Meet the (somewhat) Small Parties: The Australian Greens

So, we’ve talked with the animals, found religion, had a nice walk amble through the country and then hopped on our bicycles to commute into the city.  But it’s time to leave these lovely little by-ways and venture into more well-travelled territory with the Australian Greens.

I’ll confess, I always have mixed feelings when I get to my review of the Greens.  On the one hand, I do like their policies.  I like them so much that I generally wind up volunteering to scrutineer and hand out how to vote cards for them.  But on the other hand, they really do have a lot of policies and when one is reading and analysing the policies of twenty-one parties, three sets of grouped independents and nine ungrouped independents, it has to be said that one begins to hanker for the simplicity of a single-issue party, no matter how unlikely it is to ever be elected…

The Victorian corner of the Greens website (which is where I will be focusing my attention) has three rotating banners – ‘Meet the candidates’, ‘Get involved’ banner, and ‘Our initiatives: smart ways we’ll tackle the big issues’.  Across the top of the page, you have the option of  Issues, Candidates, Events, Join, Volunteer and Donate.   At the foot of the page, you have Events, Issues, Volunteer and Donate.  There’s no doubt about it – the Greens are all about Audience Participation.  Well, I imagine they call it grassroots community involvement, but there is a very definite pull to get people involved.

Let’s have a look at their Group Voting Tickets.  Incidentally, as a scrutineer who has in the past been asked to see where preferences are flowing, I can tell you that Group Voting Tickets are probably less useful for the Greens than for just about any other party – we Green Voters do seem to love voting below the line, just as we follow our own merry paths down the Lower House ballot papers, regardless of what we are told to vote.

While there is a little variation in some seats, the Greens are generally preferencing the Animal Justice Party followed by the Cyclists, with the Voluntary Euthanasia, Sex Party and Voice for the West also appearing in the top five.  Labor is generally found in the upper half of the ticket, and always well ahead of the Liberal Party.  At the bottom of every ticket, we find Family First, the DLP, the Shooters and Fishers, the Country Alliance, the Australian Christians, and last of all, Rise Up Australia.  The only times this changes is when one of those countries isn’t running a candidate, or when there is a particularly dislikeable Independent around.

It’s a fairly consistent left to right ticket, politically-speaking.  Though I think the Sex Party may be further to the right than the Greens think they are.

And over to Initiatives, which is what we are calling policies today.  (I can’t help noting that they started off calling the policies ‘Issues’, but I’m guessing they changed the name because they didn’t want smartypants voters like me commenting on the fact that the Greens have lots and lots of issues…)  The Greens have 48 Victorian State Initiatives, and I feel tired already.  I’m going to group sets of related policies, and only go into detail on the ones that seem particularly interesting.

Transport

The Greens have a whole raft of policies on transport, mostly related to public transport and bicycles, as one might expect.  Unsurprisingly, they are against the East-West Link, and they have a whole raft of plans to improve Melbourne’s public transport system, including bringing on more trams (which will be accessible, fit more passengers, and be built in Dandenong, thus creating jobs), invest in improved train signalling in order to run more trains at peak hour, and invest in a number of small  extensions to tram netwolines, linking tram lines to railway stations, newer shopping centres, and other under-served areas, as well as building an entirely new tram line from Footscray to the Docklands.  To me, their proposed extensions are a thing of beauty and a joy forever and you can look at them here.

They are also developing a policy to get trucks off local roads, by building bypass ramps, having curfews on trucks in selected areas, and moving more freight by train.

The Greens have also evidently been paying attention to those who complain that they are a party that only cares about people in the cities, and so they also have a number of transport policies for country Victoria, including re-opening a passenger service from Geelong to Bendigo with additional stations and faster trains.  They also want a 50% increase in V/Line bus services, to make public transport in regional areas a more realistic option.  I strongly suspect this will not be enough to win over the country vote, but it’s a good idea regardless.

Unsurprisingly, the Greens are partial to bicycles.  They will invest in more secure bicycle parking at railway stations, want to encourage bicycle tourism in regional Victoria with a ‘Ride Regional Victoria’ fund for new bicycle tracks, and better accommodation for bicycles on railway trains and V/Line coaches.  I love this idea, too.  Finally, they share the Cyclists’ Party’s concern about bicycle safety on roads, and want to clarify rules about passing cyclists on the road, specifying a safe passing distance, while making it easier  for cars to overtake slow bicycles.  I actually don’t know how you do both these things at once, but perhaps I’m missing something, since I don’t drive?  They also want better driver education about road sharing.

Animals

Or, as I like to call it ‘Can we get the AJP to send us their preferences this time around?’

In this category we have the following policies: Ban Jumps Racing, End Duck Shooting, Abolish Puppy Farms, and Giving a Voice to Animals.  The first three are self-explanatory and have been on the Green agenda for quite a while.  The third includes policies about replacing intensive farming practices that are cruel to animals, and protecting native wildlife.  There are no surprises here, but I will note they seem to have quietly removed the unworkable policy they used to have on animals in medical research, which I think is a definite step in the right direction.

