Greens, Democrats and the Senate balance of power

Today marks the day the Greens officially gain sole balance of power in the Senate. It also marks the thirtieth anniversary of the day the Democrats first gained the Senate balance of power back in 1981. Many people focus on the difficulties and disappointments of the Democrats declining years, and it reasonable to consider how the Greens might best avoid this fate.

But it is equally important to remember the many achievements and successes of the Democrats over nearly 30 years in the Senate, most of it in a balance of power role.  The Greens may well manage to last longer than this, but at present this is a record for a ‘third’ party in Australia. So it is equally reasonable to consider how the Greens can best match and ideally improve on this legacy of achievement.

I’ve had a piece published in today’s Canberra Times which explores these factors to some extent. You can read the piece at this link.

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  1. WorkChoices was never put to Australian voters by John Howard in the 2004 elections, nor were most major policy decisions which have so harmed the public interest since at least 1975: Opening up Australian mineral resources to foreign ownership by Fraser, the 12 month “wages freeze” commenced by Fraser in 1983 and continued by the Hawke, which cost Australian wage-earners 9.1% in lost wages, the privatisation of retirement income (aka ‘Superannuation’), participation in the illegal 1991 and 2003 wars war against Iraq, privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and QANTAS, etc.

    Even policies for which the electorate was nominally consulted, the consultation was done in in fraudulent deceitful manner. One example is the privatisation of Telstra by the Howard Government in 2006. In the 2004 elections, this issue was avoided by the Government to the point where more Coalition candidates, including Senator Barnaby Joyce, spoke against privatistion than for privatisation, but this did not stop them casting their vote for privatisation, after the Coalition had been returned in defiance of 66% of the public still opposed to privatisation.

    Another policy that Howard deceitfully obtained ‘consent’ for was his Goods and Services Tax which he promised in 1995 to ‘never, ever’ introduce.

    At the 1998 elections, after long and deceptive manoevres including a phoney Senate ‘inquiry’ on tax ‘reform’, he was able to obtain a barely hold onto offce (in fact losing the popular vote 51.5% to 48.5%) thereby obtaining ‘consent’, before the enquiry recommendations could be scrutinised in parliament.

    One way we could stop this rorting of the electoral system to achieve policy outcomes so contrary to the wishes and interests of the voting public, would be to introduce Swiss-style direct democracy.

  2. In my opinion, the Greens are the greatest doomsayers the world has ever known, trading off fear and guilt. To accuse their detractors of the same is somewhat akin to the kettle calling the pot black.

    My feeling is that over the next couple of years, the party that will bite the dust most heavily will be Labor, with their supporters moving to the left, right and centre.

    We may even see new coalitions or voting platforms rise up, as rats desert a sinking, stinking ship which has sold its workers’ souls, plus its primary and secondary producers out to corporate abuse and foreign interests.

  3. so tell me war resister
    what,s the difference
    between howards gst deception ( or lie if you want )
    to the greens driven gillard carbon tax deception ( or lie if you want )

    both proclamed to the australian people that it would not happen while they were in charge .
    only difference i can see is that gillards more obsessed with power that she will sell anything out to gain it
    and as any good politition would bob brown and the greens are taking full advantage of it .

    its what the greens do with there new found power in the senate that will determine if they will still be a party come the next election .
    i think they would be foolish to push there own adgenda too hard because they will go the same way as the democrats did and much sooner than they think .
    there are a lot of very unhappy ppl who cant wait for a new election to vent there anger the greens must realise that they were only the only alternative between two very unpopular partys .most peoples perception of the greens is that they are still tree huggers so far they have not done much to change that opinion. so the actions now will determine fate

  4. Nicely written article, Andrew, comparing the Democrats to the Greens. The only part of it I would question is the lack of previous history for the Democrats before emerging into federal politics. It might be true that the Democrats were a new party upon entering parliament for the first time, but the politicians in the party were not green. Don Chipp, for example, had been a public figure for a couple of decades I believe.

