After weeks of political wrangling and uncertainty since the March 20 state elections, a new government has been formed in Tasmania. For the first time in Australia’s history, the Greens will have ministry positions.
The Labor Party and the Greens agreed to a “power sharing deal”, which offered a ministry for Greens leader Nick McKim and a cabinet secretary position for Greens MP Cassy O’Connor.
In return, McKim and O’Connor are required to support the Labor government in any no-confidence motion, as well as vote for any legislation flowing from cabinet decisions in which they are involved.
They will also be required to use their “best endeavours” to gain the support of the other three Greens MPs who aren’t in cabinet.
Commenting on the deal, McKim said: “This is an historic opportunity for Tasmania and for the Greens and Labor parties”, according to ABC Online on April 20.
The April 24 Australian reported him saying: “People want politicians prepared to move beyond any kind of petty squabbles we've had in the past and focus on … stable government and good outcomes.”
According to media reports, some in the Greens see this as a move into the mainstream and a step towards a majority Greens government.
After the deal was announced, McKim took on a raft of ministerial portfolios: human services; corrections and consumer protection; community development; climate change; sustainable transport and alternative energy.
But divisions within the Greens have already come to light. There are many who, no doubt, wouldn’t classify campaigns against corruption, the Gunns pulp mill and native forest logging as “petty squabbles”, but rather as crucial battles at the heart of the struggle for a more just and democratic state.
Kim Booth, Greens MP for Bass — which encompasses the site of the unpopular proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill — voted against the deal with Labor.
According to the Australian, Booth said: "[Because of] my role in unearthing corruption and the fact that many of the people I heavily criticised and made very strong statements about in the parliament would still be part of a new Bartlett Labor government, I … couldn't in conscience sit in a government with them.”
Booth preferred a deal with the Liberals, which is in fact the Greens' majority view. According to a poll commissioned by GetUp!, 52% of Greens voters preferred a deal with the Liberals, as compared to 37% supporting a deal with the ALP.
This indicates the Greens’ decision to join the ALP cabinet lacks wide support inside the party. The decision was not made by the Greens Party or by members, but rather the five parliamentarians. However, the decision will affect the Greens as a whole.
The fact that a majority of Greens voters preferred a deal with the Liberals reflects a desire for change from an increasingly unpopular Labor government that carried out policies against the will of the majority of Tasmanians — particularly concerning the Gunns pulp mill.
But the big issue is not which of the two pro-corporate parties the Greens entered coalition with. The big question now is how independent the Greens are, and how independent can they be under this deal?
The Greens were able to build support due to the popular stand they took on the pulp mill and the corruption surrounding it, as well as being consistent advocates for action on climate change and social justice issues.
Its record-high stemmed from being independent of the major parties and their ties to big business and all sorts of vested interests.
This independence is now severely compromised and, despite assurances that Green cabinet ministers will retain their political platform and will excuse themselves from any cabinet meetings where there are obvious differences such as forestry, there is a still major compromising pressure that will affect the political decisions made by the Greens cabinet ministers.
The Greens are now in a situation where they have a political interest in the survival and popularity of a Labor-led government.
It was compromising pressures such as these that effectively destroyed the Democrats. That party was seen as a “third force”, but by being “pragmatic” it destroyed itself.
The Greens built themselves through their strong, principled stance against anti-social and anti-environment policies. The choice facing the Greens is either to continue along this path or to become an appendage of the major parties.
Choosing the latter option will alienate the Greens’ growing support base, those who believe in the party’s fundamental platform of peace and non-violence, grassroots democracy, social and economic justice and ecological sustainability.