Victorian Senate Group S: It’s not easy being Green!

Well, it’s not easy writing up their policies, at any rate, because for all the public perception of The Greens as a single-issue party, there’s an awful lot more to their policy platform than the environment.

I’m going to start with a brief conflict of interest statement.  First, while I’m not a member of the Greens – or of any other political party, actually – I will be handing out How-To-Vote Cards for them at this election, and probably scrutineering for them as well.  So you can take it as read that I do, on the whole approve of their platform.  I’m not a party member because I am, at least in theory, a swinging voter – I really do prefer to look at all the parties and make a choice every election about which party most reflects my beliefs about how our society should be run.  Being a party member sort of obliges you to vote for that party, I think!  It so happens that for the last few elections, the Greens have been the closest to my beliefs of the parties that actually run candidates in my electorate, so I choose to help them out.

(Having said that, I do tend to vote for even tinier parties in the Senate if they appeal to me, and then send my preferences to the Greens. This is probably something I’m not supposed to say in public, but it does happen to be true.  Quite apart from anything else, I rather like the Democrats, and view them as an endangered species, worthy of my Greenie vote.  Conserve idealistic-but-doomed political parties, I say!)

So now you know just how much weight to give my commentary, let’s see what we’ve got on the Senate Group Voting Ticket.  We haven’t spent much time on the left hand side of politics so far, so this ticket has a whole bunch of new and exciting parties to look at!  First preference goes to the Wikileaks Party, which is a bit of a pity, and then they move on to the Australian Sex Party, the extremely promising-sounding Pirate Party, Drug Law Reform and the Secular Party of Australia.  Eventually, they move on to the Democrats, and the ALP.  Interestingly, they put Family First ahead of the Liberals, possibly because the former do actually have a few decent social justice policies.  The bottom of the ticket is reserved for One Nation, with Rise Up Australia, the Citizens Electoral Council and Stop The Greens giving them some close competition.

(Incidentally, this is one of about a dozen tickets so far that puts the Liberal Democrats and the Democratic Labour Party right next to each other on the ticket.  These two parties aren’t all that alike, and I’m beginning to harbour a suspicion that the people creating the group voting tickets don’t actually really know who they are, and are just making hand-wavy assumptions that they must be something like the Liberal Party and the Labour Party and the Democrats.)

On to the website, which is nowhere near as green-coloured as you might expect. This is probably a good thing.  Their front page banner rotates between about six panels, two of which are about compassionate treatment of asylum seekers, and now you know why I like them, because that tends to be my top issue at present.  The first banner proclaims:

The Greens’ Plan for a Better Australia
Standing up for what matters: a Clean Economy, a Caring Society, a Healthy Environment

Further banners point to their plan for a more caring country and invites membership and donations; third down the line is a banner about saving the great barrier reef,  and another banner reminds us that the Greens brought us Denticare, which is certainly something worth bragging about.

We are informed that the Greens are the only party to be powered from the bottom up (thus neatly avoiding the obligatory drink for talking about grass-roots).  Only semi-major party, perhaps – a good half of the small parties I’ve read about so far also make this claim.  They point to the fact that more than 1.5 million people voted for the Greens in the lower house in 2010, and brag a bit more about Denticare and the Clean Energy Act.

The Greens provide a real alternative to the tired, cynical politics of Labor and the Liberal party. Unlike the two old parties, the Greens have a proud history of standing up for what is right, not just what is easy or what polls well.

So what exactly is it that they are standing up for?

Well, there are a few summaries on the website, but the Greens invite you to download their 54-page policy document (just don’t print it out, because that wouldn’t be very green of you).  I am accepting this invitation, but I will not be attempting to summarise 54 pages in one blog post, because I’d still be sitting here this time tomorrow, and nobody wants that.  Instead, I shall pull out the highlights – or at least, the things that I consider to be highlights – and maybe some low-lights as well…

The Greens’ policy document starts off by reminding us that the world is changing fast, and that “Einstein once said that you cannot solve problems with the same mind-set that created them”.  This is, we are to understand, why Australia needs the Greens.  Coming off their first ever parliament in which they had a seat in the Lower House and the balance of power in the Senate, the Greens are really hoping to build on this, and are doing their best to position themselves as a third party that might one day be the second major party.  They therefore point out how well they worked with the outgoing government (I have a feeling Labor might see this differently) and the reforms they helped get through, particularly the clean energy package and free dental care for kids.

I especially like this bit:

The Greens also drove the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office — a vital new institution that will strengthen our democracy by costing election promises and providing independent analysis of government budgets. Unlike Tony Abbott’s Opposition, the Greens will present a fully costed election platform in the lead up to this year’s election.

Given that one of the most frequent criticisms of the Greens is that they have no idea about costings and no economic sense, this is a very well-aimed dig at the Liberal Party and their tendency to refuse to have their policies costed (it’s so much easier to criticise other people’s policies if you won’t let your own policies see the light of day) (oops, got a bit partisan there!).

The Greens also point out that they have worked to protect the independence of the ABC and SBS, which has just become my new favourite reason to vote for them, as well as getting recognition for Australia’s first people and Traditional Owners incorporated into Parliamentary sittings.  And of course they mention their strong support for marriage equality.

