Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Is Fremantle a Sign of Things to Come?

On Saturday the 16th of May the Australian Greens made history by winning their first lower house seat in any state or territory parliament (after winning the federal seat of Cunningham in 2002) and by winning the primary vote in an election for the first time ever. The Greens won the seat of Fremantle by outpolling the Labor Party by a 45-38% margin on primary votes and won the seat by 54-46% after preferences were distributed, sending Adele Carles into the Western Australian legislative assembly. With this victory under their belt the Greens are now turning their focus onto federal lower house seats, arguing that if the current trend continues federal seats such as Melbourne, Sydney, Grayndler and Fremantle will soon fall into Green hands. This is being followed by a number of analysts and political commentators who are now questioning whether the Greens have the ability to permanently break up the two party system in Australia.

Third parties in Australia have a history of falling. The Democrats, arguably the most influential third party in Australia’s history, collapsed dramatically in the last two federal elections raising serious questions about whether the two party system will ever be broken in Australia. Whilst theories around why the Democrats collapsed as they did are still debated, there is no doubt that their collapsed has raised serious questions about the ability of a third party to survive in the Australian system. However, the continued growth of the Greens since Bob Brown was first elected in 1996 and the extremely strong showings of the party since the 2007 election, in which they recorded over 1 million votes, are placing the Greens in a position to break down the two party system in Australia. Whilst many may be sceptical of the ability of the Greens or any other party to break down this systems the Greens are in an extremely unique position with many positive aspects that favour the possibilities of them to do so.    

There are five key factors behind why I believe the Greens will continue to grow in the future:

  1. Having a Strong Base: Unlike the Democrats who had no real natural base (being focused on those who were dissatisfied with the major parties), the Greens have a strong base, not only with the environmental movement but with the left as a whole. Whilst the Greens obviously began as a party based around the environment movement, a mix of hard work by Greens MPs on other issues as well as the general rightward shift in Australian politics (see below) has allowed the Greens to take the mantle of the only true ‘left’ party in the country. This gives the Greens a very strong base that continues to grow as the party continues to convince those in the left that they are not just about the environment. This ensures that as long as the Greens stat true to their ideals that they will have a continued base of support that will ensure continued parliamentary representation.  
  2. The Continued Rightward Trend of the ALP: Second to this, the Greens are also benefiting from the continued rightward shift of the ALP. There is no doubt that the ALP is upsetting many of those on the left who have traditionally voted for them as they continue to pursue or refuse to reverse many of the right wing policies introduced by the Liberal Party. The Greens are benefiting from this as they are being seen as the only real ‘left’ wing alternative. Whilst some may claim that this is just a sign of a ‘protest vote’ against the ALP that will eventually collapse,  it seems very unlikely that the ALP will return to its left wing beginnings any time soon, meaning that this ‘protest vote’ is likely to continue to solidify.
  3. A Desire to Govern: Unlike the Democrats, who biggest focus was on ‘keeping the bastards honest’, the Greens have a focus on creating a party that is strong enough to govern, not just to be in the balance of power. This is important as it puts the Greens in a position where they are seen to be more proactive in their role in parliament rather than being reactive to the major parties. This proactive nature of the party tends to create greater support within the public over the reactive nature that occurs when one is focused on balance of power situations.
  4. Having a Large and Extremely Democratic Membership: Somewhat unlike the Democrats, the Greens have a very large and democratic membership. The parties’ membership currently sits around 10,000 and is growing. This is important as it provides the party both a strong contingent to work and campaign for the party, as well as a large number of people who can be trained and recruited to run for office.
  5. Having Strong Roots in Local Government: In all states across Australia the Greens have strong roots and have campaigned hard for local government positions and hold many of these positions, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. Fighting for these positions has been a very important tactical move by the Greens for two reasons. Firstly, it has provided much needed training for Greens members in governance, which provides great opportunities for such members to advance to state and federal government. A large number of candidates in past elections have come from the local level and I suspect this trend will continue in the future. Secondly, having members in local councils provide members of the public a real and local experience with Greens politicians. This is important as it allows the scepticism some have of the Greens to be dashed when they see the real benefits provided by having Greens in Government.  

