'We have to present an alternative vision'

Issue 

PERTH — The Greens (WA) have three seats in the state Legislative Council. GIZ WATSON, MLC for the North Metropolitan region, was elected in December along with Christine Sharp in South-West. Jim Scott, in South Metropolitan, was re-elected. Watson first became politically active in the campaign against the Vietnam War and has been involved in a range of environmental campaigns on WA's south coast. She is the first open lesbian elected to parliament in WA. ANTHONY BENBOW and JUSTIN HARMAN interviewed her for Green Left Weekly.

Question: Why do you think the Greens (WA) achieved such a good result? What messages were conveyed in the slogan "Restore the Balance"?

More voters see the major parties as the same and are opting for an alternative. Our links with community groups and local issues translated into strong electoral support. "Restore the Balance" had a dual message: the ecological balance, the main environmental message, but also the "balance of power" in the parliament.

Question: The new upper house will have a Coalition minority for the first time in 100 years. What campaigns will the Greens (WA) be pushing and how?

The two major parties usually vote together, and it will be quite challenging trying to achieve any balance. We aim to make use of parliamentary committees as one way of putting environmental issues at the forefront of the political agenda.

We may also have the opportunity to work with the major parties around specific areas: if the National Party is concerned about rural cuts or the ALP left about industrial relations, we may be able to have some bills amended.

If we are constantly raising another perspective, we may win individuals. We are for a cooperative approach that looks for win-win situations. We have to communicate strongly with the broader public, so media work will be essential.

Formal alliances with the Democrats are unlikely, but I would hope we could work cooperatively as our policies are similar. Also, Greens (WA) elected representatives can vote differently to each other rather than as a bloc, something we see as a strength.

Question: What sort of pressure will this bring for trade-offs?

We know this is a risk. Cross-issue trading is fraught with danger: it's hard to explain to constituents why we sacrificed this to gain that. I hope we can present a united resistance to those inevitable pressures and not be tripped up.

Question: The Greens (WA) membership have twice voted against merging with the national Greens. What are your thoughts on this?

We need to revisit this question as a part of developing our future strategy. Are we just "greening up everybody else" or are we a future alternative government? The Democrats act as a referee for existing parties. We shouldn't be just blowing the whistle; we should take the whistle and change the game.

Greens are a global movement and should work towards an alternative way of running the planet, something which needs maximum community involvement. We have been successful as a state-based party, but developing joint work is a priority.

Question: The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation are talking about doing more work in WA, and workers are challenging the government's "third wave" of anti-union laws. How are you relating to these issues?

Mobilisations and rallies are a powerful political tool. But I'm slightly cynical about TWS/ACF talking about mobilising mobs in WA. I am an ACF member and have worked closely with TWS: they are keen to rebuild their support in WA but will have to do more than capitalise on a good green vote!

In the end direct actions arise from community frustrations at the system not working, not from people at the top saying, "This is a good idea". Actions also have an important role in empowering people, but they need to be well thought out so as not to create a backlash, as happened to the public transport unions in Victoria with their action against the Grand Prix.

Question: You have a profile as an active lesbian, and the WA government. is extremely homophobic. How do you plan to take up these issues?

The discrimination laws in WA are terrible: it's a human rights question. I have not been active on these issues for some years but will be a voice for the lesbian and gay communities if they desire. It's an advantage having someone in parliament speaking out about lesbian issues.

Question: Do you consider parliament an obstacle to or a vehicle for social change?

We have to present an alternative vision of where WA can be in 10 years' time, encourage the community to think more creatively about what future they want and reflect that in parliament — which is presently more of an obstacle to social change. Parliament is a conservative force usually about maintaining the status quo and representing vested interests, not about reacting to community aspirations.