And just in case people don’t read past the first six pages, they underline the fact that they do, too, have costings a couple more times before explaining:

Reforming our nation so the economy serves people and the environment — not the other way around — is central to the Australian Greens plan. Instead of providing tax breaks to corporate polluters, we want to invest in the education of Australian children and boost innovation and research in this country. A small levy on the profits of the biggest four banks would deliver funding to give job seekers a living wage, and ensure children living in single parent families do not go without. Fixing the mining tax would enable our nation to pay for publicly funded dental care as part of Medicare and tackle the problem of homelessness and housing affordability. All of this can happen without destroying our irreplaceable environment and unique species, beloved by our communities and critical to the clean air, clean water and the uncontaminated soils which sustain us.

Aha, so it’s the banks and the mining companies who are going to foot the bill.  This feels like a very Robin Hood sort of policy… then again, he was known for wearing green, wasn’t he…

On to the policies!  Nobody is surprised that Protecting Our Environment is first up, and yes, the Greens are concerned about climate change, protecting the Great Barrier Reef, and protecting animals from extinction.  They also make me happy by wanting to save the whales, which I realise is still very important, but does remind me of the environment-hippy-protest songs our teachers made us learn in Grade Five.

The Greens want to strengthen national environment laws rather than putting these back into state hands, because the states are deemed to have a conflict of interest as they reap the profits from mining and development.  And speaking of mining, the Greens also want to preserve the Tarkine from mining, as it is a unique wilderness area.

I absolutely agree about all of this, but I can’t help wondering where we are going to get the revenue from the mining tax for dental care if we close the mines…

The Greens are big on national parks and on Marine Parks, so now we know why all those fishing parties were getting so upset.  They want to do more with recycling, too.

The Greens want to ban live exports, transitioning instead to a sustainable chilled meat industry – they point out that “this means jobs in Australia and properly supervised abbatoirs to meet high standards of animal welfare”.  That’s actually a pretty good argument, in my book.  They hope to phase out intensive factory farming, which I also strongly agree on, and want to ban importation of primates for research, which I’m a bit less sure about.  They do seem to have become a bit less militant about animals in research than they used to be, which is a relief.  But then, we have the Animal Justice Party for that…

Under ‘Resourcing a Caring Society’ the Greens point out that ‘our economic future must go beyond the quarry vision of the mining bubble.  We need to invest in research and innovation to underpin the jobs-rich and diverse economy of the future…’

I work with medical researchers for a living, so that one gets a round of applause from me.  Actually, it would anyway, because I think having our entire economy depend on a finite resource is unwise; using the money we have now to create a working economy for the future sounds very sensible to me.  Not that I understand economics.

The Greens want to increase Newstart and look after single parents better, as well as expanding Denticare.  They also want to stand up to the big mining companies and the big banks.  This surprises nobody.

So yes, the Greens want to expand the mining tax, create a millionaires’ tax (which would include income only, not assets) and a bank levy.  They also want a National Anti-Corruption Commission and transparency for corporate lobbyists.

I quite like that, too, but I can see why the Murdoch-owned media doesn’t.  And one does rather get an inkling of why the Greens don’t get on too well with the Liberal party, doesn’t one?

Do you know what’s really interesting, reading through this document?  It’s beginning to look like the sort of thing the major parties write.  Last election, the Greens’ policy document was something like 90 pages, and it was all detailed policy stuff.  This new brochure is half the length and contains inspiring pictures.  The policies are much briefer, with bullet points and costings, and, above all, we are suddenly getting an awful lot of information on why Labor and the Coalition can’t be trusted.  Less information, more politics – which is pretty much what you get when you visit the Labor and Liberal websites.  I’m torn between being pleased that the Greens seem to be beginning to grasp how one plays politics and being mildly concerned that they might be starting to conform to the rules of a game set by someone else.  On the whole, I think it’s probably a good thing – the Greens really have a bit PR problem, whereby the media and larger parties refuse to take them seriously – making themselves look more like the key players is probably a sound move.

I’m not going to share these little political digs, incidentally.  They don’t tell you much except that the Greens are now playing this game, too.

Moving along, the Greens are really keen on getting rid of coal, and definitely oppose coal seam gas mines, a position that is becoming increasingly mainstream.  I note that they point out that they are standing with farmers on this one.  That’s a voting base the Greens really need to win over.

The Greens want to increase the renewable energy target to 90% by 2030, and ‘to drive investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy – the Greens can’t wait for Australia’s first solar plant’.

(OK, maybe they aren’t turning into slick politicians quite yet – that’s kind of cute).

They want to ensure that solar panel owners are paid fairly for their clean power, which certainly isn’t happening at present, and they want to improve national electricity transmission planning to exploit our renewable resources.  And of course, they want to point out that all of this investing in clean energy technologies will create jobs.

Back to the farmers, the Greens want to strengthen competition laws, and they oppose foreign ownership of farms.  They want to strengthen country of origin labelling laws, and turn our Free Trade Agreements into Fair Trade Agreements.  I love that idea.  They also want to invest in agricultural research and development ‘in particular for adapting to global warming’.

