Greens only party of compassion: Milne


The Australian Greens are the only party offering compassion and environmental protection this election, leader Christine Milne says.

The party enters the federal election campaign in its strongest ever position, with nine senators and a member in the House of Representatives.

Senator Milne said the party was offering a very different plan compared to the major parties.

“Australians will have the choice between the compassion offered by the Greens and the cruelty of the old parties,” she told reporters in Hobart on Sunday.

“We live in a society, not an economy.”

Senator Milne said the Greens stood apart from Labor and the Liberals by offering genuine environmental protection and humane policies on asylum seekers.

The Greens were needed more than ever in the Senate, she said.

Senator Milne said the Greens had achieved a great deal in the past three years, and were a vital presence in the Senate.

“We already have a clean energy package, we have an emissions trading scheme, we have a $10 billion commitment on renewal energy,” she said.

September 7 will be the first time the Greens will face the electorate without iconic former senator Bob Brown as their leader.

However, Senator Milne said she was confident of expanding on the party’s 1.6 million votes at the last poll.

“I think the Greens are going to build support both in rural seats and in inner city seats across the country,” she said.

Even with the worst possible election outcome, the Greens will have six Senate seats and the potential to make life extremely difficult for an Abbott government.

That’s because only three of their nine Senators are up for election in 2013 alongside their solitary member in the House of Representatives, the party’s deputy leader Adam Bandt. The rest will face voters in the following election.

The Greens recorded their best ever result at the 2010 election, going from five to nine Senate seats and winning their second ever House of Representatives seat with 11.8 per cent of the national House of Representatives vote and 13.1 per cent of the Senate vote.

This time around may not be so impressive.

For starters, Adam Bandt only won the inner city seat of Melbourne, vacated by long-standing Labor MP Lindsay Tanner, with the help of Liberal preferences.

Labor is intent on reclaiming this heartland seat and that’s looking increasingly certain with the Liberals unlikely to preference Mr Bandt ahead of Labor this time around.

In Tasmania, new Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson would appear safe in the spot vacated by Bob Brown. Greens support in Tasmania exceeded 20 per cent last election, only bettered by the ACT, with almost 23 per cent.

In Canberra, Simon Sheikh, former national director of left activist group GetUp, is standing for the Greens. He’s the latest in a succession of high-profile Greens candidates seeking to challenge the Liberals for the ACT’s second Senate spot.

This seems a big ask, but the Greens’ prospects could be boosted if coalition plans for a blitz on public sector jobs firm up during the election campaign.

Less certain are the prospects of Senators Sarah Hanson-Young in South Australia and Scott Ludlam in Western Australia.

Polls indicate they both face uphill battles against coalition candidates.

Greens leader Christine Milne has said as much.

“There’s no doubt this is going to be a tough election for us. The tide is rushing in for the conservatives,” she said.

This will be her first election as leader after replacing Bob Brown in April 2012. Although a passionate political performer, she’s not as popular as the charismatic Brown.

Greens support bounces around. According to a recent Newspoll it stands at about nine per cent.

It peaked at 16 per cent in May 2010 and was 13.9 per cent immediately before the August 2010 election.

But in a polarising electoral clash between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott at the upcoming election, the Greens risk a repeat of what befell the Australian Democrats in 1993.

In that election, Labor PM Paul Keating faced off against John Hewson and his GST tax proposal in what was billed as the coalition’s unlosable election.

Lose they did, as did the Democrats who didn’t get a look-in during the campaign. Their support plummeted from 12.6 per cent in 1990 to 5.3 per cent in 1993.

The Democrats’ 1993 electoral performance wasn’t helped by their leader, the worthy but uninspiring John Coulter.

The party did much better under his successor Cheryl Kernot, peaking at nine senators in 1999 before disappearing from federal politics in 2008, an indication of how smaller parties can flounder without high-profile leaders.

Senator Milne urges a vote for the Greens to ensure a coalition government doesn’t gain a Senate majority and the power to ram through whatever it fancies and to wind back the carbon tax.

The Greens can point to numerous achievements from their association with Labor. Under Kevin Rudd round one, the Greens were even seen as a reasonable voice against coalition intransigence.

But Labor came to see the deal in far from glowing terms.

The opposition was able to skilfully use Julia Gillard’s minority government agreement with the Greens to bludgeon Labor on the basis that it was Bob Brown calling the shots.

“The price of her agreement was breaking her word on the carbon tax, which turned into a disaster for her,” noted veteran reporter Michelle Grattan in her recent Earle Page lecture at the University of New England.

Many on the Labor side now see that formal alliance as an unnecessary strategic mistake as the Greens were never likely to back Tony Abbott.

So the Greens can’t expect too much from Labor in the upcoming campaign.

The Greens face one more challenge. In every election, the battle for lower Senate spots is typically fought out between major parties, Greens and a blizzard of independent and single issue candidates.

This election, that will be further complicated by a number of higher profile newcomer groups.

That includes the Katter Australia Party of Queensland independent Bob Katter, the Palmer United Party of businessman Clive Palmer, the Nick Xenophon Group of South Australian independent MP Nick Xenophon, the Wikileaks Party of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and Voluntary Euthanasia Party of longtime euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke.