The Greens are so bullish about their chances in the ACT for this election that they’ve chosen the nation’s capital for their campaign launch. But despite leader Richard Di Natale saying that the party was the fastest growing political organisation in the country, it appears the Greens are still struggling for traction beyond their base, while their offer to co-operate with Labor on climate policy was rejected before it had formally been made on launch day.
Appearing at the National Press Club ahead of the Party’s campaign launch, Senator Di Natale labelled 2019 “the environment election” in a speech received with enthusiasm by a large cohort of younger Greens members and supporters.
“Politics should be about ideas that shape the future for all of us,” he said. “The Greens recognise that everything is connected and that our environmental and economic challenges are tightly interwoven.”
He described the Greens as “the only party with an evidence-based, independently costed positive plan to address those twin challenges,” invoking the old Democrats catch-cry that the electorate wanted a party that would “keep the bastards honest”.
He claimed credit in Federal Parliament’s last term for same-sex marriage; the Royal Commission into the banking and finance sector, the longstanding call for an anti-corruption watchdog, and the forthcoming Royal Commission into disability sector.
“We held a rotten government to account, we have blocked cuts to health and education and stopped massive big business tax cuts in the name of trickle-down economics,” Senator Di Natale said.
But the Greens leader found it harder to articulate why the Party hadn’t made further gains beyond their urban and coastal strongholds despite significant regional environmental concerns, and why their vote remains well short of the 20 per cent goal set by Senator Di Natale when he took over the leadership.
“It’s a long term project,” he said. “We’ve been around for a few decades and we’re growing our support base and we are united. People in the regions say they are sick and tired of the Nationals who don’t represent them, they exchange preferences with One Nation….the way to approach One Nation is to stand up against them, but the Nats are turning into One Nation.
“The mood on the ground is terrific, people are mobilising like I’ve never seen before. They are positive about the future for the Greens,” he said.
Senator Di Natale suggested Canberra candidate Penny Kyburz was a likely winner in the ACT Senate race and the Greens are believed to be quietly optimistic about prospects for Tim Hollo in the inner north seat of Canberra.
Those expectations will be tempered by the reality that Greens Senate candidates in the ACT must always harvest votes from the left – a less likely prospect now that the well-supported Katy Gallagher is making a return to the Upper House.
And while the Senator suggested that the Greens would co-operate with a Shorten Labor government and were prepared for potentially difficult concessions, the ALP leader had earlier in the day specifically rejected their offer of teamwork on climate change.
Accusing the Greens of “trailing their coat and saying, ‘Look at me’, Mr Shorten said, “the fact of the matter is that if we get elected we’ll be making decisions in a Labor cabinet and the decisions will be made by members of parliament of the Labor Party.” Labor is, in fact, likely to need Greens support to pass climate change legislation in the Senate.
Meanwhile, it was all energy and optimism in Canberra, where Senator Di Natale described Labor as “a huge disappointment” on the Adani coal project, and affirmed his belief that this is a perilous time, requiring the Greens brand of leadership.
“We are at a critical point where the breakdown of our climate and the life it supports….more than ever it’s time for big bold, evidence-based ideas that meet the challenges for the 21st century and for a genuine political alternative that cares for people and fights for the environment,” he said.