New Greens Manifesto points to founding principles

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge.

In April, NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge launched a Greens Manifesto in which he sets out a political vision that he says is in tune with the party’s founding four key platform points. Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman caught up with Shoebridge on April 18 to ask about the thinking behind the document.

What is the purpose of the Greens Manifesto?

It was designed to unite Greens members around the country and provide a coherent vision that cuts across all four pillars of our party: ecological sustainability; social justice; grassroots democracy; and peace and non-violence.

It pushes the boundaries in a few areas, but does so in a way that is consistent with policies we have adopted and the long-standing principles of The Greens.

Too often, political battles are isolated: fighting one coal mine here or one rotten decision about welfare over there or one workplace dispute in the city and a different dispute in the regions and the bush.

The fact is that all these challenges are connected: it’s the same rotten corporate system that is destroying our climate, is despoiling nature, corrupting politicians and exploiting people. The Manifesto tries to draw those threads together.

We need to explain how we are going to stand up to corporate Australia, put the environment before profit, fix a very broken system and force some fairness on it.

This isn’t just right in principle, it is also has the good fortune to be the pathway to electoral success for The Greens.

Is there a discussion within the Greens about the allocation balance between supporting social movement campaigns and electoral work?

I’ve always tried to devote my time and resources to community activism: I have spent more time at protests than I have in the chamber in my time as an MP. As that’s where change happens, that’s where I should be.

There is an ongoing discussion within the party about the extent to which we direct our resources to federal, state and local election campaigns, and the extent to which we direct them to our local working groups and to members to engage in community based campaigning.

That’s a discussion happening in Greens parties around the world, in fact.

But it is not as simple as whether it is electoral expenditure or non-electoral expenditure. It’s also about how you use resources in election campaigns and which election campaigns you choose to prioritise.

I’m a strong believer that the party should be prioritising local government campaigning, and directing resources to local government campaigning. We get more value and greater social change out of our 50 plus local councillors in NSW than the handful of federal and state MPs. We get great results from 4 directly elected Greens Mayors, who are showing real leadership in their community.  Sometimes we undervalue that.

You have included a segment about the widespread alienation from politics.

Yes. One of the things we wanted to explore is not just where we should be, it is also how we get there. That’s why it includes a substantial element on the theory of change, how we bring it about.

I firmly believe we will not change the world just through getting the right MPs elected.

Yes, we need more good left-wing environmentally conscious MPs but they are only going to be of use if they are attached to powerful social movements outside of parliament that force parliaments to act.

It’s only when we work with unions, activists and environmental campaigners and we draw those threads together that we force parliaments to act. That’s the only time we will get change.

Is that view of how to achieve social change shared by most Greens MPs?

I cannot speak for all, but I would hope that it’s the view of the majority of Greens MPs. That’s the history of our party. We were founded in the Green Bans movement in NSW, the forestry movements across the country and the nuclear disarmament movement especially in WA. It’s in the DNA of our members.

How is the Manifesto being viewed by Greens in other states?

We’ve had strong support. When former WA Senator Scott Ludlum said “Hang on, this sounds amazing”, he got thousands of shares, as did Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett.

I’ve been in contact with Greens across the country and internationally — particularly in Britain and the US — who are excited by the Manifesto and ready for change.

It cannot and should not set new policy, but more start the conversation with members about the more coherent four-pillar strategy for the Greens.

We have the four pillars for a good reason: it is not a one issue world and we cannot be a one issue party.

The Manifesto points out to those people whose primary focus is on electoral success is that broadening the reach of the party to combine ecological sustainability and social justice is the way to electoral success.

There are votes going begging to those on the left who can most convincingly explain how they are going to stand up to corporate Australia, how they are going to rejig a very broken system and force some fairness on it.

Are you keen to distance the Manifesto as being branded ‘left’, even though you deploy (with accreditation) Jeremy Corbyn’s slogan, ‘For the Many, not the Few’?

Its purpose was to put out a political platform. If you come to the Greens because you are concerned about coal mines and climate change, you have to address the obscene power that we give to corporate Australia. You have to address the appalling inequities that same corporate system produces. Unless you join the two things together, you are going to be a marginal political voice.

I have no difficulty in describing it as a product from the left of politics. The Greens are very much a product of the left of politics and that’s something we can be proud of.

Some of the best media coverage the Manifesto we got was from the Australian attempting to frighten its readership about our “radical hard-left manifesto”.

The Australian quailed at a plan to “heavily tax the wealthy, cap CEO salaries, starve private schools of public funding, cut the working week, abolish higher education debts and make university and public transport free”.

These things are not quite as scary as it would have us believe, though. Almost without exception, the comments supported these ideas, with the most common response: “When can we start?”

Are there any other issues you would like to raise?

It has not been the easiest of times for The Greens, recently. There is a real concern that there has been a lot of personality politicking.

This Manifesto is designed as a corrective to that. This is not about me or any of the Greens MPs. It’s about how we come together and change the world.  It’s about policies that will get people behind the Greens banner. How are they consistent with our four pillars and where should we be taking the party?

Since it has been launched, former members have rejoined. Other members have said it’s why they joined the Greens in the first place. I, and the broad group of members with whom I produced this document, wanted it to be a spark of hope, a light on the hill. From the reception it has had I think it is doing a bit of that.