A warning for green democracy

Wednesday, June 19, 1991

A warning for green democracy

By Richard Ingram

The latest issue of Chain Reaction, published by Friends of the Earth, is a special double issue with a cover story likely to create controversy — but also, one hopes — serious discussion in the green movement.

The cover feature, "Corruption and the environment movement", is in fact three articles. They deal with the 1987 federal election campaign; the organisation and campaigning style of Greenpeace; and the struggle within the leadership of Friends of the Earth (US) that eventually led to the departure of the organisation's founder, David Brower.

In his introduction to the articles, co-editor Larry O'Loughlin stresses, "We are not presenting evidence that money has changed hands for the benefit of individuals in the environment movement, or that people have used the movement as a means of gaining power and influence for themselves or their associates, although these may happen. The issue at stake is the corruption of the internal democracy of the environment movement by the abandonment of principles and the seeking of power for short-term political ends."

Timothy Doyle's "The green élite and the 1987 election" is likely to arouse the greatest interest of the three articles, largely because it gives a look into previously little known events. Doyle contends that an élite of professional activists, largely unelected, within the Wilderness Society and Australian Conservation Foundation manipulated those organisations into backing Labor in the election.

"It was this network which bargained with the Labor Government before and during the 1987 election campaign. It was not representative, in any way, of the environmental movement as a whole. But, due to the key positions of power held by this national élite, it was possible for it to portray its actions as representative to the politicians, the media and the general public."

Doyle's concern is less with the specific decision taken in the 1987 elections than with the implications of centralised decision-making by a network not subject to grassroots control. He concludes:

"If these trends of élite dominance continue, with emphasis on electoral politics, then the politicians, the government bureaucracy and the developers will have complete control over the movement's political agenda and its terms of reference. The time dimension; the rules of the game; the extent of trade-offs; the

sources of money; the mutual personnel; all these factors will be defined by the dominant regime."

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