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Those crazy Greens


Greens protest marchOver the past fortnight a number of ALP heavyweights have publicly assailed the Greens. The coordinated attacks have been ferocious and vitriolic.

According to New South Wales ALP General Secretary Sam Dastyari the Greens are 'extremists not unlike One Nation'. Not to be outdone, Paul Howes, the Australian Workers' Union National Secretary wrote an opinion article denouncing the Greens as a 'fringe' party in pursuit of 'extremist agendas'.

Strategically, the assault is an attempt to highlight the apparent gulf between the ideas of the Greens and those of Labor's traditional support base. The Greens, we are told, will never represent mainstream Australian values. Instead, they are a dangerous and opportunistic political party driven by a defective moral compass.

But who better represents mainstream Australian values — the Greens or the ALP? And is it correct to label the Greens as 'extremist' or a 'fringe' party?

The claims made by Dastyari and Howes appear more indolent and unfounded after the facts are considered.

The Greens have consistently stated that Australia must work to significantly reduce carbon emissions. In 2011 the Garnaut Review reported that most Australians believe Australia should take action on climate change without waiting for global consensus. On 1 July the Gillard Government's Clean Energy Act commenced.

The Greens argued that the spoils of the mining boom should be spread more evenly among Australians. Polling conducted by the ALP and the Coalition confirmed that nearly 70 per cent of Australians believe they are not benefiting from the mining boom. With Greens support Gillard introduced the Mining Resource Rent Tax.

The Greens strongly advocated for an official apology to be issued to the Stolen Generations. The measure was overwhelming supported by a majority of Australians. In 2008 one of the first parliamentary acts of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was to issue an apology to the Stolen Generations.

The Greens have consistently called for equal marriage rights for gay couples. Polling data confirms that a majority of Australians support amending the Marriage Act to allow gay couples to marry. At the December 2011 ALP National Convention a non-binding motion in support of recognising gay marriage was carried. Prominent government ministers Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong linked the motion to the ALP's history of social reform.

The Greens opposed Australia's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In February 2003 millions marched in capital cities across Australia to protest against the Howard Government's commitment to the invasion of Iraq. One of the first actions of the newly elected Rudd Government was to bring Australian troops home.

And this is a truncated list of comparisons.

What about the 'fringe' and 'extremist' labels? The Greens' primary vote in the House of Representatives has increased from 1.9 per cent in the early 1990s to 11.8 per cent at the 2010 election. In the Federal Parliament the Greens have ten representatives and are crucial to the ALP minority government. While the party's vote may appear modest, it has steadily increased over the past 15 years and is no longer a repository for protest.

The Greens draw support from what electoral experts term the 'post materialist' voter. These voters tend to be between the ages of 18–35 years, are more likely to hold a university degree and less likely to be religious. Greens voters are also more likely to be employed in a range of professional vocations, and as a result tend to earn higher incomes. In addition Greens voters predominantly live in inner metropolitan locales.

Former ALP member for Melbourne and finance minister Lindsay Tanner noted in 2010 that the Greens 'are harvesting growing support from a particular demographic that first emerged as a key part of Labor's support base in the late 1960s'. Poignantly, he commented that Greens voters are 'comfortable enough to be able to put aside immediate self-interest when assessing their political options'.

Linking the Greens to One Nation is a sinister and ill-considered claim. The Greens are progressive as opposed to extremist. The party envisions a country that is environmentally, socially and economically responsible. They are the only party of political influence to have a comprehensive set of written and openly accessible policy statements. In many areas they represent mainstream Australian values.

Perhaps the Greens' moral compass is not as skewed as some in the ALP would have us believe. Indeed, the Greens may be ahead of the curve in appealing to a progressive demographic that has traditionally voted Labor.

The issues attracting voters from the ALP towards the Greens are not going away. In order to arrest its current decline the ALP must more broadly reengage the Australian people. Previous Labor leaders have successfully confronted significant challenges. Another opportunity presents itself. 

