19 April 2022

Former ACT Greens MLA says party is now too close to Labor, paying a high price for cabinet positions

| Lottie Twyford
Join the conversation
Caroline Le Couteur

Former ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur has written a lengthy essay about the state of the party and its role in the ACT Legislative Assembly. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A former ACT Greens MLA has criticised the party’s current state, saying the Labor party takes its support for granted and a vote for the ACT Greens has become a vote for the “status quo”.

In an essay published on Green Agenda, Caroline Le Couteur claimed the party’s policies are no longer as idealistic as they once were. Instead they are more implementable and closer to that of their majority partner Labor.

Ms Le Couteur was elected as a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly twice – in 2008 and 2016 – but did not run at the 2020 election, saying she had become “too cynical”.

READ ALSO ACT Education defends resourcing amid national teacher shortage, recent troubles

She acknowledged some of the changes were due to the practical issues of governing, such as having paid staff instead of running off volunteer power.

But she said other changes were simply due to its capture by the Labor party.

“Voting for the ACT Greens in the ACT election has become voting for the status quo, or voting against the Liberal Party, not a protest vote-seeking change,” she wrote.

Ms Le Couteur said many Canberrans see the Greens as simply part of the Labor government and attributed some of this to the fact there are now Greens ministers in Cabinet.

Attorney-General and ACT Greens party leader Shane Rattenbury

Attorney General and ACT Greens party leader Shane Rattenbury became a member of Cabinet in 2012. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

In her first term in government Ms Le Couteur, who was elected alongside the now Attorney General and party leader Shane Rattenbury, said the pair had been able to achieve some outcomes by cooperating with the Opposition, as well as promising confidence and supply to the Labor party in return for a list of policy commitments.

But when Mr Rattenbury became a minister this changed and Ms Le Couteur believed she was unable to achieve as much from her position on the crossbench and was effectively unable to work with the Opposition.

“As members of the same party, we both believed we should vote together … this gave me a limited scope for action,” she said.

Ms Le Couteur acknowledged the difficult position the Greens found themselves in, as they needed to have members in Cabinet to actually influence government policy.

“There is a high price for this. We put forward a positive policy platform and it gets reduced to a green-tinged ALP government and we have to publically defend whatever the government does,” she said.

READ ALSO Senate poll tremors but shifting Zed will need a political earthquake

Under the current Parliamentary and Government Agreement between the two parties, all Greens members are committed to voting with cabinet decisions unless Greens ministers dissented.

Ms Le Couteur was critical of this, saying the Greens should not agree to support all government policies and cabinet decisions.

“If the Greens are to really have the balance of power, then there must be some possibility of us working with more than one other party,” she explained.

“If we are 100 per cent committed to one party, then we become like a faction of that party, or like the National and Liberal Party relationship.

“That seems to be where the ACT Greens and ACT Labor relationship is heading.”

But Mr Rattenbury instead argued the party dealt with all policy decisions internally, whether in party room discussions or with the broader member base.

“I believe that we have an effective model where some Greens are in Cabinet, some are on the Crossbench and we strive to implement our policies through both of these avenues,” he said.

“Our six MLAs are not compelled to vote with and support cabinet decisions and the Parliamentary Agreement sets out a process for this, which ensures our independence as a party.

“Through the ACT’s unique two-party Government arrangement, the ACT Greens have consistently pushed ACT Labor to become much more green and progressive in all decisions and policies. It’s critically important that the Greens continue to play this role both locally and nationally.”

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition leader Elizabeth Lee said there was no longer a difference between Labor and the Greens in the Assembly. Photo: Region Media.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee agreed with many of Ms Le Couteur’s comments and said the two parties were no longer different.

“Time and time again the Greens put their political alliance with Labor ahead of what is best for Canberrans; they will continue to do whatever will keep them in power,” she said.

“While some Canberrans think a vote for the Greens is a protest vote against Labor, it has become abundantly clear that is not the case.”

Ms Lee said the Greens had demonstrated this by voting with Labor on every single issue so far this term.

“There is no crossbench in the ACT Legislative Assembly and for some of the Greens members to call themselves that when members of their party sit in Cabinet is downright delusional and shows a complete disregard for the Canberra community,” Ms Lee said.

Read the full essay on Green Agenda.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
MJB Hamilton9:09 am 13 Dec 22

so just vote labor then

Best career for those who can’t handle real jobs. There’s so many we don’t even know are elected. They just collect there pay and quietly hide in the offices. At least in the public service you need to do annual performance reviews.

The Greens – all care no responsibility

I must be missing the bits in the valedictory speech where she calls for freer and more extensive public transport in to the suburbs and some of the housing things that you mentioned.

I read it that she was backing away from some of the ACT Greens deliverables in her time on Light Rail, Bus 19 and housing choices. She is calling for more data, real not fake community engagement and better planning processes. That’s the bits I was complimentary about.

I read her speech more along a few of the areas that you and me agree in, NOT some of the ‘out there’ Greens ideals that Rattenbury has delivered that you mentioned. Noting there’s still a lot of the fluffy Green stuff in there too.

I must admit my points are not solely around her last speech, rather from also talking to her personally in the electorate, when she’s been campaigning and her previous public statements on policy that those points relate to.

That “fluffy Green stuff” is not a sideshow, it shapes her core beliefs and so whilst I agree with her on certain issues, her alternative supported policies would be just as bad if not worse than the current Labor ones.

Just my opinion though.