 These five factors put the Greens in a very good position to break down the two party system in Australia and continue to grow as a party in local, state and federal parliaments. The Greens are surging and unless major unforeseen circumstances occur in the future it seems very unlikely that this surge will end any time soon, leaving the party in a position to create real influence in all levels of parliament and grow to become the most influential third party Australia has seen.

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May 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Democracy and the State, Monitering the Left | , , , , , | 14 Comments

Will A Double Dissolution Make a Better Climate Deal?

With the Australian Government yesterday announcing a range of changes to its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, including delaying the scheme for one year, setting a fixed price (a bargain of $10) for each tonne of carbon for the first year and increasing the possible reductions target to 25% if there is a strong deal in Copenhagen, the questions now on everybody’s lips are (a) will the Senate pass the legislation and (b) if not will the Government use this issue to force a double dissolution?

In this post I am going to briefly have a look at these two questions, making the conclusion that a double dissolution is very possible and am then going to have a look at what I think a double dissolution may do to the climate legislation in the future and my hopes for a stronger deal. Firstly however, I would like to state that I write this piece under the belief that there are serious problems with the Governments CPRS. Whether it be the extremely low target (only 5% committed), the very low initial price of carbon (which makes reducing carbon emissions very difficult) or the fact that permits will be given out for free (which experience from Europe has shown creates huge problems with the eventual pricing of carbon and therefore the reduction efforts) this scheme is fundamentally flawed and in my opinion requires a complete revamp. However, this post is not about that, but is about how I see the scheme may progress in the future and the possibilities that are available to make this scheme stronger.

Where to from here?

The basic lay of the land for the CPRS looks somewhat like this. In an upcoming sitting session (probably around midyear) the ALP look likely to introduce the legislation behind the CPRS into Parliament. The legislation will easily pass the House of Representatives, but looks almost certain to fail in the Senate. The problems here are that the Greens are pushing for a much stronger and more aggressive scheme, the Coalition is still looking to weaken it and the two independents are both opposing it (I think they both want the scheme weakened). In a nut shell, apart from the ALP there is no one who supports the scheme, meaning it is in big trouble.  

The only way I perceive that it could pass in the next sitting session would be if the ALP managed to cut a deal with the Liberals (as to cut a deal with the minor parties would mean dealing with people who both want a stronger scheme and people who want a weaker scheme, creating inherent problems). However, I cannot see this happening. This is because both the ALP and the Liberal Party have become extremely stubborn on this issue since it was introduced in December, meaning a back down now by either would be perceived as a sign of weakness.

A Double Dissolution Then?

It seems logical therefore to state that this legislation will fail in the Senate and with this comes the possibility of a double dissolution. I agree with Bob Brown in saying that I think the Rudd Government would be quite happy to use this legislation as a double dissolution trigger for the following reasons:

  • They know that the wider community wants at least some form of action on climate change, even with the global financial crisis.
  • They know that the Liberal Party still have a very unformulated and unpopular policy on climate change, which would make it very difficult for them to fight an election on the issue.
  • They would be more than happy to create a situation where it can push out the two independents from having any role in the future Senate.

However, with these positives comes the strong evidence (as shown with WA, NT and QLD in the pass year) that the voting public tend not to like early elections and are more than happy to punish a Government for going to the polls early, an issue that may push the ALP away from going to a double dissolution.

 What Would this Mean for the Legislation?

The good thing about the possibility of a double dissolution is that the most likely outcome it will bring will be the possibility of a stronger CPRS. The reasons for this are pretty simple. Firstly, if a double dissolution occurs I do not see any possibility of a Coalition victory (given their still extremely low polling all around the country), giving the ALP the mandate to continue to push the legislation. Second, are the important changes this will bring to the Senate. As predicted by Ben Raue, the likely results of a double dissolution would be the Greens taking full control of the balance of power of the Senate (with 8-9) seats, allowing them to create a majority with the ALP.  For the CPRS this creates three possibilities:

  1. The Government presents the legislation again in its current form and the Liberal Party accepts it based on the idea of it being the mandate of the ALP to pass it as it is.
  2. The Government presents the legislation again, but the Liberals stay determined to vote against it, forcing the Government to cut a deal with the Greens.
  3. Deciding that they want to see the Coalition continue to vote against any climate action the Government cuts an early deal with the Greens to strengthen the deal and introduces new legislation that the Coalition opposes.

