HSV Lecture 2017 – Why the Greens Are the Party for Now and the Future

Photo of Clare Ozich

HSV Public Lecture by Clare Ozich, Convenor, Victorian campaign committee, The Greens, at Hawthorn Community Precinct on 28 September 2017

Clare edits an on-line journal, Green Agenda. She is not an official spokesperson for the Greens Party.

Forty-five years ago the United Tasmania Group opposed the flooding of Lake Pedder. It was the first political party in the world to focus on ecological sustainability. The idea of calling a political party the Greens was prompted by the ‘green bans’, organized in Sydney by the labour movement, in the 1980s. The Greens are now a global political movement, with like-minded parties in ninety countries. All endorse the Global Greens charter and its core principles of social justice, ecological integrity, peace and non-violence, and participatory democracy. These, of necessity, overlap a great deal.

Social and economic justice

The Greens aim:

  • to address the causes of poverty as well as the consequences of it. They have consistently opposed cuts to welfare payments and imposition of conditions that could curtail benefits.
  • to introduce measures to reduce social inequality, especially by tax reform and redistribution strategies.
  • to provide affirmative action to eliminate discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, religion, disability, sexuality or membership of a minority group.

Other parties also share some of these aims but differ in their approach to implementing them. For example, the Greens have always been outspoken on behalf of refugees arriving by boat, decrying policies that they see as dehumanizing and cruel.

Ecological sustainability

At present the greatest crisis facing our planet is from climate change, and our current political system is manifestly incapable of addressing this crisis.

The Greens’ platform is predicated on the idea that we have to change the relationship between nature, society and the economy to help achieve the ideal of a just and fair society and for our continuing well-being.

The Greens aim:

  • to encourage the development of respect for the value of all life, human and non-human.
  • to ensure that human activity respects the integrity and resilience of ecosystems and does not impair biodiversity.

Peace and non-violence

Peace, anti-war and anti-nuclear movements were involved with the Greens Party at its foundation. The first Greens Senator in Australia, Jo Vallentine, in WA, came from an anti-nuclear group.

The Greens believe that global security should not rest on military strength but on co-operation, sound economic and social development, environmental safety and respect for human rights.

They have an independent, non-aligned foreign policy and a non-nuclear, defensive, self-reliant defence policy.

They are currently speaking up about the increase in surveillance in our community and the restriction of human rights as national security measures are tightened.

Participatory democracy

The Greens are striving for a democracy where all citizens are able to participate in the environmental, economic, social and political decisions that affect their lives directly. With this model, power and responsibility are concentrated in local and regional communities and only devolved to higher tiers of governance when it is essential to do so.

As a consequence, they aim to break down the inequalities of power and wealth which inhibit participatory democracy

To this end they endorse greater accountability within governance, as well as abolishing political donations and establishing robust anti-corruption bodies.

Within the Greens Party itself, consensus decision-making is practised at all levels—local, state and federal—as well as in the global organization. Members have a genuine opportunity to be involved in decisions.

So, why are the Greens the party for now and the future?

The short answer, according to Clare, is the climate crisis, and the longer answer is everything else, in particular, the perspective held within the party about the need to steer away from neo-liberal economics and how to address the current crisis of democracy.

Climate change is affecting everything, from food security, the availability of clean water, mass migration, war and conflict and our economies. Only the Greens advocate addressing them as connected and inter-related issues.

Christine Milne, former leader of the Australian Greens, in her address to the Global Greens Conference in the UK, in February this year, said that scientists are now urging us to think and act globally and locally at the same time, instead of the old maxim of ‘Think Global, Act Local’. She continued:

We have to change our way of thinking from saving individual places to protecting the stability and resilience of whole systems. Instead of prioritizing our own nation state or region and thinking of the Global Commons as only the high seas, the atmosphere, the Antarctic and Outer Space, we now need to think of the Global Commons as stable and resilient EARTH SYSTEMS. . . . How empowering would it be for both local campaigners and Greens in Parliaments to know that on one side of the world Greens are protesting in the forests or at the nuclear or coal-fired power plant and on the other, Greens’ parliamentarians are asking who is funding the project, where are the profits being directed, are taxes being evaded, are bribes being paid, is money being laundered, are pension funds involved or export credit agencies? Why? Because we are all working together to stabilize the climate. That is where the Global Greens come in.

Christine went on to point to neoliberal economics as the stumbling-block. It has glorified the efficiency of the market, privatization, deregulation, down-sizing and streamlining, she said, while at the same time despoiling the environment and attacking labour and human rights movements that aim to protect people and nature. As a result of neoliberal economics, corporations now constrain the ability of many governments to act, and the USA, UK and Australia could be considered plutocracies, rather than democracies.

There is a crisis in democracy, when corporations have far more say than the people, and our political system is broken. It is incapable of addressing climate change. Inequality is on the rise, as are the voices from the far right. We need better engagement by people in the decisions that affect their lives, from a local to state and national levels. The Greens don’t have all the answers, but with their model, and experience of participatory democracy, they have a great deal to contribute.

Note: The full text of Christine Milne’s address at the Global Greens Conference in February 2017 is available at the Global Greens web site.

Report by Jennie Stuart (edit)