Like other small political parties over the years, the Australian Greens appear to be facing internal problems from a NSW splinter group, Left Renewal. Fortunately the issue has not spread to the ACT Greens, however differences exist concerning planning between our local representatives.
Caroline Le Couteur, the newish Greens MLA, has shown a refreshingly critical public attitude toward building developments in this city. Late January at a Curtin community rally about a six-storey development at the local shops and more recently the Braddon ABC flats redevelopment were targets of her ire.
Ms Le Couteur seems to be concerned at changes taking place either after plans have been submitted to authorities or submitted plans have not been detailed enough, leaving loopholes after approval.
These matters are familiar to anyone who has battled developers in Canberra but it is heartening when an elected representative is prepared to take issue with them, particularly when she chairs the Assembly’s five member planning committee. Significantly with the committee made up also of two government and two opposition members Ms Le Couteur holds the balance of power.
To date, as previously shown, this MLA has demonstrated a preparedness to speak out against developments, when other Assembly members appear in thrall of the financial clout their backers display.
Inevitably this honest sensible public questioning could raise problems for the ACT Government and its cosy relationship with the developers and the unions. It also could raise problems with her Green colleague and cabinet member, Minister Shane Rattenbury.
It is unlikely Ms Le Couteur would be silenced in the interests of Labor-Green government relations because this could outrage rank and file Party members and represent a humiliating back down from the public stance adopted to date. The Assembly Opposition should benefit from this awkward situation because with such an evenly balanced parliament Ms Le Couteur’s vote against government legislation would deadlock the decision, thus resolving the question in the negative.
The threat of this result alone could curb some of the ACT Government’s more extreme plans and even could be turned to the government’s advantage as an excuse for not being able to enact something.
Whatever political advantages Ms Le Couteur’s stance offers it is the ACT community who can benefit most with a champion inside the tent, so to speak, capable and prepared to speak out in their interests rather than political self-interest.
Unlike other legislatures overseas, Australian parliaments enforce strict discipline upon Party members except in tightly defined ‘conscience’ issues, often very limited in themselves. Occasionally an independent or small party member holds the balance of power and, even more rarely except in our Senate, a group.
Usually trade-offs can be arranged to ensure support for government initiatives but pork-barrelling usually is on no small scale and directly effects the politician concerned. Given Ms Le Couteur’s principled stand on planning issues outside her electorate, deals are unlikely and one hopes her honest independent approach will continue in the long-term interests of Canberra.