Energy and Environment

Again, the policies here are pretty much what one might expect.  The Greens are pretty big on solar energy, wanting to make solar panels more affordable, and ensure that consumers get a fair price for their solar energy.  They also want to create a Solar Bank, which sounds like a fantastic idea:

The Victorian Solar Bank (VSB) will harness the power of financial markets to cut the cost of clean energy and improve the state budget. The VSB will be a for-profit, investment corporation, like Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but owned 100 percent by Victorians.  Like Green banks in the US, UK and EU, they make money by investing in clean energy or energy efficiency, on behalf of taxpayers.

This is one of my favourite policies so far, and worth reading in full.  (Yes, there is a reason I tend to hand out How To Vote cards for the Greens..).

Unsurprisingly, the Greens are against new mines, including coal seam gas mines.  They are promoting a Renewable Energy Target (more solar!), and would like Victoria to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2030.  I like this idea in theory, but question its realism – especially as we have so many country towns that are reliant on the coal industry.
In environmental news, the Greens would like to create a new National Park in the Central Highlands to preserve the habitat of the Leadbeater’s possum (and here I thought that the inside of my roof was the natural habitat of possums from around Australia…) (OK, not my current roof, but I have definitely lived beneath the sign of the tap-dancing possum in more than one house).  They also want a Cash for Containers program, to reduce littering, and they want to improve waste management generally.

Health

The Greens want to throw a lot of money at health services, which is not surprising, given the number of medicos in the party (have you noticed that?  Most of the big parties are rather heavy on lawyers, but the Greens seem to lean towards the medical and teaching professions, or at least that’s my impression.  Then again, it’s after midnight.  My impressions may be unreliable.)

Projects they want to fund include a Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Sunshine, which is a big growth corridor, so I think there’s a lot to be said for that idea.  They also want to expand pediatric services at the Royal Children’s Hospital and invest in neo-natal intensive care.  They are in favour of midwife-led care, and want to fund this.  They want to invest in a lot of preventative health programs, including screening, lifestyle, rehabilitation and community health, and they particularly want to invest in health services in regional Victoria.   Another favourite in the preventative health department is smoking – they want to make al outdoor dining and drinking areas smoke-free, end government investment in tobacco companies (I had no idea we were doing that, and we absolutely should stop), and strengthen Quit.

The Greens have a fairly extensive policy on Mental Health, which I think is worth a read if this is an area that interests you.  They point out that while the NDIS will help people with chronic mental health issues, it does little for those with episodic forms of mental illness.  They want to improve community mental health services, improve social inclusion for those with mental illness, and provide better support for carers, including respite care, peer support and counselling.  It’s a good policy.  If it were me, I’d also add more CAT Teams and more inpatient beds for when things do get out of hand – I used to volunteer as a telephone counsellor and one of the big issues we had was people who knew they were headed for a crisis and couldn’t get support until they were in imminent danger of harming themselves or others – or sometimes, until they had actually done so.  Community mental health is vitally important for keeping people stable on a day to day basis, but when the wheels fall off the wagon, the resources need to be there until people can get back to a safer place in their heads.

On the controversial side of things, the Greens support voluntary euthanasia, and have some pretty sensible safeguards around it.  And – the policy we’ve all been waiting for – decriminalisation of medical cannabis.  This comes under a policy called ‘Relieving Suffering’, incidentally – the Greens are evidently still trying desperately to live down their reputation for being the party that wants to legalise drugs.  Which is only one tiny part of one policy on what I can assure you is a simply *endless* array of policies, but it’s the one everyone remembers…

(Come to think of it, I haven’t spotted a drugs policy on the Victorian Greens site.  I’m betting they are in favour of harm minimisation, but I’m guessing they don’t want to draw too much attention to this.)

Corruption and Freedom of Information

The Greens have a lot of separate policies about this, but in fact, they boil down to this summary on their policy regarding Accountability and Integrity in Government:

The Greens are committed to strengthening transparency, integrity and accountability in Victoria to ensure the highest standards in government and the public sector. This includes:

  • strengthening Freedom of Information laws;
  • enabling the Auditor-General to properly audit private companies that are involved in the increasing number of multi-billion dollar Public / Private Partnerships (PPPs);
  • amending Victoria’s Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) legislation to enable it to effectively investigate corruption; and
  • establishing a stand-alone body to investigate police misconduct and deaths as a result of police contact.  

They also want to establish ‘serious misconduct’ by a member of Parliament as a criminal offence.

Human Rights & Justice

The Greens are “committed to ending all forms of discrimination so that all individuals can realise their full potential.”  This includes support for Marriage Equality and Adoption Equality, and removing the right of religious schools to discriminate “on the basis of religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity”.  They also want to make homelessness and “irrelevant criminal records” as attributes to be protected from discrimination.  I’m going to quote them in full on the criminal records part:

Whilst employment checks of a person’s criminal record are clearly justified, a person should not be discriminated against in employment and in other areas of life, such as in relation to applications for housing, because of an ‘irrelevant criminal record’, that is for a conviction, often a long time in the past and usually for a minor offence. 

