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Government didn’t walk away from the Greens, but Milne needed to ditch Labor

Greens leader Christine Milne’s announcement yesterday that the alliance between the Greens and Labor was over had more symbolic than practical implications for Australian politics. Senator Milne vowed…

Happier times: prime minister Julia Gillard and former Greens leader Bob Brown’s agreement has largely been upheld. Alan Porritt/AAP

Greens leader Christine Milne’s announcement yesterday that the alliance between the Greens and Labor was over had more symbolic than practical implications for Australian politics.

Senator Milne vowed the Greens would continue to support the government’s supply bills and vote against no confidence motions in parliament. These two safeguards are crucial in the Westminster system and mean that Labor will continue to remain on the government benches until the election later this year.

The original agreement between the Greens and Labor came into effect just after the 2010 election which resulted in a hung parliament. In a public ceremony, prime minister Julia Gillard and then leader of the Greens Bob Brown signed a deal that gave Labor the edge to form a minority government.

In the five-page agreement, several issues were stated as being of great importance to the Greens in giving their support to Labor. While Milne may say the government has now “walked away” from this pact, a review of the big ticket items it contained shows Labor appears to have largely held its end of the bargain.

Principles

The 2010 agreement states “policies which address climate change” should be pursued by both parties as a priority during Labor’s time in government.

Despite the electoral backlash, fuelled effectively by the opposition’s campaign, the Gillard government upheld this accord by implementing the carbon tax in 2012.

The political consequences have been great. Labor’s popularity slumped and questions about prime minister Gillard’s trustworthiness became a potent weapon for the opposition.

Milne may say, “the Labor government is no longer honouring our agreement … to address climate change”, but in the end Labor delivered on its promise to the Greens at great political cost.

Goals

A variety of suggested improvements to Australia’s political operations were set out in the “Goals” section of the agreement. These included establishing a Leaders’ Debate Commission which the government has taken steps to do.

It also sought to hold a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition in the constitution. This will not be achieved in full before September 14, but last week the House of Representatives passed an Act of Recognition that committed to a referendum.

Another goal was for the parliament to serve its full term. The prime minister has moved to ensure this by naming September 14 as election day.

Proposed reforms to electoral funding have Labor backing and are currently before the Senate.

Integrity of parliament

Tapping into community concerns about parliamentary accountability, the agreement between Labor and the Greens sought to improve the operation of parliament.

As set out in the agreement, the much discussed Parliamentary Budget Office has been created in time to cost the parties’ election promises.

Policy

Of course, the cornerstone of the deal between the Greens and Labor rested on four core policies. First, that Australia tackle climate change. Second, that greater investments in dental care be made. Third, that high speed rail be implemented by 2011; and finally that parliament debated the war in Afghanistan.

In these areas the government gets ticks in three out of four policy areas. Labor did introduce the carbon tax and it did commit to a Denticare scheme. Parliament debated the war in Afghanistan in 2010, though perhaps not as comprehensively as the Greens would have liked.

Only high speed rail remains an unrealised goal.

The real story

On balance, it looks as though the Greens were the party that benefited most from the agreement. The party used its position of holding the balance of power to directly influence government policy. This was a remarkable achievement by a minor party in the Australian political system.

So what’s the real problem? Put simply, it was too dangerous for the Greens to be too closely associated with Labor.

Yesterday’s announcement, therefore, is significant for a number of reasons. It marks the beginning of the Greens’ 2013 campaign and shows Milne clearly trying to reaffirm the party’s traditional credentials.

By lambasting Labor’s decision to allow mining in the Tasmanian Tarkine wilderness, Milne highlights her party’s concern about conservation. By attacking the decision to reduce payments to single mothers, Milne seeks to remind voters of her party’s tradition of humanitarian welfare policies. Her concerns about “big miners” and fossil fuel exports serve to underline the Greens’ core of progressive policies.

None of these issues rated a mention in the 2010 agreement, but Milne has used them as reasons to walk away from it.

This is Milne’s first major tactical decision since Bob Brown’s retirement in 2012. With the election in seven months likely to produce a majority government, she has set the pathway for her party as an independent entity with a clear policy agenda.

