Greens support Labor Government in the ACT
Shane Rattenbury, the Greens’ one remaining parliamentary representative in the local ACT Legislative Assembly, has decided to support a Labor Party minority government.
With the Liberals and Labor equal on 8 seats each in the 17 seat Assembly as a result of the 20 October election, Rattenbury was the kingmaker. In a written agreement with Labor, he has crowned the ALP’s Katy Gallagher.
The election was a disaster for the Greens. They lost 4.9% of their vote and 3 of their 4 seats. Their conservatism in the last 4 years, when they supported a minority ALP government and wrung few concession from them, saw those looking for real change desert the Greens.
Some returned to Labor. Some went to the Liberals, and some went to the Bullet Train for Canberra Group, which won 4% of the vote.
The new Government will be sworn in on Tuesday. Rattenbury has accepted an offer of a Ministry. It is not clear yet what his likely multiple responsibilities will be.
Although he won’t be bound by Cabinet solidarity, the decision to accept a ministry condemns the Greens to further play the parliamentary game at the expense of mobilising their base and challenging the essential conservatism and neoliberalism of Labor and the Liberals in the Territory.
Instead of being outside the tent, Rattenbury will be in it up to his armpits. His attention will not be focused on his base and his constituency voters but often narrow issues.
In other words instead of re-focusing on his supporters he will abandon them for power, a power constrained by a conservative Labor Party and pretend progressive government.
Neoliberalism is the dominant theme of the agreement. Its very first point, its Grundnorm, is, apart from the usual stuff about supporting Labor, a commitment to ‘fiscal responsibility’ (whatever that means).
This is done through the prism of Labor’s neoliberalism. This means the ‘maintenance of a balanced budget through the economic cycle.’
Why? What is so special about Budget surpluses when so much needs to be done to address climate change and the ACT could be the exemplar for the rest of the nation?
But that would involve making the rich pay – a super profits tax on the banks here and a wealth tax on the rich come to mind – but neither Labor nor the Greens are going to do that.
On tax, Rattenbury agrees with Labor about the need for more ‘efficient’ taxes. This is code among bourgeois economists for shifting the tax burden more and more on to workers.
There is some apparently good news in the agreement. ACT Labor has agreed to support or implement legislation for marriage equality.
Rattenbury should make it his first task to introduce a wide ranging Equal Marriage Bill before Christmas. Put the acid on Labor now, not 3 years down the track. Equality cannot wait.
There is no legal or constitutional impediment for the ACT Assembly to pass such legislation.
Labor will try to restrict it with, perhaps, arguments about residency requirements and the like, and the Gillard Labor Government may try to overturn the ACT law in the Federal Parliament.
However Gillard would require majority support from both houses to do that and given more than 60% of Australians support equal love, my guess is not even Gillard would risk the backlash from the public and from some of her own colleagues. Then again this is the Prime Minister who accepted an invitation to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby’s annual conference before Jim foot in mouth Wallace sprouted more of his bigotry against gays.
The task for the equal marriage campaigns is now to get a commitment from Rattenbury to move quickly and not accept any watered down proposals from Labor.
Before the last election the Greens accepted a compromise civil unions Bill, to appease the homophobes in the ACT Labor Party and to prevent any embarrassment for Gillard. Pathetic really. The time for equality is now, Shane.
What else is there in the agreement?
Well there’s the usual floss about battery hens and sow stalls. All well and good, but hardly earth shattering initiatives to save the planet or improve education or health services.
And there will be an allocation of $85 million of Murray-Darling Basin Plan funds to establish new wetlands and clean up the Lakes. All well and good but…This is the biggest spending item in the agreement. Lakes evidently have a higher priority than health and education.
On education, the parties have agreed to ‘commit to working in good faith with the Federal Government towards the implementation of the revised Gonski recommendations, “National Plan for School Improvement,” under the banner of “Better Schools”.’
Gonski of course is not about reducing education spending on the rich; it is a mechanism for the continuation of supporting wealthy schools. As I wrote about Gonski in February:
Taking the money that currently goes to the rich private schools and adding in the extra $5 billion to spend on public schools and working class private schools would be a start in addressing the crisis of ‘on the cheap’ public education that successive governments, Labor and Liberal, have imposed on us as part of their surreptitious privatisation of public education.
The Rattenbury Agreement looks like a fudge on education.
The Agreement also commits the parties, in classic bureaucratic style, to ‘progress’ light rail. James Hacker will set up a statutory independent authority to implement the project. There is even a target date for ‘the laying of tracks for the first route commencing in 2016.’ This is the year when the next election is due. One can imagine there will be blowouts and delays, so 2016 might become 2017 or 2018.
But wait, there’s more. Attachment 4 to the agreement, detailing Labor’s policies, says the ALP government will establish ’the ACT’s first large-scale private sector partnership to plan, finance and develop the first stage of a Light Rail Network for Canberra Capital Metro.’
No actual funding. The funding for the light rail network will come from what appears to be a private public partnership. Let me suggest there will be no private funding forthcoming.
Before the election the Greens promised to commit $200 m from the 2013-14 Budget for light rail with construction beginning in 2015. The Rattenbury agreement appears to have abandoned that. Be suspicious.
There is an extra $24 million for improving the bus system. It isn’t enough and is fiddling at the edges. Why not just buy more buses, hire more drivers and make the buses free?
There is also a commitment to implement a new renewable energy consumption target of 90% renewables by 2020. Again this is a long way off, and it is not clear how much this will increase electricity bills for the ordinary consumer. Ongoing monitoring of progress to this goal will be required to show if the government is serious, and the impact on less well off households should be at the forefront of any action here.
There is a target of 40% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2020. Again there is a need for ongoing monitoring of progress, as with the aim to make government carbon neutral by 2020. There are no costs given for these commitments.
And for health? The perennial junk food advertising ban during kids television hours gets a run, hidden amongst bureaucratese about working with other jurisdictions to implement it. It is the Greens first health priority. Mental health will get an extra $35 million.
Now there is nothing wrong per se with many of the smaller elements of the agreement. The priorities seem misplaced – more local government than leading the nation. There is no grand vision – other than muttering about a sustainable and productive economy and weasel words about compassion.
Take housing and homelessness for example. The Rattenbury agreement commits Labor to finalising the CommonGround housing project business case. Wow, finalising a business case. What progress!
Meanwhile the 5000 or so homeless in the ACT will remain without board and lodgings as the occupancy rate in local hotels and motels sees about 5000 rooms per night unoccupied.
What about jobs? There is no mention of jobs in the main body of the agreement. Attachment 4, which is the ALP’s policies, merely mouth platitudes about supporting jobs growth in the private and public sectors through sound economic management, tax reform and implementing the business development strategy. Let’s vote for mum and apple pie too.
As with the previous agreement in 2008, we may well look back and say, well, yes? Is that it?
The ACT Greens had a chance to be bold and implement a grand vision for the Territory. Instead we got a milksop of an agreement which all but guarantees that the political isolation and decline of the Greens will continue over the next 4 years.