Should the Tasmanian Greens enter into a coalition government?

March 13, 2010

A Tasmanian opinion poll released on February 24 by EMRS has stunned political commentators throughout Australia, with headlines noting the surge in support for the Greens.

The Greens are polling at 22%, just one percentage point behind the Labor Party on 23%. The Liberals are on 30% and 23% of voters remain undecided ahead of Tasmania's March 20 poll.

However, election analyst Antony Green wrote on his blog: "When the pressure of the campaign comes on, it has seemed that very few of the voters classed as undecided will end up voting Green."

Despite this, the polling still indicates the Greens would achieve their highest vote since the EMRS poll began 10 years ago.

If the polls are accurate, the parliament after the state election would consist of 10 Liberal seats, nine Labor and six Greens. This would be an historic achievement for the Greens, who currently have four seats. It would also mean no party would form a majority, and a coalition would most likely be formed.

This raises broader questions about how progressive candidates and members of parliament should use alliances with the major parties.

Greens leader Nick McKim has made it clear the Greens intend to negotiate to form a coalition with either Labor or Liberal. He said the Greens and would "be making no demands" in those negotiations.

"Ultimately in any negotiated arrangement, it's important that there's give and take and we understand that you sometimes need to give ground to make ground in a negotiation", McKim said, ABC Online reported on March 3.

It's becoming clearer what "ground" the Greens may be prepared to give. McKim has declared that there will be "no deal breakers" when it comes to negotiations. He has refused to rule out joining a coalition government that supports old-growth logging or the environmentally devastating proposed Gunns pulp mill.

The Greens have promised to not vote to block supply of the budget, under any circumstances.

The Greens are trying to avoid the scare tactics that were used against them in the last state election campaign. Then, both major parties sowed fear that a minority government would be unstable.

Liberal and Labor have both said they would not enter into negotiations with the Greens about a coalition government. This raises the prospect of a "grand coalition" government shared between the two major parties.

Growing support for the Greens stems from the progressive stances the party has taken over many years on environmental and social questions, leading it to become the third force in Australian politics.

But with no line in the sand when it comes to which policies or issues may be negotiated away, how can anyone voting for the Greens have confidence that they will implement or fight for their election platform once in parliament?

While compromise and negotiation play a role in politics, there are also many sad tales of political parties falling apart due to the urge to be "reasonable" and "ensure the greatest outcome". The Australian Democrats are one example.
Experiences of Greens parties participating in coalition governments overseas don't bode well for progressive activists and movements.

The Irish and Czech Greens became props for right-wing parties implementing anti-social and anti-environmental policies. The German Greens, in coalition with the Social Democratic Party, spectacularly sold out its support base by agreeing to the continuation of nuclear power.

The experience of the Greens holding the balance of power in the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly has been less damaging. The ACT Greens turned down a chance to enter a coalition government and have not taken cabinet positions. The Greens have been able to freely oppose bills, motions and initiatives.

But this arrangement still puts pressure on the Greens to compromise, resulting, for example, in Greens support for weakening the recent same-sex civil union bill.

McKim has been lauded for taking a "centrist" path, which — according to commentators — shows sign of a "maturing" party that no longer wants to just yell from the sidelines.

But this path is having bad consequences for the party's policies and actions. For instance, the Greens oppose the disastrous Tasmania Tomorrow education reforms (see article this page), but the Greens have also called on teachers to cancel the strike planned for March 16.

It's difficult to see how forming government with the ALP or Liberals would be consistent with the Greens fundamental platform of peace and non-violence, grassroots democracy, social and economic justice, and ecological sustainability.

There are no shortcuts towards achieving the social change we so desperately need, especially as the threat of a climate crisis looms large. But fundamental social change only occurs when huge numbers of people are involved in social movements.

The Labor and Liberal parties are opposed to movements for social and environmental change, and rely on people's political passivity.

Parties that enter into coalition with them become appendages to their anti social and anti-environment agenda, and isolated from political campaigns.

This is a direction the Greens should not take, for the sake of all progressive people and campaigns in Tasmania.

The best outcome of the Tasmanian elections would be a record-high Greens vote and an independent Greens party ready to put both big parties under maximum pressure.

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