August 10, 2013
The Australian Greens are a party of increasing strength and influence in Australian politics. The left is no longer purely about the battle for the rights of the worker, but also about the environment, battling global warming and protecting pristine habitats and rare species. More recently, offering a more compassionate approach to asylum seekers has also become a key point of difference. The Greens dare to differentiate themselves strongly and face attacks from both major parties for it.
As I pulled up in my 4WD to meet Anne Walker, Greens candidate for Liberal Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt, she was waiting in her sensible sedan. I wondered what she must be thinking, meeting a random teacher describing himself as a citizen journalist and asking to do a somewhat serious political interview.
We sit down in a fairly full, noisy café in Adelaide’s Campbelltown, which I had chosen because I thought it would be quiet and empty. The candidate seems relaxed and friendly, but I think she may be calculating my carbon footprint.
She looks younger than in her photos, more Generation X than baby boomer, a child of the 70s and teenager of the 80s, I’m guessing. Like me, she probably grew up with primary science lessons on holes in ozone layers and the greenhouse effect. We didn’t talk music, but she may have even learnt her first politics through Midnight Oil lyrics, as I did.
Anne comes from a communications background and has worked with a range of not-for-profit organisations over the years on branding and marketing. Her children attended the multi-cultural Magill Primary School in the middle of the electorate.
“Access to English-language courses, supporting kids at school and integrating the children”, are key elements to build a sense of belonging among new migrants to Australia, she says. She’d also like to see Australian children undertake meaningful study of a second language.
She is highly supportive of federal Labor’s Gonski school funding reforms but would prefer to see improvements go ahead without cuts in university funding. While not objecting to the funding of private schools, she says every child should get a good education, “whether they are in public or private”.
In Sturt, she sees great room for improvement in protecting open public space and ensuring building developments are sensible and of high environmental standards. She has concerns about a “parents died, let’s sub-divide” mentality, and worries that new housing developments are built without services for new communities.
I raise the topic of federal funding of an upgrade to the Campbelltown Leisure Centre project, which Christopher Pyne supports. But Anne describes the Greens as more a party that “thinks about the kind of space, kind of community, and kind of state we want to create, and then resources that.” She hates to see community facilities fall away because they are not profitable enough.
Anne has never met our local member of 20 years, but she’s a stern critic.
“Christopher Pyne’s behaviour in parliament bothers me quite a lot,” she says. “Shouting at people, hostility, and the nasty things he says. I think that’s quite disgraceful. Maybe it’s time for a fresh, clean, polite, green change in Sturt.”
The hung parliament and the increased negotiating strength of the Greens in the Senate over the past three years have seen some good wins for the environment and for people, but there have also been some notable losses – a “lack of trust between the parties” and the government selling out on some key environmental issues, such as the protection of the Tarkine rainforest” in Tasmania, the Greens candidate says.
The move from the carbon tax to an emissions trading scheme (ETS) earlier than planned was “not catastrophic change” but a disappointment, she says, as evidence showed the carbon tax was working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase investment in renewable energy sources.
One example was an abattoir in Tony Windsor’s electorate of New England that had started capturing methane and using it to power the abattoir. Where large subsidies had been “quite a windfall for the dirtiest polluters”, they now had less incentive to invest in new technologies.
“The lower-priced ETS pleases business because it lets them off the hook. Do you think the government are going to get it (the subsidies) back?” she asks.
The proposition of an LNP government repealing the ETS completely would be “a terrible step backwards, catastrophic,” she says. “Per capita we are about the highest producer of CO2. We will have no moral high ground, no credibility. Australian coal is a major contributor to climate change globally, in China and other countries.
“Even with the carbon tax we’ve got coal expansion happening quite rapidly. We’ve got a push to build ports to ship out coal at the Great Barrier Reef. Under the LNP there will be no restraint. The only restraint is the infrastructure to ship it out. Coal mining causes damage to our water sources, to biodiversity, to agriculture. Once you’ve trashed the environment, it’s trashed.”
Anne voices frustration with the hardline asylum-seeker policies of both major parties, saying the government’s decision to ship boat arrivals to poverty-stricken Papua New Guinea makes the country look “mean-spirited”.
“Let’s face it, if we were really serious, really serious, about people not drowning at sea, we’d bloody fly out there and get them and bring them back home ,wouldn’t we?” As a communications professional, she says phrases like the coalition’s mantra ‘Stop the boats’ are damaging.
“All they’ve got are slogans.”
She approves of the ALP’s model for a superfast national broadband network, saying it will lead to the “kinds of innovations that produce new industries and new jobs.”
But on paid maternity leave, she acknowledges both major parties have made progress that would have been “controversial to even raise a decade ago”. The Greens policy is more like the LNP version, being linked to actual salary and including superannuation.
The Greens polled 10 per cent in Sturt in 2010, and they’ll be looking to build on that number in 2013.
More Sturt seat reports here.