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The neo-liberal face of the new Greens


Many commentators have claimed that Labor is losing its way, forsaking its soul, and ultimately turning their back on those people that labor is meant to represent. So what has happened to these people, where have they gone and what new political allegiances have they formed?

Many argue that Labor's workers and progressive elements have found a home in the Greens. But like Labor, and all parties that become part of the political furniture, the Greens too may lose their soul. Indeed segments of the Greens may already have lost their way.

The 2010 Tasmanian state election was a major turning point for the Greens in their birthplace. They gained 21 per cent of the vote and elected five members to the house of Assembly. They were the kingmakers for David Bartlett’s Labor party, which won 10 seats. This gave both parties a combined majority over the Liberals, which also won 10 seats. 

This was the first true coalition Green government in Australia. Greens leader Nick McKim was given a portfolio, and Greens member for Denison Cassey O’Conner was made a cabinet secretary and later promoted to minister in her own right. 

O’Conner was a controversial choice, not only as cabinet secretary but also for as minister. She is one of the least experienced members, elected on preferences after the Greens leader Peg Putt retired in 2008.

In comparison, the outspoken Greens member Kim Booth  has been a member for the electorate of Bass since 2002 as was Tim Morris, the Greens Deputy Leader.

How congruent have been the actions of the Greens leader with Green policies? In February McKim stood down 56 guards at Risdon Prison without pay. The workers were preparing for industrial action over safety concerns they had been trying to negotiate with the government over a period of months. McKim locked out the workers and brought in police to deal with the situation. 

Unions Tasmania secretary Kevin Harkins stated that McKim had acted against the Greens industrial relations policy while the CPSU likened McKim and his actions to those of John Howard in the 1998 waterfront dispute.

Last week the Greens-Labor Government handed down its budget which seeks to slash $1.4 billion from the public sector over the next four years, including a $100 million cut to health within the next financial year.

1700 full-time jobs will be scrapped, including 100 police jobs. The 5 per cent cap on water prices will rise to 10% and public sector worker will have pay rises capped at 2% per year, well below rising inflation and cost of living increases. 

This is in conflict with the the Greens election promise not to accept redundancies of public sector workers. 

Since the budget release McKim has also been spruiking the sale of the Hayes Prison Farm, a low-security facility in the Derwent Valley. 

He argued that $4.5 million would need to be spent to upgrade the facility. But he has also stated that much would need to be spent to prepare the facility for sale from which a return of only about $2.5 million could be expected

This is in stark contrast to the Greens MPs in New South Wales who in 2009 led the campaign to stop the privatisation of Cessnock Prison. The initiated a parliamentary inquiry into the sale. 

Recently McKim also took up the Education portfolio. He has promoted the governments plan to close over 20 public schools. He argues that smaller schools struggle to teach a broad curriculum and that money would be better spent upgrading larger schools.

By their actions since they were promoted to government the Tasmanian Greens would astound many progressives who vote for them across Australia. 

One may ask whether this the new neo-liberal face of the Greens, or merely McKim  channelling Kennett-style austerity measures. 

If we are to judge by the Greens' sister parties from Ireland and Germany, these are only the initial signs that the party has been taken over by vested interests. The Greens in many states of Australia have gained control in local councils and in most cases they have continued the business as usual policies of the major parties such as council privatisations, subcontracting council services, cutting funding to community facilities and increase rates above inflation levels.

We might expect that, like the major parties, the Greens will further disenchant and alienate their base as they grow stronger.

The Greens are often accused of  being radicals and socialists. But the example given by Nick McKim in Tasmania shows  that in power they will keep the good ship capitalism still steaming ahead. Moreover with the Greens taking the balance of power in the Upper House of Federal Parliament from today – 1 July 2011 – a critical eye must be held up to the way the Greens work with policy.

Matthew HollowayMatthew Holloway is a freelance writer and social justice advocate from Tasmania, where he stood for state and federal parliament and co-founded Tasmanians for Transparency. He currently works as a counsellor for a Catholic social service provider in Melbourne.

