The Australian Greens, a personal perspective…
I have been voting Greens for years, but what made me actually join? Only recently I decided that maybe I should more actively join the political process and put my money and some of my own time in the party I usually vote for. I also wanted to be able to better understand the political landscape and the political process. Usually, when I ask someone to explain to me the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate and how each work and members get elected to it, I get blank stares!
I wanted to know how the party I vote for works, interacts, what it believes in and if they practice what they preach.
First thing I encountered when I registered, is that I was added to the different groups for my area and started receiving correspondence from my local group and had my first fiery discussion about sustainability. That was interesting; because we had major differences and opinions, yet, as I usually encounter online, the discussion didn’t degenerate into a flame war, people in the discussion were genuinely interested in each others point of views! That was refreshing.
The second thing I did was to go to my first regular meeting, that was also an interesting experience; it was conducted professionally; all formalities were observed, yet, they were at the same time at ease and made sure that they welcomed me as a new member and I actually got to see some of the people I have already corresponded with via email. They talked about issues and of course what now is the up and coming election.
I was then given more details on how to go about getting information about all the activities that the Greens do, on the local, state or national level. I did a lot of reading there and it reconfirmed many of the things I already knew in a vague manner; that the Greens have extensive policies on a wide range of topics, subjects and areas, they do not just talk about environmentalism, as many think, they have other main core values: ecological sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy and peace and non-violence. But, that is not just it, their policies are usually independently costed, this usually rarely happens with parties that are not in government.
Their policies are too numinous to list all here, I’ll just mention a view that people don’t always think the Greens have policies to cover, like, housing, Economics, Constitutional Reform & Democracy, Community Participation in Government, Justice, Science & Technology, International Relations and peace & security, you can find their full extensive list of policies at http://greens.org.au/policies.
I also discovered that the Greens require more than an absolute majority (50%+1) when voting on issues, they require a 75% majority for issues to pass. As such, at least from my perspective, less political manoeuvring and vote counting happens and more discussions and concentration on the actual policies at hand.
So if they have well developed policies, good system of governing themselves, how come they are not well represented in parliament and most of their presence is just in the Senate?
This one is not very easy to answer, but I’ll try as best as I can; there are several issues at the heart of this:
The Greens, are still relatively a new party in comparison to the well-established mainstream parties in Australia; they have only existed on the national political landscape for 20 years. The Party has grown significantly in that period with more than 1.6 million votes going to the Greens in the 2010 elections. However, that is still relatively dwarfed by the established major political parties, one was established around federation and the other more than 60 years ago.
Green members are essentially, because of their own philosophical believes, more straight forward and do not play the political double speak game that the major parties are now experts in. This results in less compromises, always thinking of long term policies and not just what is happening now, do not polarise issues for the sake of votes and do not cater to the ups and downs of polling statistics or align themselves with big financial backers, whither it is big business for the Liberal party or usually the union movement for the Labor party.
Their philosophical approach is admirable, in fact, it is one of the reasons I am now in the Greens, but it does have its drawbacks and for better or worse Greens politicians end up ones that are not as ruthless and cutthroat as the big parties, which affects political manoeuvring and public perception.
As mentioned above, the Greens own philosophies and how they came about impacts their own pockets; they usually rely on donations from individuals and not big groups. This is what you would read on their donation webpage “Unlike the old parties, the Greens don’t accept donations from big polluters or big banks — our campaigns are funded by thousands of individuals” this is an admirable position, however, it does, at the end of the day, usually result in less funding.
Because the Greens have an order of magnitude less money to spend on advertising campaigns, their exposure is severely limited in comparison with the mainstream parties. The effect of this can be seen when in the 2010 election a millionaire who was worries about Climate Change gave the Greens the biggest individual political donation in Australians history, 1.6 million. That enabled the Greens for the first time to run a high rotation TV campaign, which they were not able to do so before and it is a campaign the Greens have credited with helping secure the highest vote on record for the party. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-01-08/record-greens-donation-no-longer-a-wotif/1898404
The balance of the media
The large mainstream private media entities in the current Australian political landscape, do not, as we all hoped, serve as the national watch dog that calls politicians on their actions, instead, they are usually acting to serve their own political, ideological and financial ends, which don’t necessarily act in the long term best interest of Australia as a whole. They act more as the business entities that they are, being here mainly to sell media and relegate to the dustbin their once higher calling of serving the public interest, seeking the truth and as one of the safeguards to protect the democratic process.
I should stress here that not all private media are like that, some in fact fight hard for the pubic good, I’m thinking Crikey, New Matilda, Whirlpool and Delimiter to name but a few, while on the other side of the spectrum, we have News limited, which, in my humble opinion, does not eve bother to really hide that they serve the Murdoch family first and the rest of its shareholders second with Australians coming a distant third. Luckily we do also have our public broadcaster, the ABC, with their own code of conduct and trying to be balanced, though, even that when coupled with the main stream media ends up not as balanced as it should.
When the above is put in context while discussing the Greens, you would realise that without major money, to put their points across on the media in the form of advertising, the mainstream media rarely, if ever, talk about them in a positive or balanced manner, whatever the issue at hand happens to be. They are rarely given a voice in the media. Basically, there is no actual balance of opinion in the mainstream private media that gives a voice to the different political opinions on the Australian political landscape.
The Australian Greens are growing, their philosophy and core values make them grow in much slower pace than they should, however, at the same time, it causes them to keep growing at a steady pace. As the main stream parties slowly move more and more to the right; think immigration policies, lack of effective renewable energy policies, the sale of publicly owned assets, laws that disproportionality benefit big business and the rich, an expensive legal system that can’t be afforded by the average Australian and the continuous erosion of safety nets for the less fortunate in Australia, people will notice, more and more, a party like the Greens. This is because their policies are clear, their reasoning on how they formulate these policies is also clear; they are based on fairness, justice and long term viability, people can know where they stand and for what they stand. As more and more rely less on what the media says and do more research of their own, they will better understand and start to realise that Labor and Liberals are not anymore the only viable choice in town.