Tag Archives: ALP

How Green was my ALP

I took the photo above in 1989.  The person addressing the ALP Green Network Conference on the left, is a youthful Lindsay Tanner. Before he became a member of Parliament.

Lindsay was instrumental in setting up the Green Network in the ALP.  The network consisted of  ALP members who were concerned about the environment and didn’t want to get involved in joining a faction or getting elected to policy committees.  It provided an opportunity for Rank and File members to lobby together the Party and its ministers on environmental matters.

And of course one of the reasons the very capable Lindsay Tanner started such a group was because he saw the mood changing even in 20 years ago.  As he wrote much later in 2010, when the Green horse had bolted:

”The Greens are harvesting growing support from a particular demographic that first emerged as a key part of Labor’s support base in the late 1960s”.

The rising Green vote was a product of increasing tertiary education, he said, with their support concentrated among ”tertiary disciplines that are focused on much more than just making money”.

”Unlike most Australians, these voters tend to be secure and comfortable enough to be able to put aside immediate self-interest when assessing their political options. Unfortunately for Labor, their viewpoint is increasingly at odds with the perspective of Labor voters who aren’t tertiary educated. On issues like asylum seekers, gay marriage, forests and civil liberties, such differences can often be stark. It’s these differences that the Greens seek to exploit.”

Because it was a network, and not a faction, it didn’t seek any position or participate in power plays, and as such it created a certain amount of unease amongst some ALP apparatchiks that couldn’t handle ordinary members organising themselves and pushing ideas outside the usual framework of conferences and numbers.  The members that started the Green Network were inspired by similar groups in grassroot movements like feminists, social justice and of course the environment, where people came together and worked together without much of a structure. No ‘president’ or ‘secretary’.  People just did stuff.

The Network started in Melbourne, and while some ALP members started similar groups in Sydney and Tasmania, it strength was principally in Victoria.  Those were the times of the Cain government and were heady days.  That government instituted landmark legislation  such as the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.  A concept pushed by Green Network member Philip Sutton.  And of course there were battles regarding the preservation of native old growth forests in East Gippsland.

The existence of the Green Network and the fact that there were enough members motivated to create it and work for environmental policy in the ALP, shows how different the Party and the political landscape was then.  I would suspect that most people interested in the environment now would not bother joining the ALP and work to push for environment policies, but would join the Greens.  And it is regrettable that many Greens now either are unaware or purposefully ignore the environmental gains of Labor Governments.

In time, as many groups that rely on volunteers to get going the Green Network whittled away.  I left the ALP in 2001.  Partly because of the feeling of a lot of rank and file members that we weren’t taken seriously and only seen as hand to vote card volunteers at election time.  Partly because I did feel that the ALP moved too much on the right (the fact that initially Beazley acquiesced on Tampa was a factor) but also because my life sort of moved on, and I wanted to do other things.  However, unlike may ex-ALP members I did not have that anger towards the Labor Party that some ex-members that moved to the Greens seems to have.  I recognised that the ALP, to go into government not does need to capture some voters who have views on issues such Asylum Seekers, or the environment which are very different from voters from Fitzroy or Balmain.

It also seemed to me that the Socialist Left, who was the left soul of the ALP,  has been absorbed the centrist/right Labor fold (after all Gillard was a leading member of the SL – I know as she was in the same branch I was).  And while at least some left voters saw people at least fighting for left ideas this doesn’t seems to be as prevalent these days.  As the Labor Party scrumbled for the so call ‘Western Sydney Battler’ vote, it has taken the inner suburban voter for granted and therefore left it open for the Greens to advance.

Greens and Labor – Any possibility of a win win situation?

As I write the Greens and Labor are in a bitter battle for the Victorian seat of Melbourne.  Some left people view this fighting with some alarm.  They fear that while the two centre-left/left parties of Australia fight amongst themselves, the attention will be diverted from the common enemy: The ‘Tea Party – USA Republican’ style party the Coalition has become.

It was suggested that Labor should form a lasting strategic alliance with the Greens in the same way that the Liberals have formed such an alliance with the National Party.  Personally I don’t ever see that happening.

A major section of the Green membership and support is from what I can call ‘pissed off ex-ALP supporters’ which are sometimes quite vitriolic about the ALP. If the Greens were ever going to go in coalition with Labor this group would feel even more betrayed.  On the other end of the spectrum the ALP Right would go into apoplexy at the prospect and internal tensions would make the Rudd  – Gillard relationship like a love fest in comparison.  I think that it is unrealistic.

