The Greens are a third force in politics, making big strides in representation in parliaments in Australia and around the world. More and more often, our party – a party which was founded on the principle of grassroots democracy – is finding itself in government, sharing power with other parties which don’t necessarily share our values and commitment.
It’s vital that we take the time to ask some very big questions. How should we, as a party that believes power should be dissolved and devolved, that the coercive power of both government and corporations should be dismantled, seek to use the power of government? Can we change government more than government will change us?
How can government ministers give away their power to communities?
On the other hand, how do ministers find their commitment to grassroots democracy, and their capacity to deliver it, hamstrung?
How do party processes and systems evolve to either ensure deep democracy or begin to centralise decision-making? And how should the public service be structured and supported to enable good democratic practice?
How can we campaign in ways which share people’s understandable cynicism about politics without playing into right wing tropes? And how can we work through government to change understandings of economic systems?
These are some of the questions that our first quarterly edition of Green Agenda for 2022 – Greens and Government – teases out through seven excellent articles.
I was privileged to interview the co-leader of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, Marama Davidson, recently about her experience sharing government with Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party. Marama brought some wonderful ideas and insights to the table, with practical examples and Indigenous philosophical approaches. Her experience developing a strategy to prevent family violence through devolving power and management to the community has important lessons for Greens around the world.
The ACT Greens are widely recognised as the most successful governing branch of the party in Australia. Currently in a fourth consecutive term in balance of power, and third consecutive term sharing executive government, the ACT Greens have delivered a remarkable suite of reforms from 100% renewables to justice reinvestment, pill testing to an integrity commission. But, as retired MLA, Caroline Le Couteur, writes, the successes do not come without challenges and controversy. Caroline offers considered, constructive critique about how government changes the Greens, with specific warnings about pitfalls and barriers.
Senator Larissa Waters, our federal Greens spokesperson on democracy, sets out how the Greens would support a well-resourced and independent public service to deliver government programs that the Greens are working towards. While ever we have a system of government like the one we currently have, we will need public servants who can give frank and fearless advice and manage government processes well, so this is a crucial aspect of this question.
At the other end of the process question, Jonathan Sri, Greens councillor on Brisbane City Council, offers a deeply thought-provoking critique of how decision-making power can become centralised even in an organisation, like the Greens, that is committed to grassroots democracy. With a range of examples of decision-making bodies, from campaign teams to MPs’ offices, Jonno sets out a challenge to the party to ensure that our processes support and maintain deep democracy.
Our wonderful outgoing co-editor, Simon Copland, has contributed a marvellous piece about the rise of anti-politics and how Greens campaigning explicitly to participate in government that is a distrusted institution may not be the best strategy.
Erin Remblance writes about the urgent need to change the growth-driven economic model which is so intertwined with our systems and practice of government. She points out the risks of Greens entering government and being co-opted into a destructive economic system.
Finally, we’re republishing another excellent piece from the Green European Journal. Sean Currie examines in great detail the impact on electoral success of Greens parties in Europe entering, taking part in, and leaving government. While electoral impact is only one measure of success, of course, there are useful and intriguing lessons from this analysis.
As we head into a federal election where there is a real chance of Greens sharing power, it’s vital that we challenge ourselves to think about these tensions. For Greens, entering government in any way should never be simple question, even – if not especially – when the urgency of action is so great.
I hope this edition provides stimulation and provocation for the deep conversations we need.
- “Uncomfortable with power”: strategies, policies and approaches of the Green Party of Aotearoa NZ in government – an interview with Marama Davidson by Tim Hollo.
- Greens in Government in the ACT: reflections on successes and challenges from a former MLA by Caroline Le Couteur.
- Revitalising the public sector is key to preparing for the future by Greens Senator Larissa Waters.
- One ring to rule them all: Unpacking the centralisation of power within the Queensland Greens by Jonathan Sri, Greens Councillor for the Gabba.
- In the anti-political era, the Greens need to be wary of Government by Simon Copland.
- Degrowth economy: The pathway to human survival by Erin Remblance.
- Should European Green Parties Go Into Government? by Sean Currie.
The Green Institute