Many people make mistakes when they are young and do not later reoffend. Discrimination on the basis of irrelevant criminal record is prohibited in Tasmania, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT, and at the federal level.

The Greens sought to amend the Equal Opportunity Bill 2010 to include irrelevant criminal record as a protected attribute and we will continue to push for this reform. 

There are so many cheap shots I could take here, but I shall behave myself, because, as it happens, I agree.

Speaking of criminal records, the Greens also want toget rid of mandatory sentencing and allow for judicial discretion, including re-introducing suspended sentences and home detention, where appropriate.  They point out that mandatory sentencing has led to a huge upsurge in numbers of prisoners in Victoria:

Changes to the parole system, aimed at serious violent offenders, are impacting on all parolees leading to a growing number being incarcerated for “minor” breaches – 47 percent of the increase in male and female prisoners in the last twelve months is due to breaches of parole.

There is also concern that once people have been in the prison system, they are more likely to re-offend.  The Greens propose a “Justice Reinvestment” program, aimed at preventing crime by dealing with underlying problems before they become catastrophic.

Many offenders come from and return to, a small number of disadvantaged communities. Justice Reinvestment shifts money allocated for future imprisonment to these high-needs communities to fund programs which address the underlying causes of crime. These include drug and alcohol programs, education and employment programs, housing initiatives, mental health programs, mentoring programs, sport / art / music programs for youth, cultural programs, counselling, and diversion programs. 

I like this idea a lot.

The Greens are also committed to providing legal justice and compensation to victims of institutional child sex abuse, and want to prioritise preventing family violence. I’m sorry, I’ve run out of steam, you’ll have to read that one yourself

Housing

The Greens note that increasing numbers of Victorians will never own their own homes, and therefore want to create minimum standards for rental properties, “to set standards for repair, comfort, safety, facilities and energy efficiency of all rental accommodation. The aim is just for basic, decent accommodation for everyone.”.  In addition, they want to repeal the no-reason eviction law.  According to their policy, the onus would be on landlords and real-estate agents to keep their property up to standard.

Honestly, while I want this law to exist, I’m not sure that it would work in the way it is intended to.  In Melbourne, at least, rental accommodation is neither cheap nor plentiful – if the options are ‘live in a hovel’ or ‘have nowhere to live while the landlord makes your accommodation liveable, always assuming he lets you move back in after you made the complaint’, well, I think a lot of tenants will shut up and stay put.  There are always other people who are less assertive and more desperate for accommodation, and all the power still lies with the landlord.

The Greens want to develop a Disability and Mental Health Housing Action Plan, with “joint planning between the disability, mental health and housing arms of government, and with the NDIA, to meet current and future affordable supported and accessible housing needs.” Many people with disabilities currently do not have access to housing that allows them quality of life and independence, and part of the problem is that even when there is some money available, the housing doesn’t exist.  The Greens want to create more accessible housing, as well as boosting funds for public housing.

The Greens want to preserve public green spaces within Melbourne, which I think is an excellent idea, especially as Melbourne’s increasing population is sooner or later going to require much more high-density housing.  They also want to improve aged-care housing.

 

And you know what?  I’m going to stop here.  It’s after midnight and there are still more policies left…  So please take my word for it that the Greens want to strengthen TAFE, reduce problem gambling, and protect children from the dangers of dodgy advertising.

Altogether, the Greens are still looking like the party that will get my vote, or at least my main preference after whatever teeny tiny party catches my fancy on the ballot paper.  They have some good ideas, and their hearts are definitely in the right place.

And despite their reputation to the contrary, they are really not a one-issue party any more.  Trust me on this.

~~~~~~~~~~

Note on Pascoe Vale

The Green Candidate for Pascoe Vale is psychologist and local resident, Liam Farrelly.  He’s not likely to get too far in this electorate, as Labor usually has an absolute majority before we even get to the two party preferred, and I would say the goal here is simply to out-poll the Liberals.  Mr Farrelly has been active in Moreland for a long time – at least three elections, I’d think – and he’s very active on social media – typical Green behaviour, that.  He tells us that he stands for “a greater investment in our area [and] vital services to empower those in need. [He’s] running for the Greens because everyone has a right to quality education, health care and housing.”

In an interview with the Leader, Mr Farrelly expressed a passion for public transport, and he also took an active part in the Fair Food Forum in Coburg, expressing concern about the Woolworths/Coles duopoly.  Mr Farelly’s How to Vote Cards are notable for being the only ones that have multi-lingual information – I’m no expert, but the languages look to me like Arabic, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese and perhaps Turkish. He has two tickets, one running Socialist Alliance, Labor, Liberal, Independent and last of all Family First, and the other simply saying to put the Greens first and then number all the other boxes in order.  From my experience scrutineering, I feel this represents a realistic view of how good Greens voters are at actually following how to vote cards.

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