Politicians are politicians, even Green ones.  Once you are placed in an electoral contest you have to compete. No prices for the nice guys.  However what about the supporters and the Rank and File?  Surveys and polls have shown that the values and beliefs of ALP and Green supporters are very close.  The Greens would benefit from an ALP that was dragged more towards the left and supported their policies, while a more energised left leaning membership ALP would re-establish some of the left soul the Socialist Left used to provide.

I would argue that instead of concentrating on structures and coalitions and going to a top approach I would start at the bottom.  Interested Green supporters/members and ALP supporters/members could create a network, not dissimilar from the Green Network of all those years ago.  Avoid politicians, advisors and tactical strategists.  Just people who are interested in progressive politics.  People who can work for a common purpose without compromising their allegiance to a party.  Take it from there and see what happens.

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Labor – Green skirmish. A view from inner suburban caffelatte land.

It started with Paul Howe’s article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.  It has now snowballed into a full media storm. The great ALP-Green skirmish.

It is an interesting viewpoint from where I sit (or live).  I live in Northcote, which is your typical lefty inner suburban Melbourne lefty suburb.  Working class, and with plenty of migrants up to twenty years ago, but now almost all gentrified with mainly anglo tertiary educated professional people.

And the microcosm of my suburb, and of my municipality (Darebin) and my Federal Division (Batman) says a lot about the changes and subsequent friction that is occurring between the ALP and the Greens.

Northcote was Labor as Labor can be.  It was one of the safest seats in Australia for the Australian Labor Party, which has held the seat for all but six years since 1910. However, at the 2010 election the Greens overtook the Liberals on preferences and came second against Labor, reducing the seat to a “fairly safe” Labor seat. Just look at the swing to the Greens in the last Federal election:

This was partly due to the wave of Green votes in the south of the electorate (where Northcote is located).  Northcote is very similar in its housing and population to suburbs such as Brunswick and Fitzroy which are recognised as areas with the highest Green vote in Australia.

But the swing to the Greens was not uniform and the next table tells the story:

In inner city Northcote the Greens are doing really well, outpolling the ALP, but back in the more brick veneer north, in Preston  where you still have plenty of migrants and fruit trees and tomatoes in the backyards the ALP still reigns supreme (and the failure of the Greens to capture these voters is why they won’t replace the ALP. But that’s another story).

Here we have the dilemma of the ALP in a nutshell.  In the south the tertiary educated progressive voter (which in many cases is also quite affluent) who is concerned by climate, refugees, same sex marriage etc. has left the ALP.  While in the north you have people who most likely feel that these are peripheral issues, and perhaps they see the ALP dealing with them as a irrelevancy as they are more concerned with things such as electricity prices and pensions.  Also I may speculate that while I can’t see areas like Preston moving anywhere near the Coalition, this may be a different story in other parts of Australia.

Drag0nista made a very interesting observation that those who seems to think that the ALP needs to win progressive voters back off the Greens to win, are mistaken. They need to win back disaffected Labor voters who are parked with the Libs or others/independents.

If Drag0nista is correct, right wing strategists of the ALP may have decided that it is better to gain votes by distancing themselves from the Greens in middle suburbia than retaining them in the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.  Perhaps they have decided that if inner seats become Green it is a price to pay if the ALP gets votes elsewhere.  Because the first thing I got from Howe’s article was that he really didn’t ‘get’ the inner suburban Green voter.

If Howe thinks that by thinking the way he does in that article he is going to reclaim the green voter in the inner suburb he’s seriously mistaken.  The Green voter in the inner suburb is a different type of voter that was encountered before.  They have had enough of the ALP chasing the so called ‘Western Sydney Battler’ vote and feel abandoned.  While I thought that the Greens are wrong in not giving the Malaysian solution at least a go for a limited amount of time, they are politically right in not wavering from their position.  Remember when the Democrats made a deal with the Coalition to introduce the GST?  Arguably the GST was better for their changes, but it did really hurt them electorally.  I think that for some voters not voting for either major parties, with their inevitable compromises and policy changes gives them some sort of moral superiority, any compromise would be seen as a betrayal.

There are also two main weaknesses in Howe’s argument.  One is that he may rant against the Greens, but he fails to ask why the Greens have arisen in the first place.  Why did people who voted ALP, or were even members decided to go for the Greens?  I think the ALP needs to ask that question.

The other is that while he mentions the DLP, and Lang etc. these were internal splits in the Party. The Greens arose from a grassroot movement and as such it is a very different phenomenon, and one that due to this may have much more momentum.

Personally I have voted ALP and Greens in different elections and I will continue to do so.  I like and dislike aspects of both parties, but as a NVL (Never Vote Liberal) person I don’t have a lot of other choices if I actually want to cast a vote.  I just hope that we won’t witness long decades of the ALP and the Greens squabbling while the Coalition is in government.

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