Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Morning Musings - the Greens

Today Victoria goes to the polls. I haven't commented on the Victorian elections because I really haven't had anything to say that was new.

The late polls suggest a decline in Labor support that appears to be strongest in Melbourne, with many tipping another hung Parliament. I really have no idea.

Like many, I am watching the Green vote with interest.

The decision by the Victorian opposition to preference Labor in front of the Greens makes it harder for the Greens to gain lower house seats because they need a higher primary vote. Then, as Geoff Robinson pointed out in Does the Sex Party threaten the Greens?, the decision of this very much minority party to preference Labor in front of the Greens in the Legislative Assembly further complicates matters.

I hadn't really focused on the Sex Party. Sure, I know what it is and where it comes from. But I have always thought of it as a pressure group rather than a party. Still, in a very tight election 2% of the vote can be important.

I grew up in a third party world: third party in political terms (my grandfather was a long serving Country Party Parliamentarian), but also third party in regional terms in that the region I came from stood somewhat outside the majority streams. I was going to say mainstream, but mainstream carries a different connotation to majority stream.

As a piece of historical trivia, I was interested to discover recently that Earl Page's office as leader of the Country Party as well as Treasurer and Deputy PM actually carried the title "Office of the Leader of the Third Party", a title going back to Alfred Deakin.

In an April post, Saturday Morning Musings - Country Party lessons for the Greens, I explained in a little detail why I thought that the Country Party and its history was relevant to the Greens as a third party. Since then, the dynamics have, I think, continued to work in a way consistent with the analysis I outlined.

I find the Greens quite fascinating to watch, although I am not a Green supporter. There are my friends and people that I meet on a daily basis. Then, within the small blogging community that I follow, Paul Barratt seems to have become a Green. Paul is more left of centre than I, but he comes from the same region, is a also a supporter of the old Country Party and of many of the same cause.

Another Green supporter is Peter Firminger. Peter was, I think, attracted to the Greens on environmental grounds. He campaigns on environmental issues, but also works as a community activist to build community, combining on-line with direct participation. He and I work together quite closely on common causes.

A third case is North Coast Voices.

This blog was founded over three years ago as a collective regional Northern Rivers left of centre blog. In this role, it is (I think) still unique in Australia. When it began, I thought of it as a Labor blog, and certainly it supports the ALP on certain issues. However, it also campaigns on Green and community issues.

There is an ideological hard edge to NCV. Regardless of whether or not it is a Green, ALP or left of centre independent blog, it does capture one stream in the Greens, one that locks the Greens in when it comes to considering political alliances. It's equivalent in the old Country Party is the conservative stream in the Graziers Association that placed defeat of Labor and the socialist menace as the central cause.

The community activist element in the Greens is both a matter of policy and a belief.

All parties use community activism and involvement as a device to gather support. When I was involved in re-establishing the Country Party in Eden Monaro, I quite consciously used identification with local issues as a device for building support. I wanted to get across the message, this is your party.

Now here a funny thing happened. Those local issues, those community causes, became very important to me in a personal sense. Now I had to balance community and party issues.

Let me give an example from the Labor side.

I had a work colleague whom I greatly like and respect. A strong Labor person, I suspect that she became involved in local government as a political career path. As a strong Labor person, she worked to try to maintain Labor control of her council. Yet, in her role as a local government person committed to her council and the broader regional grouping of councils, committed to addressing the needs of an area that she thought was being neglected, she had to attack elements of state government policy.

So what did she do? She spoke out out. Obviously she did not try to damage the ALP. Her words were tempered. Still, when push came to shove, she spoke out for the needs of her region.

Community including political activists tend to know each other across the various divides; after all, they are involved in similar activities. This builds a measure of common understanding. To take North Coast Voices as an example, I may disagree with some of their views, but I respect their position. On a quick blog link check, 9 out of 30 of the most recent links to NCV came from me.

There is one community activist type distrusted by most other community activists, the careerist. This is the type of person whose sole focus is on the use of community activism including especially local government as a device for advancing their political careers. This has become far more important with the increased role of party politics in local government and with the professionalisation of politics.

These people speak for party or for themselves, not for community. If they speak on behalf of the community, it is in a purely professional sense.

I may seem to have meandered, but this is my Saturday Morning Musings!

When the Country Party was first formed, it actually captured, and especially in Northern NSW, the concerns of a whole range of industry and community activists that had not been properly represented previously. The result was a period of considerable policy innovation.

I do wonder if the Greens can do the same.

In an odd but strangely satisfying way, the so-called new paradigm in Federal politics captures the New England tradition represented by the New England independents with the emerging Greens.

Do the Greens really have the political freedom to develop new positions, or will they become locked in as happened to the Country Party, an adjunct of one of the other parties?


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

A perfect Aussie day: Ashes cricket, followed by an election broadcast! Nothing really deadly vital in either, but always quite diverting.

Was down in the village (pop. 3-400 although I think the Valley claims about 1300 all up) for breakfast and a coffee and chanced to pick up the two local agents' For Sale blurbs. 53 properties for $53M - although removing the "outriders" brings it back to 43 properties for $42M

Maybe I was wrong to be so annoyed with the Chartered Accountants for steadfastly referring to the GFC as the "Global Economic Downturn"?

Hope your day goes well.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi KVD. The day was nice and the cricketinteresting. Not sure how to interpret the real estate, tho. It's either a boom or a crash!