Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why The Australian Greens are Different.

The resignation of Bob Brown as leader of the Australian Greens came as a surprise to everyone, including members of the party. At the same time Christine Milne stepped seamlessly into her new role as the leader of the Greens and Adam Bandt was voted into the role of Deputy Leader, there was an outpouring of support for the outgoing leader, paying tribute to him for his contribution to changing the political landscape in Australia over more than three decades of political engagement, both from outside and within the Government.

Detractors of the Greens, of course, have taken this as an opportunity to argue that since the party most likely won't survive this change-over to a leader that they see as somehow inferior, this will inevitably mean the end of the Greens

Even those who have taken a more measured approach to the change in leadership have raised questions about whether this will damage the party in the long-term, suggesting that it has been Bob Brown's particular brand of politics that have all but single-handedly raised the Greens up to the level of influence and prominence that they now hold.

As much as I see this kind of commentary as being, at least in part, a byproduct of an increasingly sensationalised media (for an example of this, all you need do is look at how long and hard the media worked to push the Labor party's respill), it is undeniable that the Greens are now in a new phase of the party's life. We've had one leader for sixteen years - and now he's off to scale the mountains of Tasmania with his partner. When he's not washing the dishes, anyway.

The Greens are facing change.

And as a Greens member, I'm not at all worried about this; because the Greens are the party of change.

I face the risk of this being taken as political rhetoric (and I could understand the claim, even while insisting that this is not the basis of my argument), but I think that this is one of the many things that differentiates the Greens from other political parties in Australia. Exactly because of the leadership of Bob Brown, the Greens are a party that, rather than trying to maintain the status quo, has at all times relied on the passion and drive of its membership to affect change.

Whether it be environmental or cultural issues, the Greens have been a force for progressive thinking in a political environment that has otherwise been extremely resistant to change. With an eye to the future, the Greens have been ahead of the game when it comes to things such as the recognition of Indigenous rights and land ownership; recognising the importance of environmental protection and restoration; the rights of asylum seekers; women's rights; disability support; and same-sex marriage. And as even this short list of issues exemplifies, it is a party that has not only reacted to events as they unfold - as has tended to be the way of the two major parties. Rather, the Greens have looked for inequality and taken up the chant of grassroots campaigns and groups across the country, championing those causes in a way that is both respectful and inclusive.

 When Bob Brown announced his resignation, it was clear that he had no concerns about the future of the party in his absence. Why would he? He, of all people, would be in a position to know that the party he left behind is not based on a cult of personality. It's a party predicated on the passion of its membership; and it is a party that is focussed on making this a better Australia for all of its citizens, not just a short-sighted few.

This is not something that Christine Milne is unaware of. Indeed, Milne has quickly reinforced the importance of the party's membership. She said, in part:

"Now is the opportunity to show all Australians that the Greens represent a broad and deep cross section of Australian society, brought together by shared values and commitment, not by a single person."
Those who are cynical will read this and see a shrewd but predictable plea to Greens members and supporters - an attempt to keep things under control. But that's because they don't understand that what Milne is saying here is just a reiteration of something that any Greens member already knows, at least on some level: we are a party of grassroots movements. We are driven by, and for, change.

The Greens will continue to embrace change as we enter this new era. And, as Milne goes on to say in the conclusion of her statement to Greens members:

"Never before have we had such a critical moment to demonstrate that the Greens Party is far greater than the sum of its parts. Let’s show Australia who we are, what we stand for, and where we’re going."

I don't know about you, but I don't feel worried. I feel inspired.

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