Who’s afraid of the Green Left?

April 9, 2011
Rally against climate denialists, Sydney April 2, 2011. Photo by Peter Boyle.

For more than a week, Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian has been on the warpath against green and left “extremists”. It began by attacking the NSW Greens for supporting the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli apartheid. The Greens are organised in independent parties in each state, but the Murdoch flagship demanded that Australian Greens leader Bob Brown bring its most left-wing branch into line.

Labor PM Julia Gillard joined the fray, branding the Greens as “extremists who do not share the values of everyday Australians.” Former PMs Bob Hawke, John Howard and Kevin Rudd were rolled out to attack the Greens. Former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr accused the Greens of being “overtaken by hardline leftist Greens”.

In some wild responses to an ABC Drum website opinion piece by Socialist Alliance Marrickville candidate Pip Hinman defending the Greens’ BDS stance, the Greens were accused of being taken over by the Socialist Alliance. This of course is a lie.

Then the April 2-3 Weekend Australian declared: “Brown puts Greens Left on notice”. It quoted Brown as saying the NSW Greens BDS position had cost it votes in the March 26 NSW election.

The attacks continued during the week and on April 8, The Australian quoted former Queensland Greens leader Drew Hutton and Tasmanian Greens co-founder Norm Sanders of having strayed from the party’s environmentalist roots.

According to The Australian, Hutton said there had always been “tension in the Greens between those who come from a Left background, and those who come from a green background.”

The article ended with an outrageous quote from Sanders: “Bob and Christine are the only ones who’ve been on the barricades. They’re the only activists in the Greens. I don’t know where the rest come from.”

So what has stirred the right-wing hornets’ nest?

Ironically it is the silver (or should we say red-green?) lining to the dark cloud of the landslide Liberal-National Coalition victory in the NSW elections.

The Coalition enjoyed a 13% swing as most angry voters punished the hated and corrupt former Labor state government. However, there was also a smaller but significant gain by progressive parties and independents that campaigned not just on environmental issues but also in opposition to privatisation and in support of workers’ rights.

The Greens won their first lower house seat in the state and look like increasing their upper house representation from four to five. In addition, the Greens’ statewide vote increased from 9% to 11%.

In the seat of Marrickville, the Greens’ Fiona Byrne came just 700 votes short of knocking off former deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt despite a campaign full of dirty tricks and anti-Green smears.

Byrne had been slandered as an extremist, an anti-Semite and a Nazi-lover because, as Marrickville mayor, she, along with Greens and Labor councillors, had supported a resolution supporting the BDS campaign.

Initially, her attackers bragged that her support for Palestinian rights had cost her the seat. But their triumphalism soured when they realised she had nearly won, despite a smear campaign amplified by right-wing radio shock jocks and big business newspapers.

Although earlier polls had predicted a Greens vote as high as 19%, and they only got to 11% on average, the Greens came second in primary votes in 12 seats. They won more than 19% of the primary vote in seven electorates and scored more than 10% in 34 (half of these in traditional Labor seats).

Most of the bigger Greens votes were in electorates traditionally held by Coalition parties, but their two highest votes were in Labor strongholds. The Greens vote was about 5% or less in many western Sydney working-class electorates, however there were significant combined Greens and left votes in a couple of working-class electorates.

The total primary vote for candidates to the left of the big parties in Marrickville was 39.01%, In Wollongong it was 39.08% (independent Gordon Bradbery won 29.51% of that) and in Newcastle it was 20.02%. The green-left combined primary vote in Marrickville, Balmain and Wollongong was great than that of the Labor candidate in each of these traditional ALP strongholds. We need to build on these important gains.

An article by Hall Greenland on Crikey.com said the Greens won Balmain because “nearly a third” disregarded Labor’s official how to vote and preferenced the Greens.

Despite the unease from more conservative elements in the Greens, the NSW election result shows a growth in the number of people looking for a left and green political alternative.

This is what has stirred the right-wing hornets’ nest. They are worried about this trend and are trying to shift the Greens to the right or isolate the left inside and outside the Greens.

They are afraid of the people being offered an alternative to the corporate-profits-first and imperialist agenda of the big parties.

This latest torrent of red-baiting from the big business media and conservative politicians is a reminder that we live in a sharply class divided society.

A small minority monopolise the wealth in Australia and they use it not just to extract even more wealth by exploiting workers and the country’s resources, but to wield tremendous power.

