The next six months are shaping as a grim time for the environment based on recent events.
While Julia Gillard and Christine Milne duke it out over jobs or the environment, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke appears to have lost his reformist urge and has been overwhelmed by his attempts to reconcile the schizophrenic impulses of his party.
Which at times wants to be seen as the friend of the planet, or the workers, but never the same thing at any one time.
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Don’t believe anyone who tells you the election campaign isn’t underway. If they insist that’s the case, they are probably just campaigning for September 14. There is too much evidence to the contrary to claim it’s business as usual. There is a discipline and an intense parsing of all pronouncements usually only encountered in an election campaign.
The most brazen campaigner has been stunt-woman and Greens Leader Christine Milne, but she is not alone. After Tony Abbott yesterday gave a rough timetable of “a few months” to abolish carbon pricing and the mining tax I asked his office whether a Coalition government would need to extend the parliamentary schedule later this year.
It wasn’t an Earth shaking question, one about process rather than policy. And this is the answer I received: “We’re focused on explaining the Coalition’s Real Solutions plan for a strong and prosperous economy and a safe and secure Australia.”
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IT was a marriage of political convenience when Julia Gillard and Bob Brown signed their formal alliance on September 1, 2010.
It even looked like a wedding ceremony as they posed for photos wearing sprigs of wattle. Now it is a political divorce of convenience. But while Labor people are doing cartwheels at being freed from the shackles of the Greens, it will still hurt Gillard.
The timing - and the fact that it was the Greens that ended it - will feed into the sense of chaos, turmoil and despair surrounding Labor in general and Gillard and her leadership in particular.
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There is some deserved and overdue scrutiny of the Greens going on right now and it is appropriate the spotlight searches further.
This is about a political party that prides itself on transparency, yet offers none when it comes to its own workings.
The background is a legitimate Freedom of Information request by Jamie Briggs, MP, seeking details on the costing of policies submitted by the Greens to the Treasury Department in the wake of the 2010 election negotiations. Public servants ran the numbers and analysed the outcomes. The public is entitled to know what they discovered.
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In analysing the collapse in public support for the Australian Greens, one factor has been overlooked in attempting to explain the spectacular decline in their vote. That factor is arrogance.
Arrogance in terms of lecturing the community about its apparently woeful moral standards on issues such as border protection. Arrogance in terms of having little regard for the concept of an electoral mandate, and the old-fashioned view that government should only implement policies which have been presented to and endorsed by the people.
Arrogance in terms of advocating policies which require large amounts of money to fund, and ducking responsibility for explaining how the cash can be found without destroying the federal budget.
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Christine Milne is 100 days into her leadership and shows little evidence of filling the large shoes left by Bob Brown. This period coincides with a deep split in the Labor alliance and could mark the beginning of the end for the Greens’ influence.
And to make things even more difficult, the ongoing and unseemly stoush between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott deprives Ms Milne of the crucial oxygen she needs to give life to her leadership.
The transition from Bob Brown to Christine Milne preceded a number of events which are central to the Greens’ agenda, but none of which she has been able to exploit for political advantage. The Greens-backed carbon tax and mining tax became a reality. The asylum seeker debate continued its death spiral while the Greens stood by and arrogantly argued only they were in possession of the real facts and hence the correct solution.
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In a classic piece of understatement on the weekend, the SMH described comments by Therese Rein about her husband’s political future as “her first public comments hinting which way the couple might lean.”
As “hints” go, this one was about as subtle as a slap in the face with a wet fish. Asked if she would support Kevin Rudd’s return to The Lodge Rein said:
‘‘Is it [supporting him in that role again] something I would do? I don’t know. But if I ever agreed to do that, it would be on the proviso that it was completely about the country, the national good, Australia’s place in the world and the people who have, over many years now, told me, ‘Look, we’re vulnerable on this or we’re hurting on that, and things need to be better.’‘’
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Since the huge news of Bob Brown’s retirement last week, new leader Christine Milne has emerged as a leader just as canny as her predecessor, crafting her own stamp on the party leadership rather than walking in anyone’s shadow.
Despite her somewhat school matronly exterior, the new leader is emerging as a tough, razor sharp and sophisticated player in Federal politics.
Bob Brown has left the party in its strongest ever position. The reality facing the Labor Party now is that it can’t survive without the Greens. With the latest polls showing the ALP at 29 percent and the Greens around 14, there are only 15 percentage points now separating the two parties in terms of popularity among voters. The Greens have cemented themselves as the third political party in Australia, and the ALP had better look out the Greens don’t swallow them up.
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With Bob Brown’s resignation as leader of the Greens, Australia has lost its most important left-wing politician.
There was a time when Labor and the coalition were regarded as the Left and Right of Australian politics. Not any more.
In terms of what they stand for, the major parties are almost indistinguishable. The competition between them is about competence, not much else.
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Did anyone see that coming? Greens Leader Bob Brown’s shock resignation today came out of a clear blue sky, and now we’ll all quickly scramble to work out what it will mean for the Greens’ future, and for ours. See news.com.au’s rolling coverage here.
Apart from the occasional nutty dummy spit, Bob Brown has been a steadying influence in the Greens, which is prone to both admirable idealism and flashes of extremism.
He has been a herder of cats. His replacement Christine Milne’s corralling abilities remain to be seen, as does her ability to deal with the Government and the Opposition, and an ever-critical public.
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