Greens back right-wing ALP Councillor for Mayor

Last night Yarra Council, in inner-city Melbourne, held a special ‘ceremonial’ Council meeting to elect the 2012 Mayor. The meeting’s proceedings put a spotlight on the true nature of the Greens. Despite having more Councillors than any other party on Council, the Greens refused to accept the Mayoral position and instead voted for the most right-wing ALP Councillor, Geoff Barbour.

The current make up of the Council is 3 Greens, 2 Socialists, 2 ALP and 2 right-wing Independents. Alison Clarke from the Greens had the Mayor’s position this year and the Socialist Party encouraged them on several occasions to retake the position in 2012. The combined votes of the Greens and Socialist Party could have easily made this happen.

While we have serious disagreements with the Green party, they are generally seen by people as more progressive than the ALP. On paper some of their policies are more progressive, the problem is that they rarely implement them. It seems from last night’s performance that they are not even serious about trying.

The truth is that people voted for the Greens hoping to get a progressive Council. Given that the Greens make up the biggest component of the Council they should take responsibility for leading it and putting their policies to the test. People did not vote Green to let the Labor Party in through the back door.

Only a decade or so ago Yarra was a wall to wall ALP Council. The party also ran the State government with many ALP members claiming that they ‘owned this part of town’. This however came crashing down in 2001-02 when the Greens began to make a breakthrough. The first Greens Councillors were thrust into their positions thanks to Socialist Party preferences. In 2004 the Socialist Party also won its first position.

Clearly people in Yarra have been turned off the right-wing policies of the ALP and are now voting for more progressive parties. Despite the huge set back for the ALP, the Greens seem hell bent on dragging the ALP out of the depths of despair and pushing them into power.

It has been reported that in 2008 the Greens and ALP did a secret power sharing deal. The two parties would rotate the Mayor’s position and the chairs of the Councils committees. Despite being in a weaker position the ALP clearly won out in this deal as they will hold the Mayor’s position in an election year. This is probably why the Greens refuse to make the document public.

It should have been the case that in 2011 this deal was abandoned as the make up of the council changed and the Council committees were abolished. Anthony Main from the Socialist Party was elected to the council via a count back after Jane Garrett from the ALP was elected to the State Parliament. The Committees have now been replaced by fortnightly full meetings of Council.

The Greens however have refused to take advantage of this shift to the left on Council. Clearly they consider that they have more in common with this right-wing neo-liberal party than with the views of the community.

Geoff Barbour is not only ineffective and uninspiring but right-wing even amongst his ALP colleagues. This year he put forward a budget that proposed to slash millions of dollars in funding for council services, he has consistently been the most pro-developer on the Council and is usually the first to defer to the conservative bureaucrats when wanting to avoid making political decisions.

Previously Barbour worked for the local ALP member and ex-Housing Minister Richard Wynne. During this time the ALP pushed through a whole range of right-wing policies not least public-private partnerships on the housing estates. No doubt Barbour will be pushing similar policies from the Mayoral office thanks to the Greens.

The Socialist Party Councillors were the only ones to vote against the appointment of an ALP Mayor. Despite the Greens capitulation we will continue to fight for a progressive Council that fulfils the aspirations of the majority of people in Yarra.

As we move into an election year we can expect the community to come into conflict with the ALP/Green coalition on a number of issues. The Socialist Party pledges to provide opposition both in the Council chamber and within the community itself.