Dustin HalseDustin Halse teaches politics and history at Swinburne University and is a member of Swinburne Institute for Social Research. He has worked for the ALP and has written political opinion for the The Age National Times, The Drum, The Conversation, New Matilda and Australian Policy Online


Topic tags: Dustin Halse, The Greens, Cathy Oke



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Existing comments

The recent eruption of ALP demonising the Greens arose from Labour's hissy fit that the Greens would not compromise their long held principled objection to offshore processing of asylum seekers...particularly in Malaysia which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. It is the ALP's reprehensible Malaysia solution that smacks of One Nation racism to keep the coloured vulnerable out of Australia particularly those from Afghanistan and Iraq war torn by Australian involvement in America's oil wars. The Greens closely represent my values, there is no light on the ALP hill any longer.

Vacy Vlazna | 24 July 2012  

I thought the Greens may have lost their way a little without the leadership of Bob Brown, but Christine Milne (and the little green man Adam Bandt) are doing a fine job. Just going off to iron my green jacket - it goes nicely with my denim jeans!

Pam | 24 July 2012  

You wrote: “The Greens draw support from what electoral experts term the 'post materialist' voter. These voters tend to be between the ages of 18–35 years, are more likely to hold a university degree and less likely to be religious. Greens voters are also more likely to be employed in a range of professional vocations, and as a result tend to earn higher incomes. In addition Greens voters predominantly live in inner metropolitan locales.” It means they have no idea how hard it is for pensioners, families, self-funded retirees, rural communities and working class people. They do not understand or respect the aspirations of ordinary Australians. The Greens display a level of arrogance and feeling of superiority which is similar to members of some religious sects. Bob Brown is not crazy. He is a very clever manipulator of simple naive minds and a very good fund raiser. He managed to divide Australia on issues such as migration and the environment. The Greens managed to force Labor in accepting the worst possible solution to our environmental problems, a carbon tax which will hurt most working Australians and provide for absolutely no environmental benefits. The Green Party has become the party of choice for bored inner city Chardonnay Marxists. The Green party has become the ideal litter trap for wealthy narrow minded people

Beat Odermatt | 24 July 2012  

Greens supporters are comfortable enough not to want a mansion to heat or a 200 hp outboard on the back of the bay runner. Nor are they comfortably numb to the workers, wanting fair conditions. They are prepared to pay tax for TAFE retraining to human service industry and modern non polluting technology > Fair enough to have a crack at each other in an election over pace and style but the substance is the same and we are looking for leadership and coherent evolution of ideas not wasting energy slagging off at each other. Labor is shooting itself in the foot and will lose majority the Federal election unless they can continue a strong partnership with the Greens.

Peter quin | 24 July 2012  

How comforting it must be for greens voters to be'comfortable enough to be able to put aside immediate self-interest when assessing their political options'. This luxury allows them to forget those who won't pay to heat their houses so they can afford to pay the next mortgage instalment. Wages haven't kept up with these revolutions. I am not convinced that the working poor even exist in the consciousness of the average green voter. Move to Tasmania Mr Halse and see where this divide will land an economy. The greens need to reach out to the broader constituency more clearly if they are ever going to gain the respect of the broader population. 11.8 per cent does not a mandate make. And the fact that No party received a clear mandate in 2010 says more about the gravity of this country's need for clear leadership and connection with the constituency than it does about the ascendancy/power of the greens. I wait for the day the national party voters (the poorest and worst educated of our body politic) finally claim the ground that has been vacated by labour, taken for granted by liberal and broadly misunderstood by the greens.

Lyndall Edwards | 24 July 2012  

Excellent comment Dustin! Most of what you've said is the reason why I now vote for the Greens instead of Labor.

Tim Collier | 24 July 2012  

Great article, but looking through the comments there are the typical herald sun readers who have never bothered to actually read the Greens policy documents. They reinforced your point perfectly. With the convergence of Labor/Liberal ideology to one of political expedience, the Greens reflect the views of those with intellect who care for the future. Also a good refuge for us homeless labor socialists :)

Jonah Bones | 24 July 2012  

Those commenters who claim the Greens don't recognise the needs of the ordinary battler should check the Hansard where they will see that the Greens have supported every ALP initiative that has benefitted those Australians. They have voted that way because it is in line with their values and policies. I had to laugh when I heard Albanese say that the Greens were out of touch with mainstream Australians and that the ALP had 'better values' than the Greens. First, I think mainstream Australia spoke very clearly at the recent NSW and Queensland elections - we know what they think of the ALP, and second the Greens values are: social justice, participatory democracy, ecological sustainability and peace & non-violence. Perhaps Albanese would tell us which ALP values are better than those.