In recent opinion polls, the Greens appear to have reached a plateau of support. By distancing themselves from Labor, the party hopes to reinvigorate its status as the “third force” and remain a player in the Australian political landscape.

If Milne has to blame Labor for a dumped agreement to achieve this, so be it.

Join the conversation

38 Comments sorted by

  1. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    On explaining why he could no longer associate with the Communist regime after World War 2, Polish poet and philosopher Czeslaw Milosz wrote ' A man may persuade himself by the most logical reasoning that he will greatly benefit his health by swallowing live frogs; and thus rationally convinced, he may swallow a first frog, then a second, but at the third his stomach will revolt.'

    The Tarkine decision was the third frog.

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  2. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    Good piece Zareh.

    The Greens need to be far more distant and critical of the Government in the lead up to the election and this was a necessary - if symbolic - step.

    And next time we have a minority government - and I'd still be putting an each way bet on that - they will have some concrete demands in exchange for their support rather than a commitment to process and chat. Toughen up.

    Thanks for not mentioning opinion polls. Or Milne's hairstyle. Or delving into the swamp that passes for analysis in the Press Gallery of late. Nice to see some politics turning up.

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  3. Jeremy Samuel

    Consultant

    Seems a lot like rats and a sinking ship. Let's face it, Green votes break about 75% to the ALP on second preference. Both of them see more tax and more regulation as the solution to pretty much every problem. The Greens are more like the far left of the ALP than a separate entity and this alliance has been bad for both parties - Labor had to sell what was left of its soul and the Greens actually had to be accountable for the effects of putting far-left policy into law. Pox on both of their houses.

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    1. Liam J

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Jeremy Samuel

      Nonsense, how is winding back fossil fuel subsidies a 'far left' policy? Greens are motivated by a fundamentally different world view to both Left & Right, both of which are ecologically illiterate. They could get away with that so long as they was some new terra nullius to clearfell, but no longer. The Lib-Lab conflict is now only in how this years humans should divide the spoils amongst themselves, Greens have noticed that there are perils in consuming ones lifesupport system.

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    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Jeremy Samuel

      Irrespective of how execrable a second preference may be, voters are obliged to cast a second preference.

      That said, observation of election results in other nations is evidence enough that compulsory preferential voting is superior to any and all other arrangements.

      ""Labor had to sell what was left of its soul" - not really, Mr Samuel. NSW ICAC revelations show that ALP has had its sold sold for it by its internal leaders.

      It's not that the Greens are ALP's far Left - my jerking knees could develop a better analysis than that - more that the Greens are the only Party that try to think beyond the current political cycle.

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  4. paul magnus

    logged in via Twitter

    I am afraid your wrong Zareh.

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    1. Slunggo

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to paul magnus

      I am afraid you're as good at writing as you're at thinking your own thoughts Paul.
      Yours sincerely.

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  5. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Careful analysis of the actual agreement between the Greens and the PM as compared with the many points of difference between Greens and Labor which have played out on the floor of parliament and in public statements ( (support for "marriage equality" compared with allowing conscience vote, asylum seeker policy , faults in carbon package etc).. Most legislation that passed the Parliament did so with Greens support despite not being in the "agreement" and despite not having 100% Greens approval…

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    1. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to wilma western

      Why would anyone want to be associated with a party that is now worse on humanitarian issues than Howard?

      No investigation here on the truth behind the Iraqi invasion but the US and Brits are doing shows proving the lies.

      Babies here are now potentially jailed for life because the fact is both major parties have zero interest in human rights or the law.

      Gillards continued focus on pathetic little jobs while destroying the nations environment shows she is an immature coward happy to jail babies, happy to break the law, happy to destroy the environment and happy to reward the big miners and polluters for destroying the water, air and soils in this country to appease foreign mining interests.

      As for the political spin, I am sick to death of every man and his dog whining about political spin and refusing to address the issues.

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    2. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Marilyn, detention is NOT jail. Those whom you constantly misrepresent as being jailed have the choice to return, safely to where they came from. That is not imprisonment, it is choice.

