DAY ONE: MULTI-PARTY GOVERNMENT PUBLIC FORUM
The Green Institute hosted two events in Canberra. On Friday night we ran a public forum – Is Multi-Party Government Good for Australia? Panel guests were Prof John Warhurst, Dr Katrin Steinack, Senator Christine Milne and Hon Nick McKim.
Political scientist and observer of Australian politics Prof Warhurst described and defined what multi-party government was, was not and what could be. Dr Katrin Steinack, who is originally from Germany, but currently a researcher for a Monash Universityâ€™s parliamentary careers project, provided an international perspective – introducing the challenges some Greens Parties in other countries have experienced being in Multi-Party Government with both socialist and conservative parties and shared some learnings.
Hon Nick McKim, Tasmanian Greens Leader and first Greens Minister in Australia, shared a few stories of what it was like in the first days of negotiating with the Labor Party to form government – a party that said during the election campaign ‘We would never do deals with The Greens’ and yet … and yet – as far as I understand it – states and countries must form government; it’s essential and important for true democracy to be practised that people from different parties learn how best to work together – for the sake of their constituents.
Senator Christine Milne, brilliant as always, spoke from experience as a participant in Labor and Liberal minority governments in Tasmania and briefly touched on the situation in the current Australian parliament. She introduced to the room the concept of Laborials – essentially combining ‘Labor’ and ‘Liberal’ to describe how little the two parties differ from each other.
I’m not sure how well I can paraphrase her insight to do it justice, but it was intriguing to hear her talk about the basis of the Labor Party being a party for the workers whose primary goal was to exploit the resources of the earth for employment and the Liberal Party being a party for the corporations whose primary goals was to exploit the resources of the earth for profit. And that The Greens were a party of the 21st Century whereas the ideologies of the two old parties are of a different time and a different age.
She also exclaimed that it was not the goal of the Greens to simply be part of minority governments – it was our goal to be part of majority governments.
I had the opportunity to ask a question – and the question I asked was something similar to the following:
“While I love the idea or theory of multi-party government, in Queensland it’s an absolute pipe-dream given our electoral system is not representative of its people. In Queensland I can think of two key voices that are disenfranchised at the moment: one is women – that’s 50% of the population. The reason for this is that abortion is still illegal in Queensland because we have a gutless Premier who refuses to introduce a bill into parliament to change the law. The other disenfranchised voice are farmers in the Darling Downs region who are caught up in the Coal Seam Gas debacle and have been neglected by the National Party. Drew is saying the farmers are asking him who they are meant to vote for. My question is this: Is there any value in running issues campaigns in Queensland without running a campaign on electoral reform?”
Nick’s response was that it sounded like Queensland seriously needed to run an electoral reform campaign. And Katrin’s response was that persistence was required.
Following the public meeting, I had the pleasure of dining with 15-20 Greens MPs from across Australia and the equivalent number of members. I had the joy of sitting next to Senator Elect for South Australia Penny Wright and opposite her partner Mark Parnell, Member of the Legislative Council for South Australia – you know – a state that actually has an upper house. Bob was sitting behind me and joined in for this happy snap!
Christine answered my question about electoral reform at dinner time. She said that the Queensland Greens spokespeople and candidates – whenever they spoke in public about any issue – should ensure that electoral reform is mentioned each time in order to place in the public’s mind that their voice would be heard if the electoral system was reformed to a proportional representation system.
DAY TWO: GREENING GOVERNMENT WORKSHOP
Saturday was a vision day that The Green Institute organised for Greens members only and was the most REMARKABLE meeting of minds I have ever had the honour to be part of.
However, Saturday was all secret squirrel (Chatham House Rules) business so I’m not comfortable sharing too much here. All I will say is that The Greens are well on their way to using power responsibly and leading with conviction, compassion and – dare I say it – collective genius.
The feedback on the day from Greens MPs and Greens members was 100% positive. I am so proud to be on the board of The Green Institute and blessed to have had the opportunity to be part of this – as one MP put it – ‘historic day’.
Oh – speaking of which.
Q. What is the collective noun for a lot of Greens politicians?
A. A forest.
DAY THREE: GREEN INSTITUTE BOARD MEETING
Today was a Green Institute board meeting where, among an update on some extraordinary projects from our Executive Director Margaret Blakers (such as The Butterfly Project), we enjoyed some homemade soup. Board Director Chris Tucker, pictured, chops pumpkin – one of his important duties of the day.
Who’d wanna be on a corporate board with crappy catered sandwiches when you can break for the comfort of a hot, homemade pumpkin soup?