The Greens have publicly distanced themselves from the Labor government in the leadup to the Australian federal election on 14 September.
Last month, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott each launched their party’s election campaign with a National Press Club speech. (Gillard discussed economic policy, hinted at more budget cuts, and announced the election date; Abbott reiterated past promises including a budget surplus.) Today, Greens leader Christine Milne similarly addressed the National Press Club. In a strong speech, Milne argued Labor has flouted the principles it agreed with the Greens in 2010: “transparency and accountable government”, “policies which promote the public interest”, and “policies which address climate change”.
The move is long overdue. As I’ve written before, the Greens’ support has given credibility to a government which has gotten away with:
- promoting exponential growth of the fossil fuel industry, including coal and coal seam gas mining and exports;
- subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of $13 billion annually;
- cracking down on anti-fossil-fuel activists;
- institutionalizing a meaningless emissions reduction target in the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period, sabotaging it by advocating loopholes and creative accounting, and prioritizing a post-2020 agreement over urgent ambitious action;
- refusing to budge on almost anything in carbon price negotiations, including a low starting price, unlimited international offsets, free permits for coal-fired electricity generators, 94.5% free permits for the highest-polluting trade-exposed industries guaranteed in law for five years, and the exclusion of transport;
- reneging on several of the few concessions it did make to the Greens, including a carbon floor price for investor certainty and contracts for closure of coal power plants;
- using the carbon price as an excuse to cut existing climate policies and rule out any new ones;
- allowing industry lobbyists on a key climate policy advisory board;
- designing a Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will not be additional to existing policies, which will spend money on fossil fuels and fossil/renewable hybrid technologies, and may be too risk-averse;
- greenwashing coal seam gas with a toothless independent scientific committee
- planning to delegate its environmental protection powers to the states;
- refusing to fix a mining tax which has raised almost no revenue;
- neglecting to talk about climate change;
- and passionately defending the fossil fuel industry against any attack.
So I was pleased to hear Milne tell the National Press Club:
What has become manifestly clear is that Labor by its actions has walked away from its agreement with the Greens and into the arms of the big miners.
Let’s call a spade a spade.
By choosing the big miners, the Labor government is making it clear to all that it no longer has the courage or the will to work with the Greens on a shared agenda in the national interest.
By choosing the big miners, the Labor government is no longer honouring our agreement to work together to promote transparent and accountable government and the public interest or to address climate change.
Labor has effectively ended its agreement with the Greens.
Milne says the Greens will continue to guarantee supply and confidence to Gillard. The Liberals accuse the Greens of wanting to “have their cake and eat it too”, and arguably they have a point. Still, Milne’s high-profile denouncing of Labor will help to dispel any impression voters may have picked up from misleading media coverage that the Gillard government is a green government. Also, I suspect the alliance with Labor has hurt the Greens vote, which appears to have declined in the last few months, so officially breaking off the arrangement may help to grow their vote again.
The announcement is a significant (albeit symbolic) step away from the ineffectual sycophantic strategy I have criticized. However, it remains to be seen whether the Greens’ new bolder stance will continue beyond the election. Also, Milne continues to present the carbon price as a great achievement, yet she knows perfectly well that this policy, on its own, is only the beginning of what needs to be done. I accept the Greens have negotiated a compromise which they judge supportable, but sharing ownership of the policy shouldn’t prevent them admitting its failings.
As I have said before, the Greens presently hold the balance of power in both houses of Parliament and they should take advantage of that leverage while they have it. From now on the Greens should do everything they can to communicate the urgency of climate action, expose government greenwash, and use their influence to change government policy.