Since the start of July four new members of the Australian Greens have taken their place in the Senate. This now gives the Greens the ‘balance of power’ in both houses, meaning that the Government needs the support of either the Greens or the opposition Liberal-National Coalition to pass legislation.
The Greens have played a crucial role in the House of Representatives since last year’s election. Their support for Labor helps Gillard maintain her minority government. If either the Greens, or one of the Independents, withdrew their support for Labor the government would fall in an instant.
But what can we expect from the Greens now that they effectively hold the balance of power in both houses? Leaving aside the fact that the government and opposition agree on the vast majority of legislation, the comments of Greens leader Bob Brown point towards business as usual.
Brown has been at pains to reassure the establishment that the Greens will be “responsible” representatives in the parliament. Brown recently said the Greens will be “a secure rock of stability” in the new Senate.
Unfortunately when Brown talks about stability he is not talking decent wages, affordable housing or access to services for ordinary people. Rather he is talking about the stability of the capitalist system – the system that puts profits before people and the environment.
The Greens have agreed to oppose any parliamentary no-confidence motions and vote for Labor’s budgets – even if they contain deep cuts to spending. We have seen a taste of this in Tasmania where the Greens are in coalition with the ALP at a state level. The recent Tasmanian budget slashes $1.4 billion from the public sector over the next four years and scraps 1700 public sector jobs.
It is not ruled out that at some time in the future the Greens end up in a similar position to the Liberal Democrats in Britain, where that party is helping to implement some of the harshest austerity measures ever seen.
Even on climate change the Greens have been ineffectual. The proposed carbon tax operates firmly within the confines of the market system and will do next to nothing to reduce emissions. The big polluters are set to pass on any costs to ordinary people.
The carbon tax is a step towards an emissions trading system which will create yet another market – this time for big business to profit from trading in pollution permits.
The real role that the Greens are playing is providing Labor with a left cover for their right-wing policies. The only strategy they have for effecting ‘change’ is to win more seats in parliament. Unfortunately this purely electoral approach means they are limited by the framework of the capitalist system.
The system is set up to benefit the needs of big business. This means that, whether they like it or not, the Greens will always be forced to bend to the needs of the profiteers. Under pressure, and particularly in times of economic crisis, they will find themselves implementing the opposite of what they claim to stand for.
While many hundreds of thousands of people voted for the Greens hoping to see progressive change, unfortunately the best on offer will be a few comments in the media. To effect real change requires a strategy to challenge the profit system. The Greens on the other hand are hell bent on doing all they can to prop it up.