HiddenDragon7:14 pm 19 Apr 22

Just like their federal counterparts, the ACT Greens have become the party of expiating the middle and upper middle class guilt of people who fancy themselves as having a social conscience and conspicuously progressive values, but who want to socialize the costs of making them feel better about themselves.

Even more so than their federal counterparts, they have become the party of green-washing and distracting attention from the population Ponzi scheme which has hijacked the national and local economies and which should be an absolute anathema to a party which, in the distant past, spoke about the concept of a sustainable population for Australia’s fragile environment.

The real tragedy is that the ACT Greens have run a protection racket for a Labor government which has shamefully and shamelessly let down too many of the people which the Labor political movement was established to look after, and which the Greens now also claim to care about.

I have never understood why the Greens and ALP got together in the first place.

Barr would have known that the Greens were more likely to support the ALP in a party room vote, than the Libs, so why join at the hip with them and then be obliged to meet some of their ideological goals?

By forming a coalition the Greens would have known they’d loose their independence and with that any real bargaining power: the power that comes with potentially crossing the floor and with the Libs, voting down ALP legislation.

Was the ALP/Greens coalition really more about the Greens obtaining Ministries and Leadership roles so it could present itself, as a party in Government, rather than just a protest organisation? That’s a difficult balance, because senior Greens are towing the coalition line while others appear to be pushing radical ideas like traffic free days and taxing landlords who have vacant commercial premises.

Lots of commenters missing the point. Rattenbury dominates the ACT branch of the Greens, but refuses to dominate the Labor-Green relationship, even tho he (supposedly) has the advantage. So Barr takes advantage, knowing that Ratts will vote with ALP even for motions of no confidence in ministers overseeing horrific incompetence.

Here’s another example. Barr is CM but he’s ALSO treasurer, and ALSO minister for land supply (economic development portfolio gives him that… you’d think it’d be planning, huh!?!)

So Barr holds all the power. He sets the agenda and legacy as CM (also controlling the cabinet process), he sets the spending as Treasurer, and he sets the income and regions for winners and losers as Econ Dev.

Did Ratts insist on Treasury?

Every state govt has a power sharing agreement between the dominant and lesser faction, where the dominant faction gets the Premier role, and the lesser faction gets the Treasurer. Labor, Libs, everyone.

So why not in the ACT? Coz Barr’s constellation of portfolios risks creating a vertically-integrated graft machine, and Ratts curious judgement in not forcing the point seems to only deliver victims, not victories. Jail, mental health, healthcare, education, policing, public housing, pick a portfolio that isn’t in a crisis of incompetence in the ACT, and I put some of that blame at the feet of the “junior partner” not making heavier demands, and not supporting transparency.

At the very least, vote with the Libs on the no confidence motions. Symbolism if nothing else.

She’s right. The Greens have sold their soul to a Labor Party controlled by rabid corporate developers. The Greens were once an environmental party. Now it’s a Labor poodle.

In March, the ACT Greens voted with property developer sycophants ACT Labor to say housing is affordable for most Canberrans, and that corporate landlords are the answer to improving affordability despite all evidence being to the contrary. This places them at odds with their own Federal party on housing affordability, and the kinds of solutions required.

Old joke about the Greens. They are ‘Watermelons’ – Green on the outside and Red in the middle.

I’ve been saying it for years that the Greens have been Labor’s lapdog and yes men for a long time.

Who cares after over 20 years of labor in power? There never getting kicked out

I hate the Greens in the way that only a former member can (more than 20 years ago). That said, Le Couter was the only Greens member I had respect for. In speaking with her, she seemed to care in a way that I haven’t experienced by any other MLA in government I’ve ever managed to speak with.

Le Couter was obviously Greens to the core. But she was always focused on evidence and standing up for her constituents, sometimes against her leaders views.

If you look beyond the generic Greens stuff in her valedictory speech, it contained some excellent pointers around public transport, housing and urban planning. Three areas she was particularly strong in and disagreed with the Government in. Greens haven’t replaced Le Couter with a similar string person with independent views on Canberra, we just yes men like Davis or wannabe Labor ministers with a green outer shell.


I thought she was one of their worst in the exact same areas, even though I sometimes I agreed with her positions though mostly for different reasons.

She brought all of the Greens idealism and ideology with no sense of pragmatism or ability to actually deliver because of the unwillingness to compromise.

Which bits of her valedictory speech around public transport, planning and housing do you disagree with?

There’s some good stuff in there, particularly the public transport bit.

None of her ideas would be affordable and would come with significant problems of their own. It’s magic pudding stuff.

On public transport, her criticisms around the (lack of) assessment of light rail is correct but she then also promoted freer and more extensive public transport in to the suburbs which would be extremely expensive.

It’s never explained where the funding for such things would be found but we all really know where they would target.

On housing and planning, her and her party’s policies only exacerbate housing affordability issues and would result in significantly less freedoms for housing choice of local residents despite the lip service she gave to community consultation. Her wish to greatly expand public housing would be extremely inefficient.

Whilst there are significant improvements that could be made in the planning and housing space, the Green Utopia she promoted would never match with economic realities or a balanced assessment of competing objectives.

As I’ve said above, she was far too ideologically pure to ever want to compromise. Which is why she didn’t deliver much. Although I will give her credit in that a few of the newly elected Greens are even worse performers.

The usual spin before an election from the Greens/Labor coalition that they are actually seperate parties that don’t have anything to do with eachother…..

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.