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What should the Greens be on about?

By Sylvia Hale - posted Friday, 3 November 2017


It's preselection time for the NSW Greens, and videos, personal endorsements, and appeals to members are coming thick and fast, prompted by an anticipated tight contest between incumbent Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and NSW upper house member Mehreen Faruqi for top spot on the party's ticket. The preselection opens on 5 November and closes on the 24th.

Following hot on its heels will be preselections for the state's 2019 elections, another tight contest for number one spot between two sitting Greens upper house members, David Shoebridge and Jeremy Buckingham.

Once upon a time (ie 15 years ago) preselections were laid-back affairs. Optimistic candidates would share a car and travel together across the state to country and city locations to speak to local Greens groups and answer questions. The prospects of winning were never seen to be huge, so it was all a fairly friendly affair. All that has changed, and so has the need for Greens members to think very hard before marking their ballot papers.

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Guy Rundle recently made a number of challenging observations in Crikey, namely that, over the last three decades, "the political framework of the West has been greened" and that environmental impacts are no longer routinely dismissed as unfortunate but inevitable collateral damage in the drive for economic growth but rather central considerations that cannot be ignored. He hailed this as "a tremendous, epochal achievement by the global green movement".

But this success, he contends, has had its downside for the Greens in Australia and elsewhere, as "centre-left parties are taking on increasingly large amounts of the [Greens'] program" and are wooing environmentally aware voters with the proposition that only Labor (in Australia) can offer a realistic prospect of forming government and implementing its program.

Rundle argues that The Greens' reaction should not be one of "a company looking for a variant product in new markets". Rather the party must respond to the shift in politics by:

...reflect[ing] deeply on what the essence of their politics is, and why members of such a party are in it in the first place. That reflection can only come to one conclusion: the Greens cannot be a party primarily about same-sex marriage or refugees, or sexist advertising, or a hundred other causes, no matter how compelling the moral claims, or the electoral advantage of such. The Greens has to be a party centred on the single fact that the current global political-economic-cultural system is undermining the possibility of human (and much other) life on this planet, that it has opened up the possibility of human extinction in real time, through creating 8 degrees+ temperature rise, and oceanic system collapse and other processes.

Rundle's prescription is for the Greens "to disrupt the notion that we can simply sort wildly differing political causes as equivalent, and off-the-rack: regional library services/Israel-Palestine/extinction of major fish species/unisex toilets on interstate rail". Rather, the party has "to propose solutions that are integrated with global equality and social justice and the prospering of communities". He warns, however, that the Greens will become "positively politically regressive" if the focus is substantially diverted from "the depth and reality of the global crisis".

The Greens have long campaigned for policies that have taken time to gain broader acceptance: climate change is a reality and not a conspiracy; drugs are a health and not a criminal issue; equality should be a reality and not subject to race, religion or gender considerations; fracking is undeniably bad; renewables are in everybody's interest; human rights issues (refugees, abortion, euthansia) are not secondary concerns.

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Important as these matters are, there is a view among thinking, liberal-minded voters, that the Greens' positions are no longer contentious let alone outrageous. All would agree they pose no serious challenge to the status quo.

The issue that I believe the Greens must now tackle – and expect its elected representatives to tackle – is what is the fundamental cause of the climate crisis facing the planet, and how should we respond?

Do we assume that capitalism will ultimately come up with a solution, or is capitalism itself the problem? Should we rely on parliament to remedy matters, or is it simply a platform from which to advocate more fundamental change? If so, what does that change entail? With whom should we collaborate (unions, social welfare, community groups?) and how do we spell out the interrelatedness of problems and in the process lay out what needs to be done?

I do not know if Rundle's analysis, let alone his remedy, is shared by other Greens members, but what I do know is that he has posed serious questions about the party's immediate and long-term objectives, and how we should be tackling the issue that should be front and centre of our thinking – how do we confront the real issue of the day, the very survival of humanity?

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About the Author

Sylvia Hale was a Greens member of the NSW Legislative Council, 2003-2010. Prior to that she was a joint-founder of and publisher at Hale & Iremonger, 1977-2003.

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