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  6. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    Excellant article, thank you for positng

    Can we suggest you replace Michelle Grattan as Political Editor

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  7. Terry Mills

    lawyer retired

    I think you're right. this is the 'sinking ship" syndrome and it's all hands to the lifeboats.

    To survive, the Greens must distinguish themselves from Labor who it seems will be trounced at the election no matter what they do. Even so I believe the Greens will lose their only Reps seat and they could lose the balance in the Senate too ; Hanson-Young is up for re-election and that is most unlikely.

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  8. Nick Osbaldiston

    Lecturer in Sociology at Federation University Australia

    Nice read - though I suspect that the Greens re-distancing themselves as a legitimate third party option won't yield too much swing in their current direction. It seems to me that they've hit a ceiling after their infamous quote S H-Y 'Green Slide'.

    The problem is that they'll only now ever mobilise one section of the electorate and I dare to predict not enough to warrant the sort of numbers we saw last time.

    It'd be nice to see a non-ideologically based party in the legitimate third party option....I dunno like that party we once had, I think they were called the Democrats or something?

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Nick Osbaldiston

      Geez - a non-ideological party ... I wonder how long that would last ... like something at CERN I'd reckon.

      Arguably any party requires - implies - necessitates - an ideology Nick - some sort of shared world view and ethical/moral framework for making decisions and co-operating. Or what is it?

      Even an individual MP has an ideology ... and that is why they are there in parliament ... their ideas, and the sense of consistency or trust that folks attach to them and the way they will see things…

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  9. Tony Grant

    Student

    I enjoyed many of the contributions so far.

    Some points:

    No Bob Brown. In my electorate of "Dobell" the Greens lost their only seat in the council elections in September 2012. I'm not doing a check but it fell below 5/6%. Labor picked up the seat and increased its actual numbers from the previous election ...Green plus some traditional votes coming back (heartland northern end of the Wyong council). Informal and those not voting was approx 50% +/_ locally that can be blamed on the seven Liberals…

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  10. Andrew Kennedy

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    In the policy section you mention:

    > Third, that high speed rail be implemented by 2011

    Note this is actually just an implementation study:

    > c) That an implementation study for High Speed Rail should be completed by July 2011.

    They actually launched the Phase One study on 04 Aug 2011 so I assume the Greens had the report by their July deadline:

    http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/rail/trains/high_speed/index.aspx

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  11. ernest malley

    farmer

    An assertion that the Greens are the left wing of the ALP is moot in that the latter has moved so far from the left. Nature abhors a vacuum so clearly those voters marooned, high & dry by the perfidy of the pusillanimous poltroons pretending to be parliamentarians, need a Party that reflects their beliefs.
    It is a constant mystery to me why minority coalition government (not of the Right) is an affront to Nature but a crowning glory when full on Tory.

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  12. Ronald Ostrowski

    logged in via Facebook

    A rational and unemmotive piece giving the matter at hand the benefits of thoughtful research. Zareh, you are hired! Michele Grattan, you are fired!

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  13. John Davidson

    Retired engineer

    It is a win-win. Labor was being attacked for being dominated by the Greens, the Greens were being attacked for being being part of a Labor alliance.
    The split makes it easier for Labor to regain support from traditional voters who are scared of having their jobs sacrificed in the pursuit of Green issues.
    It also makes it easier for the Greens to appeal to conservative voters who don't support Tea Party Tony but not enough to vote Labor. Particularly important if the Greens are going to grow their Senate support.

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    1. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to John Davidson

      What complete tosh, just when did the Greens attack jobs? Why do so many lies get allowed when the fact is the Greens think different and better and more sustainable jobs can be done.

      We don't need all this mining, digging up and destroying everything around us for short term gains.

      What about future generations who won't have anything at all.