It’s interesting, incidentally, how many of the small parties on both the left and right want to get rid of banking and supermarket monopolies and protect local production and business from competition from foreign imports.  I wonder where the major parties stand on this?  One suspects that they don’t really stand anywhere useful, or these wouldn’t be getting quite this level of excitement from all the little parties.

The Greens want to strengthen small business, but they also want to protect workers.  Nobody is surprised.

Under Education, they want to invest more in schools, universities and TAFE, and they particularly support the public education system.  They also want to invest in research and development, to a target of 3% of our GDP by 2020.  (And this is just one reason why so many of my colleagues are fond of the Greens).

As mentioned, the Greens want to increase NewStart and the single parent pension, and let people earn more for part-time work before having their payments cut, as well as making it easier for single parents to have flexible working arrangements.  I would love to see them do this, but it would be really nice to know how they plan to get employers on board with this.  Parents deserve support, but childhood illnesses, for example, are unpredictable, and I suspect many employers prefer people who are able to be there full-time, rather than leaving early to collect their kids from school. I would really, really like to see this change, but some sort of incentives will probably be needed.

They actually do have costings for Newstart increases, and proudly inform us that:

By standing up to the mining companies, we can afford to invest in people. The Parliamentary Budget Office has costed our proposal at $8.2 billion over the forward estimates.

Take that, mining companies!  There are also costings for the single parent plans.  Similar plans are in place to improve Austudy and increase the living away from home allowance, and just in passing, they want to create more affordable student housing and protect the NBN.

I could almost summarise this by saying that basically, the Greens have very generous policies in most of the social justice areas, with more money for health care, mental health, disability care, carers, preventative health, paid parental leave, childcare, and work-life balance.  They want to improve public transport, and seem to have jumped on the Bullet Train bandwagon (it’s a very nice bandwagon, and I, too, would like to jump aboard).  They want to build a lot more cheap housing to solve homelessness.

They want to end discrimination, and I am 100% behind this (and it won’t cost anything, either, so the mining companies can relax…):

It is hard to believe, but according to our federal laws it is okay for religious schools to refuse enrolment children just because their parents are gay. It is also legal to refuse:
• a woman accommodation because she’s a victim of domestic violence (good grief!)
• to grant requests for flexible working hours for people with family responsibilities such as caring for children or aging parents
This is out of step with modern Australian society.
The Greens believe we need a better approach to protect against discrimination and deal with inequality in our community.
We need a new federal Equality Act that:
• implements Australia’s international human rights obligations
• removes outdated and arbitrary exemptions
• effectively addresses systemic discrimination
Australia is a proudly multicultural society where all people, regardless of culture, ethnicity, religion, language, or place of birth should have equal rights and the right to participate equally in our social, economic and cultural life. We must do more than just remove formal barriers to active participation in society. We should ensure policy development and program implementation is based on wide and inclusive consultation that gives voice to Australians’ diverse cultural and religious backgrounds and interests.

Hear, hear.

The Greens are well known for being in favour of marriage equality.  They also have a whole set of policies to increase women’s participation in all aspects of society, and to decrease discrimination – as well as protecting reproductive health.  In other words, they are pro-choice, but you probably knew that already, too.

They also want to show compassion to refugees, which is the other reason they get my vote, because the policies favoured by the two major parties make me want to cry.  So yes, they want to end detention of children and close off-shore detention camps, they want to give refugees the right to work (and honestly, how horrible is a policy that says yes, you can stay, but you aren’t allowed to either work or access government support – so you have no recourse except charity.  Disgusting.), and they want to increase funding to regional assessment centres so that people can be processed faster.

And look, I’m going to quote them again, because I feel strongly about this.

It is not illegal to seek asylum. Globally, waves of refugees follow periods of conflict. Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have led to increases in numbers of people fleeing persecution. Deterrence does not work as Australia cannot be worse than the regimes from which people flee. We need to give refugees safe, official pathways to secure homes in Australia and other countries – before they board a boat in desperation. We agree with Malcolm Fraser and refugee experts: the successful regional response to the Vietnam War showed that only this policy will save lives.

Bolds are mine.  Please, Australia, stop picking on people who have been through something unimaginably horrible.  There is no justification and no need for it.

All this, and the Greens also want to support the Arts.  But you know, I think I’ve written about enough about them for now.  I think it’s fair to say that the Greens are moving from the far-left into the centre left space that Labor has been busily vacating for some time now; whether they can make the leap into being a major party remains to be seen.  Their policies are wide-ranging and very appealing, but I’m honestly not sure how much luck they will have getting money out of the mines and the banks.  Having said that, since most of these policies are about giving people the support they need to get back on their feet, they may not need so much money in the long run.

I’m probably far too idealistic for my own good, but, financially impractical or otherwise, the Greens still  have my vote.  I hope they get the chance to do something good with it.

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One thought on “Victorian Senate Group S: It’s not easy being Green!

  1. Pingback: My personal How to Vote Card… | Cate Speaks

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