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John Passant

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July 2010
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Greens tack left as Labor continues to the right

Whether it’s about refugees, the war on Afghanistan, political correctness, same-sex marriage or the mining tax, in the month since Gillard won the Prime Minister’s job, she has continued, if not actually worsened, the rotten rhetoric and practice of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd.

Gillard’s attacks on refugees have garnered the government the support of some racists who have crossed over from the Coalition, but have bled much of the support that Labor had won from those who were hoping that her victory might usher in a more progressive Labor government.

The Greens, whose poll support nearly halved when Gillard took over, have now made up nearly all the loss.

The fact that Labor is on the nose amongst those who were hoping for even a gesture or two towards working-class interests and progressive politics is reflected in the letters pages of papers like The Age, with many correspondents slamming Labor’s racist attacks on refugees.

The same is true amongst supporters of same-sex marriage. Reports expressing “disappointment” have been run in the LGBTI press about Gillard’s rejection of gay marriage – announced on, of all places, the radio show hosted by Kyle and Jackie O, those paragons of moral virtue.

While Australian Marriage Equality is hoping to meet her to convince her of the error of her ways, it’s clear that Gillard’s not for turning on this question – she’s out to pander to the homophobes and nothing’s going to stop her.

True to form, the Labor left has either shut up or followed her to the right. In one of his last speeches as Defence Minister, John Faulkner has blasted critics of the war in Afghanistan, saying that the 1,500 troops are there for the long haul.

Lindsay Tanner is heading out of Parliament on a handsome pension with not even a word of criticism of Gillard.

And the unions refuse to put her on the spot. Far from it: the ACTU’s press releases might as well have come from Gillard’s own PR flacks.

So it’s good in all of this that the Greens have made some useful statements slamming Gillard’s craven capitulation to big business, racists and homophobes.

In a sharp turnaround from their virtual silence during most of the last two years, they have come out strongly in support of refugees, slamming Abbott and Gillard for their “race to the bottom”. They are promising to shut down Christmas Island and process refugees on the mainland.

The Greens have condemned Gillard for her “disregard for the disadvantaged” in maintaining welfare quarantining for Aborigines in the Northern Territory. They have also argued more vocally for the government to get the troops out of Afghanistan now.

The Greens have been rewarded for their stand for things that Labor has either abandoned, or attacks with gusto, by a lift in their polling.

But there are limits to the Greens’ positioning. The preference deal they have struck with Labor still leaves open the possibility that the Greens will not argue to put Labor above the vile Liberals in a number of seats. In fact, Bob Brown came out straight away and declared:

I totally agree with those people who last time ignored the preference directions from all the parties and put their preferences where they wanted to… Now I might be a bit at odds with… the preference negotiators in my own party there but I’m saying, this is a democratic right.

They should actually be making it clear that they are a left alternative to Labor, not positioning themselves to appeal to disaffected Liberal voters.

Brown continues to pitch the Greens as the party that can offer a “responsible” crossbench in the Senate, not an obstructionist one. And they’re still utterly committed to a tax on carbon which will do nothing to stop global warming.

But the fact that many voters who initially had hopes that Gillard would be better have swung back to the Greens indicates that there is the potential out there to build a left-wing alternative to what is on offer from the major parties: an alternative that stands up for refugee rights, against war, against homophobia and in defence of workers’ rights.

One of the major opportunities to start to do this during the election campaign is the demonstrations that have been called around refugee rights and same-sex marriage in most capital cities.

These protests can help send a message to the politicians that we are going to stand up to their reactionary policies, and start to lay the basis for an ongoing struggle after the election on these and many other issues.

Because whoever wins the election, there is no doubt that we are going to wake up to a right-wing government that needs resisting on August 22. 

This article, by Tom Bramble, first appeared in Socialist Alternative .



Comment from Shane H
Time July 27, 2010 at 8:22 pm

The Greens ‘tack left’ – having been on rightwing trajectory for years? But have inexplicably made some ‘useful statements’ which happen to be Green policy. They should position themselves as irresponsible and obstructionist and oppose a carbon tax since only a revolution will end global warming.

They made a preference deal with the ALP – which I assume you agree with – but explained that people could vote as they pleased in a democracy which was clearly a right feint.

The Greens actions indicate there is space for a left wing alternative – presumably the Greens are not this alternative?

And we should protest the homophobic ALP who have a lesbian climate change minister. I know homophobia is broader than that but for most people its just weird to claim that because a gov’t doesn’t support marriage for homosexuals but does support civil unions is homophobic.

Comment from Colin
Time July 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm

“…(Brown) explained people could vote as they pleased in a democracy which was clearly a right feint.”

Really? You don’t think people can vote as they please?

Comment from Shane H
Time July 27, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Sorry Colin perhaps my sarcasm isn’t clear. I think this article is based on the idea that the Greens are really right-wingers who (inexplicably to the author) are acting ‘left’.

Comment from marianK
Time July 28, 2010 at 9:05 am

I agree with Shane (the sarcasm that is). The Greens neither accept nor reject left- or right-wing policies. They stand on their own. They support free enterprise (especially in sustainable industries) but reject all forms of domination by the big end of town. They have been slotted into the left end of the political spectrum by the media and the 2 majors, but essentially they are not, and have no obligation to BE, a left-wing party.

Comment from Colin
Time July 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Much clearer on re-read. My apologies 🙂