action on climate change. Nettle added that the party would also "support legislation that is heading in the right direction, even if it falls short of what we want".

The Greens want Work Choices scrapped, and as the Greens are increasingly being seen as the third major force in politics, some unions (such as the Victorian Fire Fighters) have called for a vote for the Greens ahead of the ALP.

Asked about the Greens' strategy in parliament and in the unions to ensure that if Howard gets back in he cannot introduce a Work Choices "Mark II", and if Labor gets in to prevent it from back tracking on promises, and push it to scrap AWAs (individual contracts)and the Australian Building and Construction Commission earlier than promised. Nettle said that the Greens "will push for more far-reaching changes than Labor's Work Choices Lite".

"Unlike Labor, we want to shred all of Work Choices. We will work with unions and the community to hold Rudd to his promises, and to go further. But we won't block laws that are an improvement or remove some of Howard's workplace laws."

The Greens are calling for a reduction in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% below by 2050. Given how serious the threat of climate change is, Green Left Weekly asked Nettle why the Greens hadn't adopted higher carbon emission reduction targets.

"Recent data on the extent of Arctic summer ice melt have again highlighted the accelerating threat of climate change", Nettle said. "The Greens policies are based on climate change science that aims to keep global warming below 2°C. If implemented, our policy would enable Australia to play its part in the making that happen. But the key is the science: if the developing science shows stronger action is needed, we will take it."

Asked about Greens candidate Andrew Wilkie's reported comments on the invasion of Afghanistan being a "just" war, at least at the start, Nettle reiterated Greens policy, which is for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.