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”.
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.
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.
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.”
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.