Although this still provides the opportunity for the current legislation to be passed as is, this option at least gives a greater opportunity for a stronger CPRS, something that I think is almost impossible in the current Senate. However, this does not only have to come with a double dissolution. Most predictions will tell you that they same sort of shape for the Senate will occur even if it is just a regular half Senate vote, meaning that this sort of situation could also occur if the Government decides against using the CPRS as a double dissolution trigger.  

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fighting for Paid Parental Leave

In developing news in Australia, the Greens are to introduce legislation into the Senate to set up a Government funded paid parental leave. In an e-mail to supporters, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote:

Women in United Kingdom and Japan have it. Women in Estonia, Sweden, Canada and France have it. But women in Australia still don’t have access to a government-funded paid parental leave scheme. 

We’re closer than ever to getting a paid parental leave scheme. Eighty-two percent of Australians support it. The Productivity Commission says it will be good for women, good for babies and good for the economy. Even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says it’s time to ‘bite the bullet’ on paid parental leave, but he still hasn’t made a commitment. 

Today I announced that the Greens are taking action on this important issue. I will be introducing a Bill for a government-funded, 26-week paid parental leave scheme – and we need your support to make it law. 

This announcement comes after a long campaign from the union and women’s’ movement to have paid parental leave written into law and is important as it will force the Government to show its hand on whether or not it supports a Government funded paid parental leave. After the election the Rudd Government seemed almost certain that it would adopt a paid parental leave scheme, but after it was not put into the May budget in 2008 and with statements that have seen the Government wavering in its support (apparently due to the Global Financial Crisis), it is now unclear as to whether we will see paid parental leave introduced in 2009.

Why should we be fighting for paid parental leave?

Paid parental leave is an essential component to any industrial relations scheme that has any desire to see the gap between the earnings and opportunities between women and men be bridged. Reports now show that women in Australia potentially earn 1 million dollars less over their lifetime than men. Whilst these figures are due to a mix of reasons (including the continued sexism within the workforce) the issue of childbearing and the sexism that continues to result from this issue is still a major problem. By introducing a paid parental scheme the Government goes someway to reducing this problem. It gives women better opportunities within the workforce and ensures that having a child does not stop women from being able to continue along their desired career path.

The Importance of it being Paid Parental Leave

One of the most important factors of this legislation (and the proposals that I suspect will eventually come from Labor) is that it moves away from paid maternity leave and discusses paid parental leave. Whilst we are never going to change the fact that women will be the ones who are required to be the child bearers, society is now finally questioning the idea that women should be sole person who is responsible for raising a child. By discussing this as paid parental leave rather than paid maternity leave and by giving men the opportunity to access this service to raise children we ensure that we do not revert back wholly to a situation where women are seen as the only ones who should be responsible for raising a child. This creates a fairer system where the parents have the opportunity to discuss and decide on their own how responsibilities should be split, rather than being told that it is the woman’s job to raise the child.

Second to this, introducing paid paternal leave over paid maternal leave creates a fair system for those who don’t fit into the heteronormative ideals of how families should work. By introducing paid paternal leave over paid maternal leave we ensure that those LGBTI couples who have children and those who adopt children are all given the opportunity to ensure that they can be at home to look after their children in their early stages, whilst not being punished in the workforce. 

It is great to see that we are now seeing more and more action on this issue in Australia and I look forward to this legislation or something similar becoming law in the near future. I call on the Government to adopt this legislation in the next budget and take the next step in ensuring that discrimination within the workforce for women and parents is finally put to an end. 