    The big challenge for The Greens will be upon the eventual election of an LNP government (which will happen sometime int he next 30 years, almost certainly). I wonder that if the centrist Democrats were unable to negotiate compromises without upsetting their voter base, then how will the leftist Greens manage it? The alternative of course would be leave the compromise to the ALP and for the Greens to sit on the sidelines voicing dissent without contributing.

    While I was a strong Democrat voter and supporter (handing out leaflets at a number of elections), the Greens are not yet economically mature enough to contribute seriously to national policy. I hope that the balance of power pushes them to develop their economic fundamentals in this term of office.

  5. trhe policy issue that sticks in my mind about the democrats performance in the senate as holders of the balance of power was the creation of a dysfunctional GST. if we take the NZ model as the best administered and design and comapre it to the Australian version we see that ours is distinctly second best. The most efficient GST aims to capture revenue from all consumption at least cost and comprehensively and offset with reductions in personal and corporate tax. That clearly did not happen. It gave rise to a range of exemptions for welfare purposes and in other areas (tampons) and gave rise to the BAS and associated compliance costs. The GST in Australia did not generate the necessary revenue to offset serious reductions in income and corporate taxes to improve incentives. The Democrats traded their position the Senate for these ineffciences in tax policy and administration.

  6. Red Crab, one difference between Howard’s GST deception, which was only one of many by which he caused untold harm to Australians and to people overseas, and Giilard’s deception, is in scale.

    Howard knew his GST would never be supported in a fair and open election, so he deceived the Australian pubic, including by putting them through the trouble and expense of holding the phoney Parliamentary inquiry into tax ‘reform’, until weeks before the 1998 federal election.

    Whilst I have my own concerns about the Carbon Tax and the way Gilard introduced it, at least it’s a policy which attempts to solve a grave threat to humanity’s survival. The GST, by comparison, was never intended to do any good, certainly not for humankind’s future. It was only intended to shift the burden of tax further away from the wealthy onto the shoulders of poorer members of society.

    I am far more concerned about Abbott’s attempts to score cheap political points off Gillard over the Carbon Tax than I am by Gillard’s actions. Either Abbott imagines we can stop global warming at no cost to anyone, or he thinks we should do nothing to stop this grave threat to our future.

  7. Andrew the Greens in the Senate is the best thing for Australia. Australians are tired of do nothing lying politicians from the major parties. They are looking for Leadership. They will get it from Greens. I just hope they remember what happened to the Australian Democrats. Don’t get a big head and egos take over and then go the same way. Australia needs its Greens now more than ever.

  8. Paul:

    I think the introduction of the GST was seen by the major parties as the beginning of an increasing list of indirect taxes that affect everyone, rich or poor.

    While I initially thought the GST was a good idea, since it seemed that the rich would be paying the most tax the most often, I forgot to factor in the concept that it would place a tax burden on those who were below normal taxation thresholds e.g. pensioners.

    Privatisation of government assets has also ramped up the cost to consumers of many services. Now it seems we cannot do anything without it attracting a bill from either government or corporates, due to loss of revenue.

  9. Red Crab so tell me war resister
    what,s the difference
    between howards gst deception ( or lie if you want )
    to the greens driven gillard carbon tax deception

    RC John Howard took the GST to and election. Jullia should do the same.
    There is no doubt now that this legislation will see the ALP reduced to a minor party similar to what happened in Canada with the liberals there.
    John Howard and his work choices saw the end of his government and this will no doubt be the end of Julia’s. Some ALP members are already contemplating their retirement and some may not even stand at the expected 2013 election. Assuming they last that long.

  10. read a very interesting thing it would appear that the govt is intent on a deceitful carbon tax on the australian people that’s affect on global warming will no impact at all .only to place a higher tax burden on the people of this country.
    all the while they are supporting the ownership mining transporting and burning of australian coal by India for there coal powered power stations that will probably put more carbon into the atmosphere than australia can produce on there own .
    so why has australia not herd anything about this from the greens or are they to afraid to make a stand standing in front of media cameras babbling on usually about issues that only affect a few fringe groups is easy but to actually take a stand for the country is a bigger challange but they are no where to be seen or herd on this issue
    tony its a real shame that some good people are so dishearten by there own party that they intend to walk away cant blame them though.

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