Tasmanian Greens: an opportunity goes begging

Issue 

By Iggy Kim

HOBART — The Labor Party responded to the state budget with opportunist posturing. On August 19, its MPs puffed out their chests, stated they would vote against the budget and proposed extending the state debt by $120 million in order to retain the public service jobs currently under the axe.

When the vote was taken on August 22, ALP leader Michael Field and his cronies knew very well they could not block supply and force a new election because the Greens had committed their support for the Liberals. Labor knew it could be fiercely "oppositional" without creating any consequences.

After all, it was Field who as premier in 1989 implemented the fiscal stabilisation program of massive cuts to the state public service and welfare spending.

Would Tweedledee have responded in the same way if the Greens had come out against Tweedledum's budget?

Fear of 'instability'

It is unfortunate that the Tasmanian Greens parliamentarians have supported the Rundle austerity budget. They fear "political instability" that will endanger the investment climate.

Sadly, they have fallen for the bosses' argument that what's good for business is good for everyone. But as the state budget shows, the opposite is true. To guarantee investment on the bosses' terms means cutting back on jobs and services, and diverting public resources to the private sector.

The Greens' retreat occurs at a time when many Tasmanian workers are organising and taking action against the government.

Non-nursing health workers have been pursuing a wage claim since June. State school teachers recently stepped up their industrial campaign for a 6.86% pay rise. The State Public Service Federation (SPSF) has warned the state government of major industrial action.

If the Greens were to look outside parliament's ivory towers, they would see this source of potential strength. The Health and Community Services Union, the SPSF and the Australian Education Union are three of Tasmania's largest unions.

The Tasmanian Greens are looked to as a progressive force by many social movement activists and politically conscious workers disaffected with Labor. This is an ideal time for them to go beyond parliament and organise their members and supporters in a concerted campaign to give political (not parliamentary) assistance to workers taking action.

Especially amidst the current national mobilisations, such a political offensive by the Greens would have a real chance of success and could set an example to the rest of the country.

But the Greens oppose political "confrontation", citing community disgust with "one upmanship". But what many find despicable is parliamentary bickering that does not further the majority of people's interests. Discontented workers want real solutions raised, championed, fought for.

Setting a "mature" example of cooperation in parliament has now failed twice. The 1989 accord with the minority Field Labor government dragged the Greens into a program of cutbacks and corporate handouts. This time, it seems the Greens are going out of their way to collaborate with Rundle, even at the expense of working people.

Cooperative minority government is merely the flip-side to parliamentary bickering — it is a change in appearance, not substance.

Alternative

The responsible alternative would be to reawaken working people's hopes through a persistent campaign of mass organisation and action that directly voices their demands and aspirations. What many are sick of is passive representation and consultation.

Any tactical use of parliament must aim for the higher goal of aiding and consolidating the self-organising capacity of working people, not substituting for it. Alongside challenging Labor/Liberal and introducing progressive legislation, parliamentary tactics should seek to expose parliament's limited ability to meet working people's needs.

It is irresponsible to inflate illusions in parliament with cheap talk of returning power to the "people's house" through minority government. In practice, this simply means clinging to the coat-tails of the big business parties in an effort to play a "responsible" role.

In supporting the Rundle budget, the Greens have moved to the right of Labor as they search for a conciliatory road between the major parties. This could drive many people back to the two-party masquerade, at a time when, more than ever, a true working people's alternative is required.

The Tasmanian Greens have the clout to initiate such a move and help drive a corresponding shift in national politics, but they have turned away from the opportunity.