 

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | , , | Leave a comment

Where is the Left At? – Australia

As part of this blog I am aiming to provide some analysis of the left wing movement and some monitoring on how the left is progressing as a movement. Although I undoubtedly will be unable to cover all aspects of the left around the world, I think this will provide some information as well as topics for debate about the left. In order to start this discussion I will be providing some brief overviews of where the left is situated in different parts of the world (starting with Australia, the US and Europe and then moving to other parts as I read and learn more). I will aim to discuss both the left as legislators as well as the left as ‘movers’ in societies and will discuss what I consider to be the main areas of movement in each place. I will this discussion by looking at Australia.

Legislative

After the election of the Kevin Rudd lead Labor Government in 2007 the left is finding itself in a difficult position. Although the policies of the Labor Party are better than those of the previous government, the party is certainly living up to its standards of being more right wing in government than in opposition and are simply not providing many of the sweeping changes demanded by the left in the country. This is leaving the left movement in a difficult situation where it must decide whether it continues to fight for a left wing agenda within the Labor Party or to turn to a different alternative. At the present time those who are arguing for a shift to a new alternative are pointing to the Greens as the possible answer. The arguments behind these two different movements are relatively simple:

Sticking with Labor: Those who advocate sticking with Labor argue that at the current time we are not likely to see any other party become strong enough to win government in Australia and we therefore must place all out efforts into turning the Labor Party into a true left party. Advocates of this movement argue for left wingers to join the party and fight within it to shift it away from the right.

Shifting to the Greens: Those who advocate for a shift towards the Greens argue that the fight to turn Labor into a real left wing party has been going on for a long time with no results. We therefore, it is argued, must look towards a different alternative. With a growing base the Greens are gaining influence all around the country (sitting in every legislature except QLD and NT) and seem like they will continue to grow in the future. It is argued therefore that the Greens do provide a real alternative for the left that could easily gain much more influence with more support, eliminating the need for the left to deal with the Labor Party.

A Middle Ground?

Although I am a member of the Greens I actually advocate somewhat of a middle ground on this issue at the moment. Although I believe we are never going to see the Labor Party turn into a proper left wing party based around the Labor movement and therefore see the need for an alternative, I also believe we need to continue to fight for more left wing policies within the Labor Party, especially given that it is in Government at the moment. It is here that I see the importance of movements such as GetUp in exercising their ability to influence both public thought and the Government to at least rethink some of their right wing policies. Ensuring this pressure continues also helps the growth of the left in general as well as the Greens as it adds to the general acceptance of the left by the public, who then become more inclined to vote for left candidates.

Outside the Parliament

Of course the left wing movement isn’t just based around parliament house and there is a huge amount of other areas where the left is having an important influence. Whether it be through student politics, unions or local climate groups people on the left are actively participating in the political world to affect the change we need. I think we can see the left do this through two different ways:

1.       Broad Umbrella Groups: The biggest of these is obviously GetUp, who is fighting in my opinion on a broad left wing agenda on a range of different issues. GetUp is doing this mostly and very skilfully through the internet, which is creating great opportunities for the left movement.

2.       Issue Based Groups: Whether it be the environment movement, the union movement, the women’s movement or a large number of other movements around Australia a large percentage of those involved in the left are active in particular issue based groups (this obviously happens on the right as well). Many of these groups are growing in Australia (we are now seeing positive growth in unions, growth in climate movements etc.) and are continuing to greatly influence public debate on particular issues.

Bringing the movements together

As with other left movements around the world I think one of the biggest challenges the left faces in Australia is how to bring everyone together. Whether it be bringing those who argue for the Labor Party or the Greens or those who are focused on one of the many campaigns around the country, the left needs to continue to work to come together to solidify as one movement (obviously with many aims that people can focus on). I think this is occurring in the country (with the growth of such organisations as GetUp), but will continue to argue that more needs to be done. I cannot provide the answers for this at the moment but will rather leave it as a thinking point for future discussion.

This has been a very brief discussion on my perspective of the left wing movement in Australia and one that I hope to add to in future posts. I would be interested to hear what other people think about this and the ideas of where the left sits at the moment. Whilst it is hard to pin down where a movement is at I think it is useful so we can see where it needs to go.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Monitering the Left | , | Leave a comment