Topic tags: Matthew Holloway, Greens, Tasmania, Nick McKim, Bob Brown, Australian politics



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Existing comments

This article points to an inescapable tension for the Greens as they transition from fringe protest party to authentic political force. As a protest party, the Greens (and their counterparts overseas) had the luxury of adopting policies that were unconstrained by the political and economic realities of the political mainstream, safe in the knowledge that they would never have the responsibilty of implementing them. In shared government, the greens are discovering the practical limits of ideology, government intervention and public finances.

The Greens have earned a ticket to play but need to quickly reconcile the tension between ideology and reality if they are to prosper. With control of the Senate, the Greens have been handed the poison chalice of Australian politics. They are now fully accountable to both their constituents and the broader community for their policies. The Democrats could not survive control of the senate becuase they betrayed the values of their core consitutuents (GST). The Liberal Party could not survive control of the Senate because they betrayed the values of the broader community (Work Choices).

The Greens will be tested. I hope they are ready.

Canberra insider | 01 July 2011  

For the sake of our country, I earnestly hope the replication in the Federal sphere of the Tasmanian Greens' volte face takes place in spades.

But I'm not on the edge of my seat.

HH | 01 July 2011  

The Greens are now Government and no longer opposition. The Greens are now hounds and not prey. They are the cooks and no longer guests.

Beat Odermatt | 01 July 2011  

The Greens have advanced their political position by basically attacking the Labor Party in general, and the left of the Labor Party in particular. They have committed, intimated, suggested and promised that they would be more Labor than Labor as they have eaten into the ALP political base. Now as the Greens get into positions of power, people are discovering they can't deliver. The Greens have always been undemocratic, their Party is based on personality cults, their policies are hidden,their processes are secretive, their politics is based on the sneer & smear and their values are pure posturing.
As I read this article, I could almost here the collective sigh under the ALP breath of "I told you so".

Steve 1 | 01 July 2011  

Matthew might have mentioned that he is not just a writer, advocate, and counsellor, but was also a Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Franklin in the 2007 federal election in which the Greens' candidate polled 14% of the vote to Matthew's 0.5%. That doesn't negate what he has to say, but it provides a context in which one could consider his comments.

That said, he has made a good point. Minor parties, when they have the balance of power, or share power as the minor party in a coalition, have a difficult time 'reconciling the tension between ideology and reality' (as the previous poster says). At various times, the ALP, the Country Party, the Nationals, the DLP, and the Democrats (the list may not be exhaustive) have had to face this problem. So too will the Socialist Alliance should it find itself in such a position. That's life!

In the long run, the survival of both minor and major parties will depend not on individual decisions and actions but on whether those who voted for them believe that they have 'kept the faith'. In that respect, I think the ALP has much more to be worried about than the Greens.

Ginger Meggs | 01 July 2011  

Oh come on Steve 1, that statement of yours that the Greens 'have always been undemocratic, their Party is based on personality cults, their policies are hidden, their processes are secretive, their politics is based on the sneer & smear and their values are pure posturing' could more readily be applied to each of the major parties. If the Howard government was not a personality cult then I don't know what was, and if the ALPs processes are not secretive I don't know whose are.

To suggest that the Greens have 'advanced their political position by basically attacking the Labor Party in general, and the left of the Labor Party in particular' is to miss the point that the Greens, like it or not, have a much more diverse base than that. That surely is one of the points that Matthew is arguing when he asserts that 'in power they will keep the good ship capitalism still steaming ahead'.

Demonising the Greens won't make them go away, nor will it lead to any understanding of why they have grown and what they might become, or, if you wish, how they might be defeated.

Ginger Meggs | 01 July 2011  

This article thinks that the Greens are a Socialist-Left party, with a focus on fighting the anti-capitalist 'Good Fight'.

