Bob Brown must face down the extreme Greens
It came as a surprise to some that Bob Brown was acknowledged as our most influential politician in The Australian‘s Top 50 survey of Australia’s most powerful figures in politics. If the claim had been made by the ABC or Fairfax it might have been easily dismissed as preferential bias - but coming from the Oz it can only be taken as a disgruntled admission of the Green leader’s success and political prowess.
Despite what we might personally think about the Greens’ policies, if we look at the current state of play in Canberra its hard to argue with The Australian‘s assessment. The Greens leader is the most stable and secure party leader in the Australian parliament.
Despite being just a few years younger than John Howard, Brown appears to be in his political prime. His status is international - as the man who founded the world’s first ever Green Party in Tasmania in the 1970s and took his vision all the way to the national stage. As a politician, he has outlived them all. Bob Brown has even been described by Tony Abbott as the “real Prime Minister” of Australia.
In the past year, the crowning achievement of the Greens has been to see the carbon tax passed through the federal parliament - lauded by many as the turning point in Australia toward shifting our economy toward a more ecological sustainable future. But there are many other victories that have gone largely unacknowledged.
Since Melbourne MP Adam Bandt became the first Green in the House of Representatives, he has successfully got legislation through the lower house that will see firefighters given access to compensation if they contract cancer from the fumes inhaled during firefighting.
No matter how you look at it, the Greens are on a roll. The party currently have 10 federal MPs holding the balance of power in Canberra, more than a score of state and territory MPs and two cabinet positions. On top of this they have over 100 councillors dotted all over Australia. They currently enjoy about three times the support of the National Party.
The question on everyone’s lips is how the party will be able to deal with their new-found success. Veteran journalist Sally Neighbour in an essay in the current issue of The Monthly points to the fault lines that threaten to tear the Greens apart emerging from the more centrist pragmatic approach taken by leader Bob Brown and many other Green MPs vs the more traditional left and dogmatic stand taken by some NSW Greens headed by Lee Rhiannon.
This is the same problem that faced the German Greens in the 1990s when they eventually split into two factions - the fundamentalists and the realists (or pragmatists). Rhiannon fits into the first group and Brown personifies the second. In Germany that split emerged between anti-nuke activist Petra Kelly and Yoskar Fischer. It was Fischer who went on to become the German Foreign Minister under Gerhardt Shroder.
The problem stems from those bound to old-left class warfare ideology versus those who wish to move the party into a more nationalised, centre-left position. Bob Brown summed it up when he said: “The Democrats wanted to keep the bastards honest, we want to replace them.” Democracy is about compromise and working with others, totalitarianism is the politics of prosecuting dogmatic ideologies.
In order to move forward, the Greens must now seek a middle ground that brings the grass roots support base with them, but speaks in a sophisticated language that is palatable to the broader Australian voting public without watering down their baseline policy positions. It’s a formidable challenge. Boycotting chocolate manufacturers like Max Brenner won’t do it - but convincing every day Australians that they will get good jobs in a clean energy future will.
The Greens are encountering the growing pains that would be expected by any new political force in Australia. The more they threaten the big end of town the more they will expect rigorous criticism and outright hatred from those who feel they have the most to lose.
The test will be whether the Greens can find a pathway through the biggest threat of all - the veins of tension jockeying for primacy within the party.
James Norman is a Melbourne writer and author of the book Bob Brown - Gentle Revolutionary published by Allen & Unwin
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
@jendudley I'm reassured that he says he doesn't want to put "food" out of business.
Possible next diet craze is the Soylent diet, which appears to be supercharged Up 'n' Go. Yuk. http://t.co/PpJ1apsrmK
@rebeccacaroe would like to be able to eventually
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…