The Merrill Lynch-Capgemini World Wealth Report, which tracks the fortunes of the world’s richest investors, revealed that the combined wealth of Australia’s "high-net-worth individuals" (who comprise just 0.8% of the Australian population) increased by almost 37% during 2010, from US$379.8 billion ($433.6bn) to US$519.4 bn.

The super rich have become fabulously richer, and they want to keep getting richer. Dare to question any part of their agenda and they set their hounds on you.


That was the easiest election the Greens will ever have, with a massive protest vote against the ALP, and most progressive voters not wanting to support the Liberals. Many will return to the ALP next time, and make the job for the Greens a lot harder. The Israel/Palestine issue is nowhere near as straightforward as some would have us believe (or perhaps they would have been resolved by now) nor is there widespread community support for an approach that favours, or condemns one side or the other. If the Greens are going to take a position on it, it should be taken centrally by the Australian Greens, not at state or local council level. Though some from an activist background might consider it a badge of honour to be savaged by the Murdoch press, the party needs to be aware that it will cost votes. They should save the expense for policies that the party has a strong and united stance on, as well as a realistic chance of effecting change. To be a successful political party they need to be reasoned, disciplined and pragmatic. Perhaps terms like that are anathema to some activists, but the Greens political achievements have been due to those who understood the need to appeal to (or at least not to terrify) the mainstream. Greens candidates and voters come from a wide variety of backgrounds and we can't expect to agree on all issues. However I would expect that our values are similar and that a set of core policies can be put forward that doesn't alienate many. Personally I share concerns for the environment, social justice and equality, and human rights, but was so put off by this particular policy that I actively campaigned against them. It is good to see Bob Brown and others moving to defuse the issue and get the party back on track. Hopefully I can resume my support.
Fiona Byrne did not just lose by 600 votes. She was suppose to walk in hands down, or have you forgotten.? Fiona Byrne needs to learn "say what you mean" and "mean what you say" you know exactly what I am talking about!! "BDS in NSW" The greens are doomed, Gillard summed the greens up perfectly! EXTREMISTS The boycott was the straw that broke the camels back, "fionas back" Come next election there will be such a big anti green campaign "it will shake the monkeys out of the trees" The tree huggers have become "HAMAS huggers"... Stick to the environment or the voters will stick it up you. Kind regards Watermelon
why do our government and others support Israeli policies against the Palestinians? is it purely psychophantic regard for our US allies position or security of oil supplies or? it cant be based on any rational human rights grounds
Nothing succeeds in Australian politics like selling out your principles and doing what Rupert Murdoch tells you. That Fiona Byrne and the NSW Greens stood up for their principles leads me to support them even more because Labor and Liberal lost all such principle long ago.
People can have all sorts of opinions about what policy the Greens should adopt on BDS and whether it can be a state branch policy or must be national. But that's for the Greens to do, democratically one would hope, through their party structures. I have a lot of respect for Bob Brown as a principled politician, but I think he made a mistake on this issue. When The "we will destroy you" Australian set out to pillory Parker and Byrne, and drive a wedge into the Greens, it would have been sensible to close ranks and tell Murdoch's media to go to hell. BDS may not be national greens policy but support for Palestinian rights is, it's only a matter of tactics. Yet strangely, several ALP councillors also voted for the boycott policy. It's not ALP policy is it? Why isn't the ALP bringing them into line? Was it just a trap set for Byrne? I support BDS as an effective, peaceful way to put pressure on the Israeli state. The amount of opposition that this campaign has stirred up tells me it may be having the desired effect. I hope that the way this election campaign has brought the BDS movement into the spotlight only strengthens support for it, in the Greens and in the broader community.
I cannot see how Socialist Alliance runs the Greens. Its the equivalent of saying that the Liberals run the National Party. They're two very different beasts with some common ground in the middle to create an alliance between the parties. The Greens are a sensible, reformist party. The Socialist Alliance are a sensible, revolutionary party. The Socialist Alliance has strong links with the Unions, the Greens have strong links with the 'middle class' public servants and small eco-businessmen. The base of membership is very different. The ALP is being exposed for what it is: a spokesperson for Big Business and the Union Bureacratic elites (not the rank-n-file membership). Voters are getting real, by voting for traditional Social Democracy (what Old Labour, used to be).

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