Russell | 24 July 2012  

You ask the question, "But who better represents mainstream Australian values — the Greens or the ALP?" I think the Greens represent the values that they think should be mainstream, not what are. I think it is interesting you do not talk about jobs, economic growth, health or education in your article but talk about the environment, refugees, gay rights and peace issues, all of which are important issues but I would question whether they are the core issues of mainstream Australia. So I think you have the answer to your question.

Steve 1 | 24 July 2012  

I can't help thinking that Eureka Street tries to promote the Green's ideology nearly every day. Am I wrong?

Ron Cini | 24 July 2012  

Welcome to the real world of Australian politics, if the Greens wish to be a mainstream political party then they have to expect a bit of criticism from their competitors and that certainly includes the ALP. For years The Greens have been slamming Labor as being out of touch and without principles. Now that they get a little of their own medicine back they act all hurt and offended.

chris g | 24 July 2012  

Thanks for the article. I agree and disagree. Comparing the Greens and the ALP isn't all that difficult. Regardless of Paul Howe and Sam Dastyari's ill advised comments, both parties are fundamentally very similar in their approach to a social agenda as the author points out and both are concerned for the common person.
I disagree with Dustin Halse's description of the typical Green voter though. I vote Green and I do not belong to any of the above categories. I once voted ALP but now, retired to rural Tasmania I find that many of our friends are in a similar position and many (more than half) vote Green. That said, many of our friends are also working, running small businesses, educating their children and care deeply about the world their children will inherit.

Beat Odermatt comments are blatantly wrong and he has, it appears, simply repeated platitudes that the enemies of the Greens continually sprout.

Jeff Kevin | 24 July 2012  

This polemic is similar to the green propoganda that deluged my suburb in the days leading up to the last Federal election. There was not a mention of the green education policy and ,certainly, no referece to abortion. On election day I saw a friend of mine, whose son had gone to the same Catholic school at which I taught, working for the Greens . When I pointed out to her The Green attitude to Catholic education she was shocked and surprised. She now has read their platform and knows the score. At mass the next day a well educated, professional woman told me she had voted Green. When I spoke of their abortion policy she expressed the same ignorance as the aforementioned voter. When Green deviousness and voter apathy combine look what happens.

grebo | 24 July 2012  

Thank you Steve 1.

Lyndall Edwards | 24 July 2012  

The Greens are a perculiar mix: a variable overlapping aliance of a NIMBI set of comfortable and mainly government/university employees who don`t want their comforts disrupted by any development in their niche , a cohort of rather predictable inner-city marxists who are anti-Amercian, anti-nuclear, anti-GM , anti-capital, pro-abortion etc etc , and a strange semi-urban group of neo-pagan "naturists" for whom trees especially have spiritual religious significance. Although there are certain common threads among these groups there are also huge contradictions and the grouping is inevitably unstable. And, although there are some populist dimensions it is tempting to be sympathetic to, these people should be regarded as poison by the Australian mainstream, and especially by Christians.

Eugene | 24 July 2012  

To: Russell. Mainstream Australia spoke very clearly at the recent NSW and Qweensland elections. They voted for Conservative Candidates and discarded the Socialists, the Greens and Fellow-travellers.

Ron Cini | 24 July 2012  

Couldn't we just get back to the good old two party system. The DLP, The Australia Party, The Communist Party and One Nation are now just bitter memories, which is what the poor old Greens will soon be.

Paraphrasing that old hit song 'Once it hurts to say their name (Greens) - baby let go'.

Claude Rigney | 24 July 2012  

"In February 2003 millions marched in capital cities across Australia to protest against the Howard Government's commitment to the invasion of Iraq." "Millions"? As a right-wing paleocon, I staunchly opposed the invasion of Iraq. But, for the record, the pro-Green Fairfax press reported only 500,000 Australians marching against the Iraq War on that weekend in Feb. 2003. And I suspect even those Fairfax figures were blown out, based on its long track record of biased reporting. The assertion by Mr Halse here that it was "millions" that protested just goes to show what degree of dissimulation the Greens will go to to misrepresent their position as mainstream. (Even if it were, so much the worse for the mainstream.) It should also remind us of the asymmetrical total blackout in the mainstream media when millions routinely turn out to pro-life marches here and in other countries. Of course, the Greens have nothing to say about that. (Hint to E.S.: you routinely publish Greens writers - why not cover this issue someday?) The archetypal-leftist Greens and truth occasionally meet. But only by accident. Mind you, you could say exactly the same re. this Gillard regime.

