Green Politics

WC Piguenit, 'Mount King William', 1886 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Green Politics began in Tasmania when the world's first Green party, the United Tasmania Group (UTG), was formed at a meeting in the Hobart Town Hall on 23 March 1972, following the unsuccessful campaign to stop the flooding of Lake Pedder. Founded on ecological principles and led by visionary biologist Dr Richard Jones, the UTG made the environment the dominant issue in Tasmanian politics and society. It challenged the idea that further industrialisation was the way forward for Tasmania, and instead promoted an ecological platform that 'was as much concerned with society and the need for satisfying employment as it was with a wholesome and stimulating environment'.

Although it did not result in the election of candidates, 'The New Ethic' of the UTG, based on the four pillars of Ecology, Social Justice, Participatory Democracy and Peace, became the cornerstone of green politics thereafter. Dr Bob Brown was a candidate for the UTG and in 1976 with other UTG members, formed the Tasmanian Wilderness Society which led an inspirational, people-power campaign to save the Franklin River. He was elected to the Tasmanian parliament in 1983, following the resignation of fellow anti-dam campaigner, Australian Democrat Norm Sanders.

Brown was joined in the Tasmanian parliament in 1986 by Gerry Bates (Franklin) following a campaign against the Electrona silicon smelter, and in 1989 by Christine Milne (Lyons), Dianne Hollister (Braddon) and the Rev Lance Armstrong (Bass), after the campaign against the proposed native-forest-based, chlorine-bleaching Wesley Vale pulp mill. This team, the Independents, held the balance of power with a minority Labor government in an arrangement called the Labor Green Accord. During this dynamic period, at the instigation of the green Independents, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was doubled in size, 22 public schools were saved from closure, Freedom of Information legislation was introduced and 1,000 jobs were created in local employment initiatives.

The Labor Party broke the Accord when it abandoned a fundamental clause, not to increase the native forest export woodchip quota above 2.889 million tonnes per annum. The differing world views and vision for the future of Tasmania between the Liberal and Labor parties, colloquially known as 'the Laborials', and the Independents were at the heart of the fracture which resulted in a state election in 1992 in which the Independents, renamed the Green Independents, held their five seats.

In 1992 the Tasmanian Green Party was formed and later that year the Australian Greens party was launched as a federation of state Green parties. Bob Brown was the first leader of the Tasmanian Greens. He resigned from the Tasmanian parliament and unsuccessfully contested the federal seat of Denison in the 1993 federal election. Following the 'Black River Bomb' forestry dirty tricks campaign waged against her, Dr Judy Henderson, the Tasmanian Greens' first Senate candidate, failed to secure the seat by a slim margin. Bob Brown was elected to the Senate in 1996, and Peg Putt replaced him in the House of Assembly.

Christine Milne assumed leadership of the Tasmanian Greens and became the first woman to lead a political party in the parliament of Tasmania. By negotiation she secured Party status for the Greens, Tasmania thus becoming the first Australian state to recognise the parliamentary rights of the Green Party. In 1994, building on the ethic of the UTG and the Labor Green Accord, the Greens launched a vision for Tasmania's future based on the concept of 'Clean, Green and Clever' and within a decade this became the dominant branding for Tasmania.

In 1996 the Greens achieved the balance of power with a Liberal minority government in spite of losing the seat of Bass. It was a socially progressive period of experiment with the concept of co-operative politics which led to the ground-breaking passage of Milne's Bill securing gay law reform, tripartite support for gun law reform and an apology to the Indigenous 'Stolen Generation'. The Tasmanian House of Assembly became the only Australian lower house to vote for a Republic in the lead-up to the Constitutional Convention. However, the transition from a resource-based, high-volume, low-value economy to a knowledge- and information-based, low-volume, high-value economy was resisted by the vested interests of the old order and their Laborial political supporters, who joined forces in 1998 to change the constitution, by reducing the number of parliamentarians, in an attempt to remove the Greens from parliament.

At the election, Peg Putt held her seat and took on the leadership of the Party. She was joined in 2002 by members from Franklin, Bass and Lyons with a record vote. Christine Milne was elected to the Senate in 2004. Nationally there are currently eighteen Green parliamentarians and Greens Parties in over seventy nations. At the first Global Greens Conference, in Canberra in 2001, Tasmania was recognised as the birthplace of this worldwide political movement.

Further reading: C Pybus & R Flanagan (eds), The rest of the world is watching, Sydney, 1990; B Brown & P Singer, The Greens, Melbourne, 1996; A Lohrey, 'Ground-swell', Quarterly Essay, Issue 8, 2002,; M Blakers (ed), The global Greens, Canberra, 2001;

Christine Milne