Greens thorny path to where?

We post this section of an article by Liam McLoughlin about changes in the Greens towards social democratic populism. I wish the Greens good luck. However, as the brief Whitlam experiment showed, the parliamentary road is a thorny path to anywhere whether it be: (1) the modest reforms demanded by Whitlam or (2) larger scale revolutionary change to socialism. Both are impossible without real engagement with working class people and their organisations, the unions.

Sadly, the Greens in Queensland are weak on both class and engagement with unions.

Ian Curr
WBT 26 April 2021.

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There are also important signs of a revival in progressive populism in Australia — only today, it is playing out within the Greens, particularly in Queensland (QLD). In recent years, the QLD Greens have successfully combined populist positioning, a platform offering material gains for ordinary people, and movement building. At the 2019 election, local campaigns in the seats of Griffith, Brisbane, and Ryan achieved significant swings even though the Greens vote was stagnating at a national level.

The Queensland Greens have successfully combined populist positioning, a platform offering material gains for ordinary people, and movement building.

This success rested on a platform that emphasized free childcare, more public housing, publicly owned renewable energy, and free dental care (CHED for short). At the March 2020 Brisbane City Council election, Greens councilor Jonathan Sri’s core campaign messages emphasized “standing up against political corruption” and “giving residents more control over council decision-making.” He was reelected with a 12.4 percent primary vote swing.

State strategist for the QLD Greens Max Chandler-Mather and South Brisbane campaign manager Liam Flenady explained that a strong ground campaign was crucial to their 2019 success. At the October 2020 state election, it paid off again, with the QLD Greens recording substantial swings in Cooper, Greenslopes, and McConnel. The campaign returned Greens MP Michael Berkman with a 14 percent swing in Maiwar, while Amy MacMahon won the seat of South Brisbane away from Labor’s Jackie Trad.

Chandler-Mather, recently preselected as the Greens’ federal candidate for Griffith, has said the party will continue using this strategy: “Politics is about reaching out to people about the issues that affect their daily lives and what they care about and making policies that address those issues.”

When Victorian left-winger Adam Bandt took over the federal leadership of the Greens in February 2020, the whole party began to shift toward a left populist strategy. In October 2020, Bandt reflected on Greens successes in New Zealand and the ACT:

The Greens are on the rise because we put people ahead of big corporations. We’re pushing back against the establishment parties’ failed trickle-down economic policies and tax cuts for millionaires. We are fighting for direct investment in public schools, hospitals, public housing and public services to create jobs and a better life for everyone.

This year, Bandt’s February speech to the Greens national conference focused on inequality, stressing that ordinary people had suffered while “billionaires and big corporations are making out like bandits.” While the Greens have always been strong on the politics of recognition, their recent left populist turn suggests a greater emphasis on redistribution and movement building.

While the Greens have always been strong on the politics of recognition, their recent left populist turn suggests a greater emphasis on redistribution and movement building.

A People’s Green New Deal

The Greens recently announced their support for a 6 percent billionaire tax — a further encouraging step toward an economically redistributive approach. The obvious problem is, however, that the Greens have set a ten-to-fifteen-year timeline to transform into the kind of mass party that could take power. That may be realistic, but what about the IPCC’s 2030 deadline for “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”?

This raises the question of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and its future orientation. Even if the Greens continue to grow, without Labor, it’s hard to see how a progressive populist government could be formed in Australia.

Some may retort that the ALP is a lost cause. Labor opposes the call from the Greens for a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption and political donations reform. The ALP received more money than the Liberals in 2019–20 from oil and gas giant Woodside Energy, the nation’s most generous fossil fuel donor. And it’s still firmly wedded to the Bob Hawke–Paul Keating legacy of neoliberal policymaking.

However, it would be a mistake to leave the discussion there. After all, it was Gough Whitlam, a politician who came from the ALP’s right wing, who enacted the most significant progressive political shift in Australia since Curtin, under pressure from unions and strong social movements. And those who view the ALP as a hopelessly corrupt force have not outlined a realistic alternative path for a movement that can win office before the climate crisis spins out of control.

In a recent interview, national ALP president Wayne Swan addressed the question of working with the Greens. Swan suggested that the two parties should be united on two points: “doing something fundamental about the increasing inequality in our society and dealing with fundamental climate change.” The Greens and others on the Australian left should be looking for ways to test the rhetoric of ALP politicians against concrete proposals for action.

The Greens and others on the Australian left should be looking for ways to test the rhetoric of ALP politicians against concrete proposals for action.

This is where the Green New Deal (GND) comes in. The Greens have framed their antipodean GND as a plan to tackle Australia’s climate, jobs, and inequality crises simultaneously. It is a “government-led plan of investment and action to help create new industries and grow a clean economy and a caring society,” which, by making corporations pay their fair share of tax, would fund the provision of universal services.

By combining populist rhetoric with a compelling narrative about social benefits for the vast majority of Australians, the GND proposal might just be able to unite Australian progressives and defeat Scott Morrison’s corrupt, oligarchic government. If backed by a resurgent union movement and social movements, an Australian GND could inaugurate a new era in politics — one that, echoing Whitlam’s 1972 speech, will break through the “limits on what we can achieve, together, for our country, our people, our future.”

Liam McLoughlin