Words || Toby Hemmings
The world’s first Green party was founded in Tasmania over 40 years ago and came of age battling against the Franklin Dam in the early 1980s. It was founded by activists who took a stand on unpopular environmental issues, people who frequently protested and risked arrest for their beliefs.
This year will mark two decades since the first of those activists, Bob Brown, was elected to the Federal Senate with less than 350,000 votes. In the years since the Greens have, at their peak, won around 1.7 million votes and many more Senate seats along with a critical place in the House of Representatives.
Brown’s unflagging belief in the Australian Greens and their cause has helped the party to remain resilient and rise in the polls. Contrast this with the other minor parties such as the Australian Democrats, One Nation and the Palmer United Party that have never attained the longevity or stability of the Greens.
But we now exist in a time ‘AB’: After Bob. It’s a new age for the Greens, replete with stylish skivvies. The appointment of former GP Richard Di Natale as federal leader is a move to change the public perception of the party. A recent interview with GQ proved this when Di Natale made headlines for acknowledging that politically he remains open to doing deals with everyone – including the Liberals.
Why this made such a stir comes down to how the mainstream media perceives the Greens. They are frequently portrayed as the leftist extremists who don’t understand “how society works” and believe in unrealistic radical policies. They aggressively put ideology above practicality. They’re the villainous spoilers of Australian politics according to the Murdoch papers.
It is true that many Greens supporters have traditionally held strong ideological views. But the federal leadership of the party has made moves to expand their appeal to other voting demographics. Consider the rise of Peter Whish-Wilson, who formerly worked for Merrill Lynch on Wall Street and Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong. He brings credibility to the party’s economic policy, something that those who have tried to paint the Greens as a single-issue party have long derided.
Think also of Adam Bandt, who spent a decade working at Slater & Gordon and who has a PhD in law and politics. If we relied only on media stereotypes these people would not be seen as Greens voters, let alone Greens parliamentarians.
The activist heart of the Greens still beats strong, but there is a new sense of political deal making and canniness that accompanies it. A gradual shift in the national consciousness regarding climate change, marriage equality and renewable energy has transformed their policies from ideological pipedreams to both realistic and favourable. Over time, the Greens have come of age and now they look to broaden their audience.
Whether the party can connect and sell the idea that the Greens are a viable political party for people of all walks of life to support, not just inner city bohemians and aging hippies, is the biggest question coming into this election. The Greens support humane pragmatic policies that are forward thinking rather than based in tradition. What remains to be seen is if they can get the votes to put them in place.