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  14. Martin Male

    logged in via Facebook

    I see no reason for the Greens to stay with this toxic agreement. I agree with John previous post , way too many frogs had to be swallowed. The so called super profit tax is one example of this, I would love to sit down with e government to create a new taxing system. What a surprise that there has been little income from this!! The allowance of mining in the Tarkine was yet another. This government has not honoured it agreement ". I fail to see where it has done so. None of the so called achievements…

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  15. Stephen Tuck`

    logged in via Twitter

    Thank you for the article Zareh
    I think in this minority parliament the Greens have shown how totally ineffective they are. They are a party that is not capable of governing. The Greens have shown in many instances their lack of ability to reach any compromise. Compromise is part of a minority government.
    The politics presented by the Greens has predominately been one of look at me, instead of what is best for Australia at the time. Greens have great ideals, many that I support, but no real solutions in this parliament. The September elections will definitely show Australia's opinion.

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    1. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Stephen Tuck`

      Yôu need to back that ridiculous claim up with facts mate. This is not a forum where any old lie can be told without facts.

      And what politics by the Greens say look at me?

      Why are conservative racists in Australia so terrified of saving the environment, not going to illegal wars, not jailing babies, not punishing single parents and so on?

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    2. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      'Conservative racists' is a stereotype that you are using to characterise those of a right wing political view. It is presumptuous, digusting and incredibly lacking in intelligence. Please desist.

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    3. George Takacs

      Physicist

      In reply to Stephen Tuck`

      Stephen,

      Well let us just hope that the outcome of the September elections is determined by people looking at the facts for themselves, and forming their own opinions, instead of relying on the opinions of some shock jock, or tabloid journalist.

      Really, I have to echo Marilyn Shepherd's question, on what facts do you base that statement? From my perspective this minority government has lead to a more considered discussion of policy, resulting in government proposals being improved after Greens and independents have negotiated amendments. The Greens have shown a much greater ability to compromise than have the opposition.

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    4. Martin Male

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      A conservative is from the right ! I consider the term conservative racists descriptive as is left wing wingers or other terms. I see this is directly related to Ernest Malleys' earlier comment.
      There have been many minority/coalition governments in Australian history , yet this one has the most histrionics associated with it. The bottom line is that the Labor party and the Greens upset the conservative majority press by creating a government. The opposition is in fact a coalition/minority government…

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    5. Rosie Hayes

      Retired

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip: Who are you to tell anyone on this Forum to desist with their beliefs? Your comment is extremely rude.

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    6. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Rosie Hayes

      Rosie, you get used to John after a while - this is really the only gear he has.

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  16. Peter Evans

    Retired

    Many have commented that the decision to announce the election date was another example of bad judgement. I suspect it has achieved one of its objectives: to sort out the trash early. By this I mean get the inevitable resignations and announcements like this out of the way. Imagine the distraction if such events occurred only a few weeks from the actual election? Now they have happened and approaches to the campaign can be adjusted to take them into account. This would be another less tangible benefit of fixed term elections.

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  17. Lurline McCulloch

    logged in via Twitter

    I take strong issue with your use of the term Carbon TAX. There is no Carbon "TAX". There is a Carbon "Price". You mention the P.M. being considered "untrustworthy" because of the "tax". The P.M. clearly stated - before the election - that she would bring in a Carbon PRICE. I have videos of her making that statement.
    In not pointing out the difference you perpetuate Tony Abbott's lie of quoting HALF her sentence & not the full quote " . . but there WILL be a Price."
    Otherwise a good article.

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    1. Coralie Naumann

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lurline McCulloch

      Thanks Lurline for saying what I immediately thought. Tony Abbott's toxic use of the term "carbon tax" has spread like a virus and I don't understand why seemingly intelligent people use the term.

      If you are fined for speeding is that a tax or is it the price you pay for doing something you have been asked not to do? Please people pay attention to wording, it is extremely important when making political statements.

      @cornaum on Twitter

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    2. Martin Male

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lurline McCulloch

      I agree with Lurline I fine it appalling journalism that the term Carbon Tax is perpetuated by the media members. It is a carbon price( as ineffective and paltry as it is) their is no tax

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  18. John C Smith

    Auditor

    Now the part of the lead of Australia had divorced itself from that lead leaving the independents to lead the oldies to poker machines the real labour leaders are out challenging the faceles and leaking rats to come out.

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