The Greens are less concerned with such trivialities; the first and most critical priority is to get humanity onto an ecologically sustainable footing.

As it happens, the Greens are being handed political authority at the butt-end of a couple of decades of neo-Liberal experimentation. They therefore find themselves in a position of, for the moment, having no choice but to continue with prior arrangements. Even with Green politicians at the wheel of the Ship of State, it takes time for the ship to start changing course.

Green is not Red. Whereas Red is the colour of spilt blood, Green is the colour of a productive garden.

David Arthur | 02 July 2011  

I don't think this article in any way assumes that the Greens are a socialist left party. What it does discuss is that the Greens are a populist left party but ultimately have abandoned those principles for the chance at power.

In the words of Lord Acton 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'

Suzzette Hevey | 02 July 2011  

Matthew Holloway says “many” are worried Labor is losing its way, and he seems worried that the Greens, in power, are showing neo-liberal trends which “keep the good ship capitalism still steaming ahead.” He seems concerned that Tasmania, in trying to present a balanced budget, makes public sector cuts. Presumably he would keep spending towards crippling debt thereby going down the path of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and the USA all heading towards bankruptcy and chaos, but a situation in which radical elements have traditionally prospered. Matthew was a former Socialist Alliance candidate. That would be the same Socialist Alliance which recently protested in Sydney with signs, “Down with the U.S./Australia Imperialist alliance. Support China/Cuba/DPRK Socialist Alliance” those paragons of virtue with their forced abortions, bankruptcy, and mass-starvation, the relics of communism, the most murderous ideology ever devised along with Nazism. Bertrand Russel wrote: “Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power.” The Socialist Alliance and Greens represent both, although supporters of the latter are mostly the “useful idiots” who love to wear the flattering robes of “social justice”, “human rights” and “environmentalism”. Christ wisely told us that we can know people by their fruits.

Ross Howard | 04 July 2011  

Ross, i find your attack to be a bit personal, you are being very presumptious about my reasons for having stood for the Socialist Alliance, of course you can assume what you like. The factors for my having stood for the socialist Alliance were issues at the present time surrounding transparency, a ICAC and dealing with police corruption, all very big issues at the time i stood. At that stage the alliance presented the best alternative. As to how pawnbroker economics of selling assets to have some money in the coffers for the next time the government goes to an election hardly seems to be the best solution for protecting Australian industry and consumers. I feel no need to defend the Socialist Alliance of which i am no longer a member but i know for a fact the Alliance does not support China. A very absurd statement considering China is a fascist regime which mixes liberal economics. As for crippling debt there are other alternatives, at the moment the liberal party in tasmania is opposed to many of the cuts and have proposed numerous alternatives to the school closures. Do you feel that the liberal party would take us down the road of Greece, Ireland etc. I support a regulated market, it is by allowing the free-market to thrive without moderation which lead to the chaos in ireland and US.

Matthew Holloway | 05 July 2011  

OK Ross, now that we know how you feel, how about addressing rationally the points raised by Matthew?

Ginger Meggs | 07 July 2011  

Yes the Greens are 'accusd, as being radicals and socialists. Today Tony Abbot accussed the Labor policy on 'Carbon Tax, as something like socialism being diguised as environmentalism; what I ask, is what is so wrong with socialism or being radical? I will comment on the latter first; being radical. For me being radical means I don't live comfortably with my comfort as a white, middle classed/aged western heterosexual, christian-orientated woman; I ask how those opposite and/or other to me may be experiencing life?; even in my priviledged status, I notice my disconfort and exclusion. Then of course there are those marginalised from this discussion in Australia - many of whom I have or do work with - or in countries/cultures I can not even imagine having the freedom to write this email... Then there is the question of socialism; corrupted by many I admit...but surely at its essence just about taking into account a person's situation and potential social disadvantage and in some way compensating for this. Greens/Labor when you speak of your values, don't forget these principles. Thankfully you have Matt who won't let you do that without account!

Linda Bradley | 10 July 2011  

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