Jamie Parker: NSW Greens to challenge austerity

April 29, 2011
Jamie Parker.

In the lead up to the March 26 New South Wales state election, a concerted anti-Greens campaign was unleashed by the major parties and the corporate media. Despite this, Greens candidate and mayor of Leichhardt Jamie Parker won the seat of Balmain.

Green Left Weekly’s Kiraz Janicke spoke to Parker about the campaign and the Greens’ agenda in the next period.

Congratulations on being the first ever lower house Greens MP elected to the NSW parliament. Could you comment on the significance of this victory?

Well, it's the first time that we've seen a minor party candidate win. No party directed preferences to the Greens [in Balmain]. Standing against an incumbent MP and a minister [Labor’s Verity Firth] was a very difficult mountain to climb.

It’s an opportunity now for us to really press ahead with our agenda and the issues that we ran on in the election campaign.

What are the key issues that the Greens are pushing on in NSW?

Well there is the Liberal/National Coalition government’s so-called financial crisis — within 72 hours of the election NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell “discovered” a huge budget crisis.

We are concerned that what we will see is a real austerity drive, which will be used as a justification for further deregulation and privatisation.

We saw this under the previous Labor government with the privatisation of electricity, waste services, the Lotteries and their contracting out approach, but I think we will see it in a more aggressive form from the Coalition.

So for us, challenging the economic rationalist agenda of both Labor and the Coalition is a real important part of what we will be doing.

Given the overwhelming dominance of right-wing parties in the parliament, including the Labor Party, what strategies are the Greens going to look to in terms of promoting that agenda?

Parliament is an opportunity to help express these issues to the wider community. But the important point is always looking to the grassroots, looking to work with our local communities, progressive organisations, trade unions, a whole range of NGO's and so on, to build campaigns around these issues.

We'll be doing what has helped make us successful here in Balmain; working with local communities, to make sure that we can take these issues forward into the public sphere and build up a strong activist base.

Another factor in the lead up to the state elections was a smear campaign against the Greens by the Labor Party, but also the media. This was especially against Marrickville Greens candidate Fiona Byrne for her stand in support of the boycott, divestment sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, but also against yourself. Could you comment on that?

It's clear that the Labor Party was seeking to smear any form of opposition and the media took that up willingly.

While that is a concern, we should not be surprised because the issues we are raising and the campaigns we are running are challenging very powerful interests and it’s important that we continue to remain principled with our campaigns.

That kind of negative campaigning isn't successful, it is just desperation because Labor had nothing else to run on.

The smear campaign subsequently resulted in the overturn of the BDS motion in Marrickville Council on April 19, at the initiative of Labor councillors. The same night, Labor councillor Darcy Byrne put a motion aimed at preventing any kind of BDS motion from ever being adopted by Leichhardt council. Could you comment on the debate that occurred?

Well that motion was just pure opportunism. And the Labor councillors know that we have a process at Leichhardt which we have been working on for several years, with the Palestinian ambassador, members of our local Jewish community and so on.

That attempt by Byrne, who is a staffer for Anthony Albanese, the husband of Carmel Tebbutt [who was standing against Fiona Byrne in Marrickville], was simply an opportunity for political point scoring.

I'm very pleased in fact it was seen through and that the Liberals, the independent on council, and the Greens voted against the motion.

Are there other issues that you want to comment on?

The next six to 12 months will be a really important time to see how, not only trade unions, but also community groups and others, respond to the austerity program that the Coalition is talking up at the moment. Where will these cuts come from?

We can see that this is part of a broader agenda. Federally the Labor government is talking about how they need to make cuts, but also internationally governments in [Britain] and around the world are implementing huge cuts to budgets.

So I’m looking to forward to campaigning on this over the next four years.

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