The new line up for the Greens is fresh and strong and signals a new pragmatic mainstream approach It could be a nightmare for those who want them to fade away and be sidelined under whatever label comes to mind.
Senator Richard Di Natale has won the leadership contest for the Australian Greens, with senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters elected co-deputy leaders, following the shock resignation on Wednesday morning of Christine Milne.
Di Natale could be the fresh new, mainstream face the Greens need to take the party to the next stage of the party’s evolution. So too his co-deputy leaders.
The three are fresh, strong, excellent communicators, and capable of capturing the attention and loyalty of that nervous middle ground that has been frightened to go Green in the past, for fear of all sorts of labelling.
For Christine Milne this is a strategic manoeuvre that caught political watchers off guard and seals her legacy as an intelligent, committed leader, leaving behind the best of all possible gifts, the chance of an excellent future.
In the press conference Milne said she was aware of the need for generational change and that it was time for a new iteration for this grassroots movement she inherited from its founder Bob Brown.
Di Natale, Ludlam and Waters are a break with the past. They communicate to the young, the mainstream and to smart new businesses, as well as to the committed.
Di Natale capitalised on these elements in the media conference announcing the result of the ballot.
He pointed to the mainstream. The Greens were “the natural home of progressive, mainstream Australian voters”, he said.
“We’re going to give voice to their concerns, decent health care, decent education, affordable housing, public transport.” Tick.
He pointed to the future. “The issues of the 21st Century are green issues,” he said. Tick.
Di Natale also signalled he knew how politics worked. He was in politics to “get outcomes”, he said. The leadership was something he contemplated and discussed with his partner six months ago, and it was possible there was someone who was disappointed (former deputy Adam Bandt, perhaps). A possible touch of sangfroid realpolitik? Tick.
Di Natale has a strong background. He is a doctor and public health specialist with a track record as an effective political campaigner. He’s come close to winning the seat of Melbourne twice and has taken some feisty stands on health including lobbying for the federal government Future Fund to divest its holdings in tobacco funds, plus initiating a number of Senate inquiries.
Two big causes he will embrace now would be bringing dental care into Medicare and legalising medicinal marijuana, he said.
The election of West Australian senator Scott Ludlam to the leadership team is likewise no surprise to those who know him.
He is another strong and serious performer, with a sophisticated understanding of the politics of green, especially in the built environment where he’s done a huge amount of work.
We’ve seen Ludlam in action twice now, at our salon for Greening the West and for the Surround Sound for Perth, and we’re convinced he could add the spark that could turn the perception of the Greens around.
See our post of Scott Ludlam’s article first published in Green Agenda,
For some reason Ludlam has not been on the political radar as much as he could be. Political commentators on Wednesday morning nominated Di Natale, Sarah Hanson-Young and Adam Bandt as likely contenders.
They missed Ludlam and Waters.
Co-deputy Larissa Waters, an environmental lawyer, is likewise fresh and strong and has the advantage of coming from Queensland where much work by the Greens is needed, especially as the state lurches into a post coal-dependent world, if the writing on the wall isn’t lying.
The new leadership will have plenty of work to do to pick up and transform the image that was created by Bob Brown and honed and refined by Milne.
Sadly that image doesn’t resonate well with all.
Speaking yesterday ahead of this announcement, a Melbourne source who’s part of the sustainability business leadership scene said there are people who won’t go near the Greens because they are seen as too extreme.
Most critical of all has been the inability to deliver the critical sound bites that will win over the nervous middle ground that’s scared off by the image of extreme Greens.
In fairness, saving the planet is an extreme job. The Greens are criticised for straying into the area of refugees, gay rights and other non-environmental issues, but if you care about the planet and call for a greater consciousness in dealing with it, where do you draw the line? Do you say, “I care about toxins and a clean and healthy environment but it’s okay to treat workers in Bhopal as expendable, or my neighbours as less than worthy because they’re different to my imagined dominant paradigm?”
That’s never going to work. What happens is the slow creep of the sustainability lens everywhere you shine a light.
Milne was criticised for being too dogmatic and intransigent on many fronts. And for consolidating the party as one of opposition.
But as Fairfax’s Mark Kenny pointed out this morning there are plenty of people who think that’s fine; people who don’t like the government and are happy enough for the Greens to be an irritant. Ten to 12 per cent, in fact.
It’s important to note, though, that despite the criticism of Milne as lacking an engaging public style, no one criticises her intelligence, warmth and engagement in face-to-face encounters.
She’s been a beacon of stability and focus in a sea of madness during these past few years.
Milne was our guest of honour along with former SA premier Mike Rann at our first Political Salon, along with people such as Tanya Cox then chief operating officer of DEXUS and now Green Building Council of Australia chair) and former Property Council of Australia chief Peter Verwer, who happened to sit next to her.
With all our guests, Milne was a hit. And she shed serious light on some burning questions of the time. But in line with her extreme loyalty to the party and her predecessor and Greens founder Bob Brown, she refused to say he’d made a serious misstep in opposing Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme.
Sticking to principles above all else might have been good for his personal conscience but it probably cost the country leadership on climate. It certainly pushed a flopsy Kevin Rudd over to the weak side, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But who’s to know things might have taken the present trajectory in any case? Australia is in thrall to the fossil fuel movement globally, and sooner or later those at the loony end of politics might have had their way, one way or another.
Christine Milne said her resignation was a personal and family decision.
“My decision to resign today is one I made with my family. After 25 years in politics, I am looking forward to spending more time in my beautiful home state of Tasmania, with friends and family, and especially as I am soon to be a grandmother.”
We thank her for her contribution to environmental and ethical issues and wish her well for the future.
And thanks for coming to our first salon, Senator Milne. It was an honour and a privilege to have you there.
A statement from the Greens today said:
Today Senator Christine Milne has resigned her position as Leader of the Australian Greens.
Senator Milne informed the Party Room this morning in Canberra and a ballot for the new leader will occur today at 11.30am followed by a press conference at 1.30pm in the Mural Hall.
The Tasmanian Greens preselection process for the 2016 election opens shortly. Senator Milne told the party room that having decided not to contest the election for another six-year Senate term, she resigned as Leader.
“It is with a mix of optimism, pride, excitement and sadness that I am resigning the leadership and leaving the Senate, Senator Milne said.
“I have achieved what I set out to achieve when I took over the leadership. The Greens have gone from strength to strength with solid election results and a growing, engaged party membership.
“I promised a more cabinet-style, collaborative approach to leadership. I am so proud of the way my colleagues have responded. We are a strong, capable, visionary Greens team.
“We have stood strongly for a safe climate and an end to wealth inequality. We have stood with the community against the cruelty of the Abbott Government, with their first budget resoundingly rejected by the people, and the Senate.
“My decision to resign today is one I made with my family. After 25 years in politics, I am looking forward to spending more time in my beautiful home state of Tasmania, with friends and family, and especially as I am soon to be a grandmother.
“Life after parliament is not however, life after politics. The fight for action on global warming will continue and I will take my passion, and all that I’ve learnt, to that fight standing shoulder to shoulder with the community here, and all over the world, for climate justice.
“I would like to say thank you. To my family, staff, colleagues, friends, party members, supporters and voters – thank you. I have cherished your input, your passion, and your support.”
See Christine Milne’s recent and now last major speech as leader, where she argues that to secure serious action on the climate Australia needs to restore our democracy by taking back the power from corporations.: