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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tasmanian Greens vote a victory but also a challenge by Peter Boyle


The Greens' 21% vote in the March 20 Tasmanian election represents the most serious shake-up yet to the two-party domination of electoral politics. Australia has been dominated by the Liberals and the Australian Labor Party, two parties loyally representing the interests of the corporate rich.


The left should welcome the Greens' electoral advance as a significant step forward, because it lifts confidence in the broader progressive movement. It also opens up important debates and experiences the movement needs in order to achieve real social and environmental change.
The Greens' vote indicates that a growing number of people are sick of the two-party no-choice system and have voted for change. The ruling class has made no secret of its antagonism to the Greens' electoral advance. Both Labor and Liberal party leaders in Tasmania swore that they would not enter into a coalition with the Greens. They campaigned viciously against the Greens, using every dirty trick in the book.
At this stage, both Labor and Liberal are sticking to their no-deal-with-the-Greens promises. But if the final outcome of the vote leaves neither Labor nor Liberal with a majority, as is likely, there is a strong possibility that one or both of the major parties could relent.
On the other hand, Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKim has made it clear that his party intends to negotiate to form a coalition with either Labor or Liberal. He said the Greens would "be making no demands" in those negotiations. Not even a defence of old-growth forests or a call for a final end to Gunn's hated pulp mill plan?
A Greens coalition government with either the Liberal or Labor party, especially one based on a deal that removes the Greens' right to oppose serious environmental or social attacks, would turn this victory into a defeat.
So many people fought so hard to make this break away from domination by the two big parties of the corporate rich. They did not vote Green to be dragged into a coalition deal that helps one of those parties advance its narrow, ecologically and socially suicidal agenda.
Apologists for McKim's super pragmatic stance argue that the Greens will lose ground if they don't help deliver a stable government and ultimately force Tasmanians to another election. In such a scenario, the Green pragmatists argue, the party would face a backlash and see its vote decimated.
Further, there could be repercussions for the Greens Senate vote in coming federal elections.
In his election night speech, McKim said the Greens' vote heralded a new "age of cooperation". Ironically, the vote for the Greens is based on a popular desire to move towards a society based on cooperation and sustainability instead of the facilitation of corporate greed. Unprincipled cooperation with the parties of the corporate rich will deliver the opposite result.
Another argument is that the Greens' vote is not a vote for radical change but a vote for the Greens to simply ameliorate the worst excesses of the traditional parties of government. There is no doubt that the Green vote captures a wide spectrum of political views and hopes, some of which are quite moderate.
However, as the experience of the Green-Labor Accord in the late 1980s showed, entering a coalition government with one of the parties of the corporate rich can help such a government implement socially and environmentally destructive measures.
It can end up dashing even the most modest hopes of Green supporters and it can also lose the Greens their support.
There is no doubt that the Greens now face some difficult tactical choices. But tactics should serve political objectives: if the Greens want to break from the two-party system then their tactics must serve such a break.
The Greens should choose tactics that maximise popular pressure on any minority government that is formed and preserve their political independence. They should set clear and principled conditions for any cooperation with a Labor or Liberal minority government.
The Greens should also learn from the negative examples of the coalition governments entered into by the Green parties in Germany and Ireland, especially from the shameful behaviour of the German Greens leader acting as that country’s minister for imperial war!
Arena magazine’s Guy Rundle has argued persuasively on a Crikey.com blog on March 23 that the Tasmanian Greens would have more power if they stayed out of government.
The Greens' dramatic electoral advance inevitably presents new challenges, difficulties and conflicts. This is especially true within the Greens, between those who recognise that the climate emergency requires immediate radical transformations and a more conservative section focused on making parliamentary gains.
The conservative section will want to make any compromise to grab some cabinet positions in what will inevitably be an unstable coalition government in Tasmania.


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