Stop saying yes: The Greens

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the Australian climate movement.

I am not at all happy with the Australian climate movement, but I have fewer complaints about the Australian Greens party.

The Greens deserve credit for being the only Australian parliamentary political force which has made a positive contribution to climate policy in at least the last three years. Without the Greens there would have been no Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and probably no new climate policies in this term of government. In 2011 the Greens did a better job than the non-governmental environment groups, consistently arguing for policy improvements in the MPCCC negotiations while the “Say Yes” campaign neglected to demand any. In the end the Greens agreed to some indefensible things, but at least they got the Government’s policy over the line from definitely worse-than-nothing to probably better-than-nothing. On the other hand, better-than-nothing is a very low bar considering the urgent need for much more dramatic action.

I am certainly concerned about the way the Greens have presented the Clean Energy Future policy. I accept the Greens have negotiated a compromise which they judge supportable, but some of their rhetoric makes it sound much better than it is. For example, on the day it was announced, Christine Milne proclaimed “this is the moment where Australia turns its back on the fossil fuel age” (because of the process for setting emissions targets), yet she knows perfectly well that this policy, on its own, is only the beginning of what needs to be done. Sharing ownership of the policy shouldn’t stop them admitting its failings. To gloss over the greenwash is to be manipulated by Labor. The Greens must not stop loudly advocating real climate action, when they are the only party in Australian politics who understand what is necessary.

I am also frustrated that the Greens have sometimes failed to take advantage of their considerable parliamentary leverage. For example, they all but rubber-stamped Labor’s watered-down mining tax despite wanting to strengthen it – raising the question, what are they there for?

My big complaint is more about the interaction of the broader movement with the Greens. With their compromise policy of an interim carbon tax, the Greens have attempted to get a foot in the door that can be built on over the coming years, and solicited the support of climate action groups. Given the circumstances, this was not necessarily a bad strategy per se; I can see that a parliamentary party needs to be pragmatic, and the climate movement needs to support the Greens. The problem is the Greens have received the wrong kind of support from activists. The non-parliamentary wing of the movement has been even more pragmatic than the parliamentary wing, when it should be more radical. Those of us who aren’t in Parliament are not constrained by parliamentary process; we can be as ambitious as necessary. We need people on the inside negotiating, and it makes sense for the Greens to play that role, but at the same time we also need people on the outside protesting, to put pressure on the Government, and that’s what is missing. While the Greens negotiate pragmatic improvements, we should be building a movement for real climate action.

I hope under Christine Milne’s leadership the Greens will be more assertive in explaining the urgency of climate action, exposing government greenwash, and using their influence to change government policy. The party must act now, while it holds the balance of power in both houses of Parliament.

In Part 7, I review where Australian politics is at now.

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