The Greens have the right and the duty (a “mandate” if you will) to use the numbers in which they were elected by Australian voters, to go hard on getting the climate policy outcomes they proposed.
The Greens have clearly annoyed a lot of people. Just in the past week, in Pearls and Irritations, John Menadue has asked “Will the Greens be smarter this time?”, while Noel Turnbull states that “there is one area in which the Greens are out in a class of their own – hubris.”.
As has been the case for 13 years now, the main complaint is the Greens’ refusal to support the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) in 2009. It has become part of Australian political lore that in this action the Greens put principle above pragmatism, and thus proved themselves unworthy of a role in government – possibly for eternity! Commentary on the topic regularly suggests that with this single act, the Greens – so often derided for their impotence – somehow brought about a decade of climate inaction in Australia. Yet Turnbull quotes Senator Christine Milne accurately when she explained that the proposed CPRS legislation would have locked in hopelessly weak emissions reduction targets, and would have guaranteed windfall compensation to fossil fuel companies, with even greater compensation should the emissions reduction targets have been lifted. The Greens proposed amendments to the legislation. The Rudd government refused to even meet, let alone negotiate. The Labor party machine saw the chance for a PR strike against their mortal enemy. And the rest is now (fake) history. How richly rewarded Labor has been for placing politics above principle!
In 2010, Adam Bandt, along with the independents Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, forced Julia Gillard to repudiate her unwise “no carbon tax” pre-election pledge and bring in a carbon tax. Australia’s emissions fell significantly during the period of the carbon tax – the only real emissions reduction success we have ever had (in contrast to the chimerical emissions reductions produced by land-use accounting sleight-of-hand). Good policy, with a good outcome, to which the Greens contributed.
Now, as the new parliament takes shape, the naysayers are already criticising the Greens for their anticipated unwillingness to compromise. Adam Bandt, as their leader, made it clear that they will indeed not compromise on their demand that Australia block all new fossil fuel projects. This apparently radical, “unreasonable” position aligns the Greens with the International Energy Agency, the secretary-general of the UN, the IPCC and virtually every climate science expert on the planet. Humanity is facing an existential crisis, and time is fast running out (see, for a fine summary of how serious things really are, a recent report by two Australian experts, Ian Dunlop and David Spratt, “Climate Dominoes” .
Do the Greens have a “mandate” to use their parliamentary numbers to push for strong climate action? In my opinion, they have the right and the duty (call it a “mandate” if you will) to use the numbers in which they were elected by Australian voters, to go as hard as they can to get the policy outcomes they proposed. This is what independent and minor party members and senators have always done; who can forget senator Brian Harradine, to name a particularly effective example?
If I were Adam Bandt, I would play very hard indeed, saying: “Mr Albanese, if you didn’t like what we did in 2009, just wait till you see what we can do this time”. And I would make it clear that other than supply bills, no legislation will be supported until Labor agrees to certain key Greens demands, beginning with the demand to block all new fossil fuel projects. It goes without saying – but it needs to be said nonetheless, to obviate the usual knee-jerk response – that this policy would be twinned with the Greens’ policy for a just transition for the relatively small number of Australian workers affected.
Are the Greens perfect? Of course not. Do they at times expend too much energy on relatively minor issues? The events of the past week confirm that. But which is the only group in Australia’s parliament with policies that stand a chance of saving us from climate annihilation? The Greens. It appears that the young people who will inherit our mess recognise this: of voters aged 18 to 25, 40% vote Green; whereas of voters aged over 65 (a quarter of the electorate) only 2% vote Green.
Labor, compromised by the backing of fossil fuel donors and lobbyists as well as mining unions, continues to claim that we can have both effective climate action and continuing fossil fuel extraction. We can’t. Only the Greens, hopefully with the support of the independents, can make that clear, and lead our parliament to bring about the strong, immediate action we so desperately need.