HH | 24 July 2012  

the notion that Australia can brutalise mountains of refugee and human rights law to suit herself has been decided by our worthless media to be fact. But then they are all white and middle aged and have never suffered one days hardship. The Greens have the law on their side and the rest should hang their heads in shame.

Marilyn | 25 July 2012  

Many left-of-centre Australians, myself included, agree with most of the policies of the Greens. Nevertheless, one of the major parties will usually form the government and the practical and decent course is to support the major party nearest to one's own beliefs - and try to influence its policies. The 'arm-twisting' tactics of any minor party - and there have been multiple examples - is morally questionable and certainly a travesty of democracy.

Bob Corcoran | 25 July 2012  

Ron Cini - as I recall the Greens vote went up a bit in NSW and down a bit in Qld, but no, the voters didn't desert the Greens. A huge swing will always take some of the 'protest' vote of the third party back to the mainstream opposition party. Bob Corcoran - thanks for reminding us that Brian Harradine's morals were questionable.

Russell | 25 July 2012  

Lyndall Edwards clearly doesn't know many committed Greens, or environmentalists from whose ranks Greens voters generally emerge. Those who are truly committed to respect for the earth and all who dwell there will naturally choose a modest, low-impact lifestyle, which includes low consumption, careful and frugal choices in the food and products they bu and eschew things like cigarettes, drugs and heavy drinking.These are the "greenies" I know and respect. Financially they benefit from a simpler lifestyle. It's all about choices.

M. Adams | 25 July 2012  

As an Australian living in Aotearoa I am saddened/appalled by many of the ALP sockpuppet type comments here, particularly the "can't we just go back to a two party system" one. This neo-liberal duopoly of former social democrat and small 'c' capitalist parties that has become entrenched in most 'western' nations, is incrementally stripping citizens of their political power. This is so easy in two party political systems with narrow media ownership. Over here where the economy hasn't got mining underpinning it, most peeps are grateful that they can restrain labour & tory 'co-operating' to undermine the needs & wants of the citizenry - thanks to proportional representation which both labour and the tories are constantly trying to get rid of. The greens are a major element in slowing down the wholesale destruction of national & economic sovereignty here, as they could be in Australia, given the opportunity. Otherwise everything will be mined out in a very short time leaving Australians fighting over what crumbs fell off the table during the 'good' times.

Ure Kismet | 26 July 2012  

The Greens are somewhat of a "one issue" party but that issue is of overriding importance; Climate Change. The ALP hard-heads are the people who put Family First ahead of the Greens for ALP preferences. When Labor loses the next election these hard-heads will bear much of the responsibility and the Greens will harvest even more ex-ALP support

Martyn Smith | 27 July 2012  

who better represents mainstream Australian values — the Greens or the ALP? The article asks the above question. The answer is obviously that the Liberals do

Adrian | 27 July 2012  

From time to time I read in Eureka St posts that the Greens are 'pro abortion'. It is interesting that whatever party has been in power for the last number of years, abortion laws have not changed. I also read at times that the Greens are in favour of Euthanasia. They are not. They do support the right to die (voluntary euthanasia) as do about 80% of the population. I would guess that at least this number if not more also support our current abortion laws. And for the record I don't drink chardonnay but do believe in a simple life style & far from being 18 - 35 old I am over 80, have never been a Marxist nor do I live in a metropolitan area. I cannot understand this hysteria about the Greens.

Rosemary West | 27 July 2012  

I know a few other people having tried to reply to comments but were unable to do so. It seems that the the censorship of Eureka Street is an excellent copy of Marxists and or Nazi model!

Beat Odermatt | 29 July 2012  

Abortion and homosexuality are the two moral phurphies dropped into politics deliberately (especially in the US) to distract voters from the real injustices, and to neatly divide them into the two party system which keeps churning over the same policies, regardless of who's in power.
Some conspiracy theories are true.

AURELIUS | 07 August 2012  

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