The Greens Unexpected Ancestors

By Allsop, Richard | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Greens Unexpected Ancestors

Allsop, Richard, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

When it comes to the Greens, everything old is new again explains, Richard Allsop

Everybody is labeling the Greens.

Most of the labels, with considerable justification, seek to highlight various origins on the political Left. However, there are also aspects of the Greens which clearly hold significant appeal to a certain segment of the moral middle class, a group which, particularly in Victoria, is often associated with the Deakinite tradition within Australian liberalism.

Recently, many Liberal politicians have been endeavouring to paint the Greens as red. For instance, Kevin Andrews wrote that the Greens should be labelled ?ecological Marxists'. A similar theme was expounded by The Australian's Greg Sheridan, who described how much of the Greens' ideology is ?built on a hatred of modern Western society and as such is the logical successor to the Communist Party, just as many Greens were former Communist activists or their progeny'.

More prosaically, former Victorian Labor Premier, John Brumby, keen to ensure that the Greens were held to the same standards of accountability as the major parties during the recent election campaign, never referred just to ?the Greens' but always used the longer label, ?the Greens political party'. Another who has avoided ?the Greens are simply red' description has been the IPA's own Chris Berg. He recently observed that the Greens do not often actually stand up to defend the more radical elements of their ideology, instead they pursue ?populist demagoguery, always seeking to outdo the other parties with bank bashing, or promises of big spending on any popular project.

However, as well as the justifiable claims of elements of Marxism and populism within the Greens make-up, there is another strand evident in how the Greens manifest themselves in the contemporary body politic. This one harks back over one hundred years to the last occasion when the Federal Parliament was not run on a two-party basis.

Since the fusion of the Free Trade and Protectionist parties in 1909, third parties have notoriously struggled to win seats in the House of Representatives. Of course, the Country Party has survived for ninety years but, in practice, it has more resembled a faction of the Nationalists, UAP, or Liberal Party rather than an independent party. Both the DLP and Australian Democrats had lengthy periods of influence in the Senate (the former's preferences on occasions such as 1961 also having a decisive influence on the result in the House), but neither ever broke through in the way Adam Bandt did on 21 August, adding general election triumph to the Greens' one instance of previous Federal by-election success.

Whether we are at the beginning of a new era where Green MHRs will become the norm, or whether Bandt is a one-off, remains to be seen. The new-found preparedness of the Victorian Liberals to preference Labor ahead of the Greens at state level makes the former look less inevitable than it did a few months ago. However, if the Greens do continue to prosper, the current parliament might be less like the last hung federal parliament of 1940-43 which concluded with a Labor electoral landslide, and more like the situation that prevailed from 1901 to 1909, when there was little prospect of majority government.

Alfred Deakin famously described politics in that first decade after Federation as being like a cricket match with three elevens in the field: largely unworkable. While history tends to make eventual outcomes seem the only logical ones, there was nothing inevitable about the ultimate resolution of those three post-Federation parties into the two that continued post-1909. Other permutations were possible and, at the very least, if fusion had occurred earlier in the decade, Free Trade would have had a stronger chance of being dominant, rather than dominated. Of course, the thinking inherited from Deakin and the Protectionists remained dominant in the various Liberal type parties for much of the twentieth century. …

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